“The Dark Crystal” Throwback Thursday Review

With the highly anticipated The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance releasing on August 30th, I want to revisit the cult classic that is still equal parts beautiful and terrifying to this day. A couple of years ago, Fathom Events brought The Dark Crystal to the big screen, so I was able to watch this outstanding motion picture on the big screen for the first time ever. Despite the very macabre nature of many parts of the movie, my parents showed this movie to my sister and I at a young age. From the very first time we watched it, my sister and I became fans. As kids–back when kids played outside, in the woods, and in abandoned buildings using their imaginations to role play–we created characters that were ostensibly taken from the world of the movie, and spent hours imagining we were in Thra. As a kid, I was mesmerized by the spectacular production design and puppetry. I can only speculate the degree to which kid-me appreciated the artistic elements of the now iconic motion picture, but I imagine that it completely captured my imagination, otherwise I would not have rewatched it as many times as I did. As an adult, I am shocked that my parents allowed me to watch it at such a young age because there are moments that terrify first-time adult audiences today. Sometime last year, I introduced this movie to my penpal, and he was blown away by how dark this fantasy movie was. Of course, this movie came out at a time that fantasies were dark (case and point, The Neverending Story). On the surface, this may be a common premise of good triumphing over evil despite adversity, but there is so much more that makes this the timeless classic that it is. Jim Henson was an incredible genius who truly knew how to combine form with function to create a fantastical masterpiece.

What stands out more than the plot itself (which is pretty straight forward), is the fantastical practical effects that give the film incredible depth–levels of dimension that CGI-heavy movies with they had but won’t ever achieve. Why? Simply because you cannot replicate the way real light bounces off real objects and into the camera lens. The atmosphere that the setting and characters combine to make is a level of movie magic that only the genius of Jim Henson could have created. Frank Oz stated that children should not be sheltered from darkness because it is just as much a part of their lives as joy and laughter. There are some truly terrifying and sad moments in this movie. And it looks as if this sentiment is going to be channeled into the new series. The story does not shy away from topics such as torture, death, gender roles, independence, and courage. Whereas the plot itself is simple, the characters are highly complex. Moreover, each of the Skeksis represents one of the seven deadly sins, and each Mystic is the good counterpart. The gelflings represents the “human” or emotional component in the narrative, so they serve as the conduit through which we experience the plot. Aughra is our logical character whom provides the diegetic exposition to understand the gravity of the encroaching Great Conjunction. There is a beautiful poetry in how the characters all complement one another and their respective surroundings.

Although all Jim Henson movies feature muppets (Henson’s patented puppets) and other movies have puppetry, The Dark Crystal stands alone as the only film of his that is entirely puppets! Yes, you could argue that the few longshots are human actors, but that is splitting hairs. For all intents and purposes, only puppets appear in this movie. And these puppets were the most advanced to ever hit the screen, and still the most advanced puppets to have ever been witnessed on the silver screen. Fewer than 20yrs after The Dark Crystal virtually all puppetry would be replaced with CGI to save money and time. Sacrificing experiential art for technical marvel. These advanced puppets inspired the ones that have made appearances in Disney and Universal parks over the years. Some of the puppets had to be operated by multiple people, yet when you watch them on screen, you forget that they are a puppet because they truly exist within the fantastical world. I love how the design of each and every kind of puppet is an extension of the world in which they live. So much dimension in each and every creature. There are lines, shadows, textures, and more that CGI could never replicate. These are three-dimensional creatures that exist within a four-dimensional world that exemplify the absolutely peak of a combination of technical design, costuming, and articulated performance that the camera natively captures without need for post-production to create a significant effect after the fact. Very seldom do we get to witness such an attention to detail in the design of a character (we will get to the set soon). These puppet characters do not feel or look artificial, the manner in which the light reflects off them and they interact with the world around them gives them an outstanding ability to make us forget that there is someone pulling the strings. We emotionally connect with these characters in such a way that can so often only be done with human or animal actors.

