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July 18, 2004

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Remembering 1982: The Year of Fantasy!

In my last editorial, I said that the first time I recalled seeing computer generated images on the big screen was in the Disney movie, Tron.  I also pointed out that the second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan, is likewise often credited as a first for its computer depiction of the "Genesis Planet" and that both movies came out in the same year.  1982.  Well, no sooner did I write those words than I found myself rooting around in my closet, digging mole-like through assorted collectibles and bric-a-brac, and finally -- with a manic laugh of triumph -- surfacing clutching in my greasy little paws that which I sought.  One slightly tattered copy of Twilight Zone Magazine circa February 1983.

Just as I had remembered, the headline boldly declared... "1982: A Landmark Year for Fantasy".

Back in 1983, I read that Twilight Zone Magazine's recap of the previous year's movies with a certain degree of skepticism.  After all, it was a fantasy magazine, right?  It was supposed to overstate the case where fantasy movies were concerned.  Read the modern Starlog and it's the same story.  They never met a fantasy movie out of whose ass the sun didn't shine.  (Oops.  Heh, heh.  Double negative.)  From Lord of the Rings to Freddy vs. Jason, it's all the same to them -- Citizen Kane, step aside.  Convinced that this was just more of the same fannish hyperbole, as a child, I tucked my magazine away in the back of the closet, got on with the serious business of growing up, and hadn't given it a second thought... until now.

Now, looking back on that annus mirabilis of 1982, I am astonished to realize how prescient the editors of Twilight Zone Magazine were.  Not only was 1982 a true "landmark year", based on the historical significance of the fantasy movies that hit the screen, but for me it was also a sort of "landmark" of a more personal nature.  It was the year our family first discovered the joys of the Home Video Cassette Recorder (VCR)!

Ah, yes.  I'll bet you forgot there was a time before the age of the VCR, didn't you?  If you're young enough, it's pretty hard to imagine.  But trust me -- there was such a time.  A time when you either caught a movie when it first ran in the theatres or you were forced to wait years (years, I say!) in hopes the movie might crop up on one of your three local TV channels.  (Or, sometimes, you could catch it rerunning at a local Drive-In.  And, if you ask what a Drive-In was, I'm going to cry.) 

But, then, along came the VCR and everything changed.  For that first year, at least, we couldn't actually afford to buy a VCR to call our own, so we rented from the local Video Rental Place.  I shudder to think of the bills we must have racked up, but it was addictive.  Practically every weekend we'd rent three videos along with a VCR (tucked away in its grey-foam inside a silver suitcase built to withstand a rampaging gorilla).  Often as not, something would go wrong with the rented machine (frequently a mysterious modern age gremlin called "the tracking"), but eventually we would get things sorted out and then... then!

How can I describe the thrill of those first few months?  The heady sense of empowerment; the ability to watch any movie you wanted to (including many you would not have been allowed to see at the theatre); to be able to pause the movie while you went to the john; to rewind when someone was talking making you miss crucial dialogue; to sit in the comfort of your own living room knowing, when the movie was over, you could just stagger up to bed, without worrying about driving home.

Ah.  Magical.

I mentioned that we were allowed to watch movies which we wouldn't have been allowed to see at the theatres.  This was no small accomplishment in the eyes of a kid who had heretofore been limited to  Dean Jones Disney movies and George Segal comedies.  (George Segal?  Don't ask.)  This lent to the affair a seductive tinge of illicitness, of crossing over into forbidden territory.  Cat People, for example.  (I am speaking of course of the remake starring Nastassia [later, Nastassja] Kinski and Malcolm McDowell.  Not the original snoozefest, which many critics oddly consider a classic.)  You may recall that there was considerable fuss at the time about Ms. Kinski's extensive nude scenes.  Well, let's just say, some of us grew a little bit older that summer, and leave it at that.

So, as you can see, there were certainly personal reasons why I have fond memories of the fantasy films of 1982.  And that probably explains why such lesser lights as Beastmaster, The Dark Crystal, Creepshow and the aforementioned Cat People, evoke feelings warm and nostalgic.  But there was an incredible collection of other films that year -- films which have withstood the passage of time, gaining significance over the least in the eyes of certain fannish subcultures.

