The geek years of our lives: 1982

I’ve noted before in this space that 1977 was a pivotal year for movies. Two words: “Star Wars.”

But just as 1939 is a golden year for movie lovers, 1982 is a golden year for geeks. Maybe never before and maybe never since have so many milestone movies been released in a single year, many of them in the summer months alone.

I was reviewing movies that year — I had begun four years earlier and did it for another eight years, so it was prime moviegoing time for me — and even then I realized we were seeing something special.

As the 30th anniversary of this pivotal year rolls around, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema is holding screenings of many of the movies. I can’t make those showings, but I’ll probably watch a few on disc. In the meantime, here’s my little look back.

“Conan the Barbarian” — The Arnold Schwarzenegger movie was one of the first movies I saw through the press junket process, going to Chicago to see it and interview the cast and filmmakers. But even without that, I recognized the movie for what it was: The rare moment when Hollywood got the sword-and-sorcery genre right. There are some cheesy effects, to be sure. But the world of the pulp barbarian hero came to life.

“The Road Warrior” — I had seen George Miller’s “Mad Max,” the dire action thriller starring Mel Gibson as a cop in a lawless land, but it was small in scope compared to “The Road Warrior.” Like “Conan,” “The Road Warrior” quickly defined its genre. All the elements were in place: A nihilistic hero with a heart; truly menacing bad guys; a varied and fascinating collection of good guys; stunts like movies had never seen before.

“Poltergeist” — This movie, directed by “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Tobe Hooper and produced by Steven Spielberg, was like the “Mirror Mirror” universe take on the suburban world given to us a few weeks later when director Spielberg released “E.T.” After decades of old dark house horror movies, the “haunted ranch house” tale told in “Poltergeist” seemed as fresh as could be.

“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” — While I really enjoyed the J.J. Abrams “Star Trek” reboot from a couple of years ago, the fact remains that Abrams, other moviemakers and all of fandom still believes that Nicholas Meyer’s take on Gene Roddenberry’s classic space opera is the one to emulate. And why not? Meyer brought a sharp military take to the familiar characters, pushed them through their paces in a quick-witted, thrilling plot, injected a ton of humor and tragedy and gave us one of the most heart-pounding climaxes ever. To this day, I remember the “Does Spock really die?” rumors before the movie opened, with fans eagerly anticipating/dreading the answer.

“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” — Sure the ending is marred by one of those “ohmygod he’s dead, no he’s not” resurrections. But time has probably dimmed our recollection of how simultaneously sweet and tart this movie is. The kids were cute but had realistic anti-sibling mean streaks, the mom (Dee Wallace. Sigh.) was a barely-hanging-in-there abandoned woman and E.T. himself was a great creation. It deserved to make a ton of money.

“The Thing” — Man, what a great horror flick. Director John Carpenter was on a roll with “Halloween,” “Escape from New York” and this, making him the most subversive director working and one of the most crowd-pleasing. Think about the endings to those movies for a minute: “Halloween” ended by establishing the boogeyman really existed. “Escape” ended with the protagonist, played by Kurt Russell, deciding “the hell with it” and destroying a tape that could save the world. And “The Thing” ended its cold and nightmarish story with a man versus alien creature showdown — featuring Russell and Keith David — that couldn’t have been more harsh.

The two last movies of the summer of 1982, “Tron” and “Halloween III,” were lesser lights, but how could they not be? “Tron” left enough of an impression to spawn a sequel nearly 30 years later. And “Halloween III” was a noble experiment that ultimately failed. Rather than try to top John Carpenter’s original, the movie’s producers went for a whole new story, about a fiendish plot to sacrifice millions of children with Halloween monster masks. “Three more days to Halloween!” was the earworm TV commercial jingle of the year. I just wish the movie had found an audience.

What a year.


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