The production design of the set is an outstanding, dazzling artistic achievement by standards then and now. You’ll be hard pressed to find another set that is created with such a high degree of tangible detail. No amount or quality of CGI can even hold a candle to the wildlife, plant life, and landscape of Thra. I absolutely love how the homes of each of the groups of characters (Skeksis, Mystics, Podlings, Gelflings, and everyone’s favorite Aughra), are designed to be an extension of the inhabitants themselves. Because there is nothing generic about any of the settings, the degree to which the lands feel real is astonishing. One of the reasons for that is because it IS real! Blue/green screen technology was still in its infancy so there was thankfully no real desire to integrate it into the set for most of the movie. However, the final scene of the movie does feature some green screen work that does not hold up today. Without a screen able to fill in the gaps for most of the movie, the artisans and craftsmen had the daunting task of bringing this world of fantasy in the age of wonder to life. And their tireless efforts pay off in spades. Diversity runs strong all through the story both visually and figuratively. No two landscapes or settings look alike, just as no two characters (even the podlings) look identical. Every line, corner, and texture radiates art. More than simply a backdrop for the scenes of the plot, the settings are essentially characters themselves. The way the characters interact with their surroundings holds the audience in an incredible suspension of disbelief as to the believability of the world that is on screen.

Although it was not a blockbuster in the US, as it was up against E.T. that same year, it was the highest grossing box office hit in France and Japan. Not being an initial box office success has not stopped the film from aging well and remaining an impressive work of art even by today’s audiences. Perhaps it is best known for being a cult classic, but that cult following has remained strong through the years. So much so that we have the Netflix prequel series with an all-star cast debuting in August. It’s refreshing to see that a prequel (or sequel) strives to embody the soul of the original in order to inspire a new generation of fans and future visual storytellers. We fell in love with the original because of the puppetry and production design, the unique characters, and fantastical elements that make it an exemplary motion picture.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World” review

Outstanding finale for the beloved franchise! Bring your tissues because you’re going to need them. Return to the colorful, immersive world of dragons for the final chapter in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. We were first introduced to Hiccup and his cat-like dragon Toothless–probably the most adorable dragon ever–nearly a decade ago, and Hidden World delivers a beautiful story that takes full advantage of Dean DeBlois’ epic fantasy world of highflying adventure and heart. Unlike franchises in the cinema or on television that depict the key characters the same age in perpetuity, HTTYD allows its characters to mature and grow in complexity. This growth enables the audience to identify and empathize with the animal and human characters thus giving the film incredible emotional weight. Not only do the characters demonstrate personal growth over the nine years we’ve been enjoy Berk and all its wonders, they exhibit tangible evidence of interpersonal societal growth as this Viking kingdom learns to love and cherish creatures they once feared. Toothless takes center stage as he too, along with our friends from Berk, must grow up. Both Toothless and Hiccup experience the powerful dynamic of love as it greatly affects one’s actions. While many were wondering if this trilogy could pull off a Toy Story 3, after the immense success of the first two, especially HTTYD2, suffice it to say, DreamWorks Animation delivers a superlative animated motion picture complete with all the feels.

IMDb Summary: What began as an unlikely friendship between an adolescent Viking and a fearsome Night Fury dragon has become an epic adventure spanning their lives. Welcome to the most astonishing chapter of one of the most beloved animated franchises in film history. Now chief and ruler of Berk alongside Astrid, Hiccup has created a gloriously chaotic dragon utopia. When the sudden appearance of female Light Fury coincides with the darkest threat their village has ever faced, Hiccup and Toothless must leave the only home they’ve known and journey to a hidden world thought only to exist in myth. As their true destinies are revealed, dragon and rider will fight together—to the very ends of the Earth—to protect everything they’ve grown to treasure.