I already mentioned both Tron and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  With the increasing dependence on computer generated special effects in Hollywood, Tron's ground-breaking significance becomes more and more evident with each passing year.  As for The Wrath of Khan, to most Trekkies/ Trekkers it remains hands-down the best of the Star Trek movies, spoken of in reverential tones and with appropriate genuflections.  But 1982 also gave us Arnold's big screen portrayal of a figure dear to all our hearts. Conan the Barbarian.

I'll admit, I never cared for that movie, even though I was, even then, a big Conan fan.  Perhaps I was too married to Robert E. Howard's original stories, but Arnold just didn't say "Conan" to me.  (For that matter, he didn't say "actor" to me, either.)  Still, over at my website devoted to the big guy (Conan, not Arnold), my guestbook is bursting with the enthusiastic rantings of the many fans (Cone-Heads? Never mind.) for whom Conan the Barbarian was the landmark film of their childhoods.  So who am I to argue?

Then there was John Carpenter's remake of The Thing.  Panned by critics for its gory special effects, The Thing has gradually, over time, attained a certain level of respectability and is now considered by many to be the best John Carpenter film with perhaps the exception of Halloween.  (I myself would have a tough time judging between The Thing and The Fog.)  Sadly, I think this says a lot about the modern level of violence and gore in movies, against which The Thing now seems fairly tame.  Carpenter was definitely ahead of the curve on that one, n'est pas?

And Blade Runner?  What needs to be said?  Hard to believe that in 1982, Ridley Scott's science fiction opus, since released in a hallowed "Director's Cut",  was both a critical and commerical bomb.  And I don't mean a little bomb either.  If it made enough to pay for Harrison Ford's haircut I'd be surprised.  And yet, here we are.  Every time I turn around, someone is either ripping it off, or claiming to be ripping it off.  I think it is fair to say most science fiction fans would rank Blade Runner as either the greatest SF movie of all time, or the second greatest, just behind Star Wars.  As the embezzler in A Christmas Carol gleefully shouted: "Reprieved!  Reprieved!"

Then there was the Australian flick, The Road Warrior -- sequel to Mad Max and prequel to Beyond Thunderdome.  Okay, so maybe that one isn't all that significant from a modern point of view, but, although it was the second in a trilogy, for most of us it was our first encounter with Mad Max and the accompanying mania for all things Oz-ish.  (Not to be confused with Crocodile Dundee and his accompanying mania for all things Oz-ish.  Let's keep our manias straight, shall we.)  More important, it sky-rocketed a certain Australian to instant star status and saw that he never again made the mistake of speaking with his own accent.

Poltergeist?  It seems historically significant somehow but I'm damned if I can say why.  Moving right along...

Finally, there was Steven Spielberg's E.T.  And I hope I don't have to tell you why that was significant.  Kaching, kaching.

In fact, looking back on the fantasy films of 1982, I can only find two which mean nothing to me.  The Sword and The Sorcerer, which I only saw on video many years later, and Halloween III:  Season of the Witch... whose acquaintance I have hitherto not had the pleasure of making.  I think it could be argued that 1982 really was THE YEAR OF FANTASY, with more significant fantasy films than any other year before or since.  And to think, at the time, I figured Twilight Zone Magazine was just being hyperbolic. 

E.T., Tron, Wrath of Khan, Conan the Barbarian, The Thing, Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, Poltergeist, Cat People, Beastmaster, The Dark Crystal, and Creepshow.  All in one year.  Any way you look at it, that was quite a party.

And I didn't even mention Swamp Thing.  Can you beat that?  Completely slipped my mind.  Must be  because I didn't actually watch it until it came to TV years later.  But I do remember coming out of the theatre after catching Michael Crichton's Looker (which technically was released in 1981, but was still in theatres for a few weeks in 1982) and glancing into the theatre where Swamp Thing was showing.  There in the front row of an otherwise empty theatre sat a lone but defiant patron, uplifted eyes glued worshipfully to Adrienne Barbeau in all her scantily clad splendor.  It was both the saddest and yet the most empowering image I can recall from that time.

And I'll bet he grew a little bit older that year too.

Jeffrey Blair Latta, co-editor and Supreme Plasmate

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