As immersive and excellent as the film’s visuals are, the characters are even more complex and deep. In fact, the film depicts one of the best friendships of any film ever. The key characters, and even the supporting cast, demonstrate love, loss, maturity, growth, and more. Although this is the final installment in the franchise, the characters are still treated with finesse and given room to grow within the movie and to complete the arcs for the trilogy. Often, Toothless and Hiccup parallel one another; they possess traits that complement one another. This added complexity to their respective characters gives them so much depth. Making an emotional connection with and evoking empathy from the audience is such an important element of the character development process. Hidden World builds upon the previous stories of finding one’s destiny in a friendship with the most unlikely of creatures (chapter 1), external and internal complexities with the new friendship and changing familial dynamics (chapter 2), and coming of age by learning from the past and letting go of that which hinders freedom (chapter 3 Hidden World).

More than a commentary on independence or freedom, this film chooses to depict complex emotions such as love between friends, family, and romantic love. And these subjects are not just talked about–exposition would be too easy and lazy–there are many moments that are visually driven, thus increasing the level of emotional impact. One of my favorite moments that deals with both the letting go of the past in order to bloom and grow is the courtship dance scene between Toothless and the Light Fury. Love is not without sacrifice. And in the exploration of relationships and independence, we are reminded of the emotional cost associated with these concepts. Paralleling this exploration of relationships between lovers, family, and friends is the journey of rising to the call and becoming a leader of one’s people. It’s the ideal journey for this final installment because it completes the hero’s journey for Hiccup and Toothless. In the first movie, both Hiccup and Toothless are outcasts, nerdy, and childlike. In the secondary film, they go through both physical and emotional growth learning the complexities of life. And the tertiary film Hidden World builds upon the previous two films by us watching this teen and young dragon grow up to realize their respective places in the world to become the leaders of their people (or dragons). We go from kid to king. So simple, but so perfect.

It’s easy to get swept up into this epic fantasy because we spend so much time with these characters. Not only do we spend movie time with the key characters, but we spend some intimate time with them as well. We see these characters at their best and worst. The individual stories of the three films and the overarching story that exemplifies the three-act structure are not afraid to bloody your characters. As real like people and dragons are not perfect, neither are the characters in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy. We are drawn to their flaws, the majority of which are in the second chapter but we continue this high level of humanity in the third film. Change is a big part of life, and the theme of change is witnessed in the individual lives plus in the Berkian and Dragonian communities. Utopia is not without its negative impacts. One of those for Berk is overcrowding with the side effects of being more of a target to those who are still hunting dragons. Hiccup must decide whether Berk is a place or a state of mind. But he must also consider the safety and future of the dragons. More complexity. There is no one solution that will benefit everyone. So sacrifices must be made. This motif of chance incorporates the overall theme of love and sacrifice.

The visuals are breathtaking! While some animated trilogies suffer the longer the franchise goes on, the quality of the animation in this film is outstanding! In many ways, it out-Pixars Pixar. Like with other films, if this one had a Pixar logo on it instead of DreamWorks, then more people would be singing its praises. With more dragons, there was certainly room to cut corners and for the quality of the visuals to suffer. Not true with this film! The attention to detail is superb! As beautiful as the dragon flight scenes were in the first and second movies, Hidden World delivers an even more epic flight scene in this film. Wish I had seen this movie in IMAX. During the flight sequence into the Hidden World of dragons, I was reminded of Navi River Journey and Flight of Passage in Pandora: the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Never felt like a ripoff, but certainly feels inspired by the attraction. We encounter three worlds in this film: Berk, the new island, and the hidden world of dragons. Each of these worlds is designed completely differently from the rest. And the commitment to the art of animated world creation reaches incredible heights! Every scene, every moment, every setting is completely immersive.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald” review

Fantastic Beasts: the crimes of screenwriting. I am still not entirely sure what I watched last night. J.K. Rowling’s plot for the second film in the Fantastic Beasts is all over the place, goes in every direction except intentionally forward. When the Harry Potter spinoff franchise needed an Empire Strikes Back, it gets an Attack of the Clones. Referencing a hyperbolic statement from J.K. that made its way around Twitter, I am totally in belief that she did, in fact, write the screenplay in 25mins. From pacing issues to odd tonal shifts and a lack of focus, the screenplay suffers from a case of sequelitis. The Crimes of Grindelwald appears to rely on technical marvel and spectacle more so than a compelling narrative. The movie is full of new and familiar characters (plus some Harry Potter cameos), fantastical beasts, and explosive sequences of events, but ultimately loses air ad runs flat. Much in the same way that the first movie felt like the preface to a book, this one feels that it too has the goal to simply setup the next chapter. Moreover, the movie feels like too little plot stretched over too much runtime. Which is a shame, because there is clearly an attempt to provide an escapist allegory for primarily racism and, to a lesser extent, sexuality. Subtext of heavy psycho-social and moralistic themes is nothing new to the Rowling-verse, but Grindelwald simply gets lost on its journey to deliver a powerful thought-provoking story paired with high-flying adventure. This sequel is certainly darker than its predecessor, but fails to provide a well-developed plot that will drive the remaining films forward.

In an effort to thwart Grindelwald’s plans of raising pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings, Albus Dumbledore enlists his former student Newt Scamander, who agrees to help, unaware of the dangers that lie ahead. Lines are drawn as love and loyalty are tested, even among the truest friends and family, in an increasingly divided wizarding world (IMDb).

Many movies have A, B, and C stories. The A story is the central plot that focusses on the central and opposition character’s external goal; and the B and C stories are typically the subplots that focus on character development, internal needs, and/or supporting character stories. The problem with this movie is that it randomly switches focus, tone, and direction arbitrarily without any rhyme or reason. Each of the A, B, C, D….in short, there are too many stories (plots) in this movie…plots–individually–are interesting. And stacked in an effective manner, could provide quite a bit of meat in this sandwich. Unfortunately, the focus of the layers and ingredients is on the arrangement or presentation of the sandwich more so than allowing the famished to sink their teeth into the otherwise delicious sandwich. Or think of it as the shifting staircases in Hogwarts; you could ascend and descend the staircases for hours and still not make any real progress toward your destination. Structurally, the movie suffers from a shifty foundation. So convoluted is the plot, that it continually introduces new information and elements just for surprise, shock, or brief entertainment value rather than setting up the story in the first act, throwing the characters into crisis mode in the second act, then providing solid resolution or realization in the third. It’s like one really long first act and a rushed second and third acts. As I warn my screenwriting students about science-fiction or fantasy writing, often times, these screenwriters are so wrapped up in world-building that the plot and characters suffer. Perhaps the characters in Grindelwald are complex enough (but truly debatable) but the plot is far from simple. After two movies, it appears that J.K.’s talent for writing novels is not as evident in screenwriting. Hence why many parts of this movie feel better suited to a novel than movie.

I could go on and on about the plot holes and pacing problems, but I feel I’ve made my evaluation sufficiently enough. So, now I want to switch gears to discussing what IS interesting about the movie. There are elements and attempts at themes (and subtext) that almost worked. Had more attention been paid to the logistics of screenwriting, then these would have been thought-provoking or at least meaningful. Upon my initial watch (and full disclosure, I plan to watch it again b/c I’ve heard it’s better on the second screening), the themes of racism, ethics, and sexuality are clearly present. Instead of a classic approach that features two differing ethnic races, the two races are the magical and no-mag (or muggles), skin color or country of origin do not factor into the equation. Grindelwald seeks to elevate the magical above the no-mag because he feels that the magical race is superior to the no-mag and can prevent the world from plunging into war. Ironically, his views insight mass violence and death. Furthermore, he wants the no-mag to serve the magical because the no-mag are disposable. Clearly, there are parallels between the American Civil War and Wold War II. Moreover, Grindelwald’s determined for the magical to stop hiding from the rest of the world and should come out to show the regular humans that they are the superior race–the super race, if you will.

Speaking of “not hiding,” the film also touches on sexuality in the wizarding world. For the first time, a character’s sexuality is pivotal to the plot and thus affords J.K. and WarnerMedia to comment on that in the story. Not a spoiler since J.K. stated it in a tweet, Dumbledore was in a romantic relationship with Grindelwald when they were much younger. It was always rumored that Dumbledore was gay, but this film puts those rumors to rest by addressing his past. Unlike a film that would simply add this character trait to the plot for the sake of inclusivity, Grindelwald allows for this to be an important part to the plot because Dumbledore and Grindelwald made a pact when they were in love never to fight each other directly. This theme of being free to love whom you will is also witnessed in the relationship between Jacob and Queenie. According to the present laws, Jacob and Queenie are not permitted to marry because a magical individual cannot engage in a romantic relationship with a non-mag. Queenie could wind up in the Ministry of Magic’s prison. In the end, Queenie couldn’t live with the divide between her and Jacob that the Ministry created, so she chooses a new future for herself. Although only directly touched on in one scene, there is also some commentary on ethics. At one point, Dumbledore tells Scamander that he appreciates that Scamander always does what is right, not what will best suit him or support a particular side of a conflict. He is concerned with only engaging in decisions that are ethically sound regardless of the personal benefit.

Even more than its predecessor, Fantastic Beasts: the Crimes of Grindelwald works diligently to convince you that these movies belong in the same universe as the original Harry Potter movies. The return to Hogwarts and a few familiar character appearances work to connect this film to the rest of the Wizarding World, but at times feel incredibly forced. You will also learn more about Dumbledore’s long lost, secret brother, the origin of Voldemort’s pet snake, and the lineage of Bellatrix Lestrange. With three more movies to go, there is still time to turn this franchise around for the better, but that will largely hinge on the next movie.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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Disney’s “Christopher Robin” full movie review

Silly ol’ movie. Disney’s latest live-action re-imagination of a classic property is Christopher Robin, directed by Marc Forster with a story and screenplay by several writers. And that is likely where the fault lies with a movie that should have been heartwarming and magical. Although the movie has a whimsical fancy about it, and there are moments that will tug at your heartstrings, those moments are very few. It is as if each contributor to the story/screenplay had his or her own idea of how to handle a middle-aged Christopher Robin returning to the Hundred Acre Wood; but instead of selecting one story, one plot, we have bits and pieces of the different takes on how to write a story dealing with a rediscovery of the inner child and realizing that friends and family are more important than work. Plots such as the aforementioned are commonplace, almost cliche. So, it needed a fresh take on it. Needless to say, the movie plays it safe and paints by number. Not to say the film is not without its accolades. The quality of the CGI for Pooh and his fellow Hundred Acre Wood residents is outstanding. There are moments that you forget that they are not actually real. However, I am confused as to why Owl and Rabbit are based on real animals whereas the others are based on stuffed animals–that decision is a little odd. Suffice it to say, the best scenes in the movie are the ones with Pooh, because McGregor’s Christopher Robin ultimately fails to genuinely connect with the audience. Although the past iterations of Winnie-the-Pooh (animated and live action) have more heart than this film, you can still enjoy waxing nostalgic as the film takes you back to the Hundred Acre Wood and displays a little heart despite the cumbersome story.

Faced with having to find 20% in cuts at the Winslow Luggage Company or be forced to lay off a significant number of employees, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) is forcibly asked to work the weekend to prepare for a big presentation Monday morning. Unfortunately, that means he has to send his family away to his boyhood countryside home without him. When his childhood best friend Winnie-the-Pooh pays him a surprise visit in London, Pooh asks that Christopher return to the Hundred Acre Wood in order to help find Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, and Roo. Resistant at first, Christopher Robin returns to the wood where he spent most of his early childhood. It is in these whimsical woods that he is reminded of the child he once was. But after finding Pooh’s friends, Christopher Robin must return to London for his big meeting. Returning all the help and friendship Christopher Robin showed the Hundred Acre Wood all throughout his childhood, Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, and Piglet embark on an xpadition to London in order to help Christopher Robin to rediscover the joy of life.

At its core, Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne would likely approve of the story Forster attempted to tell. Unfortunately, Milne would likely be unhappy with the final product. “Too many hands in the pot will spoil the sauce.” When a film or movie has multiple writers contributing to the story and screenplay (in this case 7), the plot typically suffers from too many ideas and too little direction. Clearly the movie is trying to be a cross between Finding Neverland and Hook. Two excellent models to follow for rediscovering childhood magic, Christopher Robin would have benefited from relying upon one or two writers to extract the best elements of the aforementioned and use them as supporting structure upon which to build the present Winnie-the-Pooh concept. For those of us who are familiar with Winnie-the-Pooh through the years from the books, TV shows, and theme park attractions, the story includes many nods to past stories and contains several Easter eggs. And these will be some of the fondest moments from the film. There is one pounding question left from the film. And that is whether or not Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends are toys that have come to life or actual living creatures that Christopher Robin abandoned, which complicates what it means for Christopher to leave them behind for more than three decades. It also doesn’t help matters any that Christopher comes across as a jerk, and not older equivalent of Toy Story‘s Andy who brought tears to our eyes.

A far riskier plot, but one that allows for more introspect, is the one used in 2017’s Goodbye Christopher Robin. In short, Goodbye Christopher Robin takes audiences on a journey that explores the literary success of author A.A. Milne and the estranged relationship with his son who came to resent the character of Pooh. Emotional depth is missing from Christopher Robin. Much of the mild emotional connection between the audience and the characters feels forced. So, yes there is a bit of a relationship between the audience and the characters but not enough of one that takes you on the journey that this film could have been. Some of this lack of a connection can be explained by spending way too much time in the factory to the point it feels tedious. Imagine if you will, spending most of Mary Poppins at the bank? That is precisely what you have here. Another aspect to the film that takes away from its ability to successfully connect with the audience is the lazy plot device used to get Christopher Robin back to the Hundred Acre Wood. His own daughter and wife couldn’t get him to spend even a day in the countryside, but he quickly decides to return once he encounters Winnie-the-Pooh on a park bench. The story would have been so much more compelling and the childlike wonder could have been increased if Robin’s daughter stumbled across the Hundred Acre Wood to discover her father’s drawings were of real creatures. And together with Pooh’s friends, Robin’s daughter could have been more instrumental in helping her father rediscover the joys of life.

The overall message of this film is to “do nothing.” Although it is explained what that means, it is not terribly constructive. There was such potential here to comment on friendship and family, but the movie barely moves beyond the surface level. Moreover, Christopher Robin struggles to connect the audience to the characters and make Robin a relatable character with whom you can sufficiently empathize. You will definitely enjoy the moments in the movie that feature Robin and Pooh together and nods to the past Pooh stories. And Tigger even sings his song! Whereas I never felt on the verge of tears, I enjoyed the moments that made me smile and giggle. I just wish there were more of those.

“Poltergeist” (1982) Retrospective Film Review

“They’re [still] here!” 35 years later, Stephen Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist still terrifies audiences today. Coming off the successes of Spielberg’s Jaws & Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this powerhouse producer-director team (note: Hooper received the official director credit) crafted a horror film that became an instant classic then, and still holds up today. With Spielberg heading up the story and Hooper in the director’s chair, both cinematic geniuses combined their talent for generating material for nightmares to take the “haunted” house film sub-genre of horror to the next level. Storytelling and cinematic elements aside, another primary reason the film still haunts and intrigues audiences today is the lore of a lengendary curse attached to this film. For audiences back in 1982, and possibly still to this day, following watching the film, friends may have found themselves only venturing by an alleged haunted house on a dare. The film’s impressive ability to take the haunted house concept up to a level never seen before–in fact–it essentially created the modern haunted house genre seen in today’s horror films. In short, Poltergeist is an icon, and stands alongside films such as PsychoThe Exorcist, and The Shining. Probably the most terrifying element of all is the setting–mundane upper middle class America suburbia. No longer where “haunted” houses confided to old mansions or hotels, but could be located next door to you. That is, if your neighborhood is also built upon a burial ground.

At the end of the day, regardless of who actually directed this film, Poltergeist remains one of the strongest films in either Spielberg’s or Hooper’s canon. And the legend of a curse certainly doesn’t hurt the strong fanbase of this horror classic. Curse and directorial authorship aside (though, the latter is a valid topic for discussion), the brilliance of this film is almost self-reflexive in that it displays quite the dichotomy while commenting on the secularized versions of heaven and hell as seen in the film due to both having their due screen time. This bifurcation paves the way to read past the ghostly apparitions and (real) skeletons, to the root of what I feel Spielberg and Hooper were foreshadowing as the real threat to a traditional familial bond–that box in your living room with moving images flickering on the screen. The way the movie opens and closes are very much book ends to one another as it attempts to deal with the quandary of an inability to “choose between life and death, when [we’re] dealing with what is in between.” The foreshadow of the seemingly one-sided conversation between Carol Ann (the late Heather O’Rourke) is a great depiction of how families are today. The kids are entertaining themselves by and form connections with characters seen on the TV while mom and dad are in their own world getting lit. That is not unlike what is seen today. Now, keep in mind, televisions are not responsible for fracturing the nuclear family; but the television is often relied upon as a babysitter and becomes the object that receives the most attention to the point that some get sucked into the moving picture world. Perhaps there is a lesson here in that the television should not be the center of attention in a household.

Poltergeist has much in common with a roller coaster at a theme park, and that metaphor can can aid in explaining why a film with such a simple plot and one-dimensional characters was and still is so incredibly successful in terms of cultural references and the fan base today. Why do most people go see a horror film? Is it the complex plots and multi-dimensional characters with brilliant on screen chemistry and excellent development? Not particularly, as great as those things are AND are often found in the best horror films. The pacing of this film reminds me of the pacing of a roller coaster at a theme park because of the lift at the beginning, the plummet into danger, the feeling that it’s almost over, followed by one final plunge into the twists and turns before pulling into the station. Compared to films such as The ConjuringAmerican Psycho, and Nightmare on Elm Street (not to mention many others), the plot is somewhat nonsense; however, the film is–without argument–sensationally effective, terrifying, memorable, and the horror imagery is beautiful–filled with metaphor and familial commentary. It’s an impressive array of haunting visual effects juxtaposed against a typical American family living in the suburbs. That, and ever since this movie, static on a TV is frightening! If you can find it anywhere anymore. With all channels on 24hr programming now, I suppose that the ghosts have to find another way into our world.

The innocence of the characters is also an intriguing and atypical part of this movie that aids in the frightening imagery and nightmarish inducing apparitions. It’s atypical because the victims of death, haunting, or injury in a horror film are usually horny teenagers who are sexually promiscuous, adults who have skeletons in the closet, played God, broken the law, or just plain old sociopaths. Not true with this family. Everyone in the Freeling household are wholesome family members from the hardworking father who wants the best for his family to stay-at-home mom who loves her kids, and even the siblings who appear to get along just fine. Almost too picturesque, and ultimately a bit unrealistic. Despite the tight, healthy nuclear family, the Freelings are thrown into chaos when Carol Ann gets sucked into the world that exists between life and death behind a thin veil. That innocence helps to uncross the level of terror in the movie because it hits members of the audience that no one is safe from the reigns of evil. The fact that everything in the film happened to a normal family creates added anxiety in the minds of the audience as many go home to a similar world first depicted in the movie. Looking back, Middle American must’ve been completely shocked when a family, not unlike its own, was plunged into a world of hellish gateways, ghosts, and ghouls and other circumstances out of its control.

There is something for everyone in this film. Because it is likely that most in the audiences then and now are afraid of something in the film: unexplained physics-defying phenomena, clowns, the underside of the bed, ghosts, closets, scary trees, pools, or subdivisions. Perhaps the relatability to the characters or the scary elements of the film are what help to connect new audiences to this classic horror film. There is a wittiness about the film that reminds me of something that Alfred Hitchcock may have developed for the screen had he ventured into paranormal movies. As nightmares go, Poltergeist is thoroughly enjoyable because you know your an always wake up from it and none of the characters are permanently damages at the end of the film. Eerie, beautiful, gruesome. That’s why this film still holds up today and will continue to haunt audiences for many years to come.