The Movies of Summer 1990
The first in a series?
I don't know about you, reader, but as winter continues to drag on and the temperature hovers around the single digits to below zero for days on end, my thoughts tend to ten to warmer weather and thoughts of spring and summer. And when I start thinking about summer, I can't help but think of summer movies, since I'm a film critic for a blog, and I think about what I can anticipate and (hopefully) enjoy.
The movies were always a big part of my summer vacations growing up as a kid. Oh, I went outside plenty and played during my three months or so off, but I also remember heavily anticipating the new summer movies, and getting excited once the promotions kicked in. With this article, I thought I would look back at the big summer movies I saw in 1990, the start of the first full decade that I was a film fan. If this should prove popular, I will probably do articles on 91 to 99, if people here are interested.
I turned 13 years old in the summer of 1990, and I remember seeing most of the major ones. There are even a few R-rated films on this list, that I got to see either with one of my older brothers, or by sneaking in the theater with my best friend after we bought a ticket to a different movie. (Yes, I confess, I was a naughty boy.) This article will reflect on what I thought about the films back then, and my thoughts on them now, as I have recently re-watched all of these films for the sake of this article.
And so, without further delay, let's enjoy some big budget summer films filled with special effects, violence, killer spiders, and even puppies and kittens going on adventures narrated by Dudley Moore! The summer movies of 1990 had it all!
BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III
RELEASED: MAY 25
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Doc Brown and Marty McFly take one last trip through time, this time to the Old West. If you didn't catch Back to the Future Part II (which had come out in November 1989), you're going to be lost, but this was still an easier film for audiences to follow after the convoluted plot of Part II. This film wrapped up the story, and gave many kids like me who had grown up on the characters closure.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I remember loving 1989's Back to the Future Part II, and just how crazy it was. There was the futuristic setting for part of the film, which was filled with a lot of wild ideas and special effects, as well as the alternate 1985, which was so dark but also really cool. And then there was the plot, which catapulted Marty and Doc across different time eras as they tried to fix their own mistakes. Some people were confused by the movie, but I loved it, and I couldn't wait for Part III to come out.
I remember seeing Part III over Memorial Day Weekend, and being kind of disappointed with it. Compared to the last movie, it seemed kind of tame. The fact that I have never been a huge fan of Westerns probably also didn't help. Oh, there were parts I found neat, like the climax when they use a train to help travel through time. But, on the whole, after the craziness of the last movie, this one felt like a much safer movie to me, and a big step down.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I can see why the younger me was disappointed with this, but as an adult, I don't think it's such a bad movie. Yes, it is very different from the second movie, but it has some very nice moments, like Doc falling in love with a local woman in the Old West. I remember finding their scenes kind of boring as a kid, but I like them now. I also love the ending to the film. The final scene with Doc giving his farewell speech to Marty is really well done, and Christopher Lloyd delivers it so well.
That being said, I still do miss some of the craziness from Part II. I'm also not a big fan of the Old West setting in the film, as it doesn't feel like an actual town. Whenever I'm watching the movie, it feels like Doc and Marty are on a film set, not an actual point in time. Something about the setting just seems smaller to me. Whatever the case, this is still probably my least favorite of the trilogy, but I like it more than I did back then.
RELEASED: JUNE 1ST
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: It's the future, and Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an ordinary man who works 9 to 5, and is married to Sharon Stone. But, is he really? After he tries to take a virtual trip to Mars, people start acting weird around him, and suddenly, everybody including his "wife" wants to kill him. To get answers, he has to get his "butt" to Mars, and go on an adventure that involves weird aliens, lots of faceless extras for him to shoot, alien women with three breasts, and cheerfully obnoxious robot cab drivers.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: My older brothers took me to see this opening weekend. I believe my parents let me go, because they didn't know how violent it was. Man, I remember the time I had trying to explain this movie after I saw it. Probably the weirdest and goriest movie Schwarzenegger ever made, this movie is full of crazy action, weird creatures, special effects, and violence galore. No wonder I loved it.
I think I was technically the right age to see this movie because, despite the hard R-rating, this movie is pretty much a 13-year-old boy's dream come true. The action sequences play like some kind of wacked out video game, there's lots of humor and corny one-liners from Arnold, and the violence is so over the top, it's like something out of a comic book. There's no way a young boy in the early 90s did not find this movie appealing.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Okay, so I don't think it's as great as I did back then, but this is still a really fun movie. Not a good one, but a fun one. It's the kind of check your brain at the door movie that I can just sit back and watch if I ever want something violent and stupid. (If I want a really good nostalgic action movie with Arnold, I'll pop in Terminator 2.)
Total Recall was directed by Paul Verhoeven, who had made Robocop a few years earlier. This movie seems like he saw this as an opportunity to make something even more violent and insane as that movie was. If you want to have fun, try watching this movie, then read the Phillip K. Dick short story that it's loosely based on. This movie is just bonkers, but it's a fun sort of bonkers in that ultra violent way that you could only get away with in the 80s and early 90s.
RELEASED: JUNE 15
WHAT'S IT ABOUT: After Batman became a marketing phenomenon the previous summer, the Disney Studio said, "Hey, let's do that too!". They took the classic comic strip character, spruced him up with a lot of special effects, gathered up an all-star cast led by Warren Beatty (who also directed the film), and then marketed the hell out of the thing to the point that it got so much hype, it almost made Batman from the year before seem modest. Oh yeah, and the plot has something to do with Tracy trying to stop a mobster played by Al Pacino, and Madonna works into the plot somehow. But really, this was all about the T-shirts and merchandise and McDonald's promotions.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: Seriously, Disney pretty much spent the first half of 1990 beating the fact that this was going to be *the* movie of the summer into every young head in America. It looked bright and colorful, and the commercials were full of really weird looking villains modeled after the classic villains from the comic strip that nobody in my generation had actually read. Really, all I knew about Dick Tracy before this movie came from the classic "Duck Twacy" short with Daffy Duck.
So, after months of hype, I saw the movie opening day, and...I found it incredibly boring. I remember sitting in the theater, thinking that the movie felt like it was endless. I don't remember the nearly full theater really getting into the film. There were some laughs, but nobody was getting excited or really getting into the film like they had at Batman one year earlier. This was one of the biggest disappointments of the summer for me. It was a long and dragged out movie featuring a personality-deprived hero that I just couldn't get into. Watching the old Daffy Duck spoof for two hours would have been preferable.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Not much has changed. I still find this to be a pretty dull movie. Despite the big talent both on and behind the camera, this movie has never really grabbed me. I hadn't watched the movie in years, so I didn't really remember a lot about the film, just my disappointment with it. Watching the film recently, all that disappointment came flooding back.
Dick Tracy himself is a bore, and Beatty doesn't even seem to be having a lot of fun here. The villains are obviously supposed to be the more colorful and interesting characters, but even they don't excite. And then there's the music score by Danny Elfman...It sounds like he was pretty much told to do the exact same thing he did for Batman a year earlier, only more forgettable. Aside from the look of the film, there's really sbsolutely nothing that stands out about it.
GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH
RELEASED: JUNE 15
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The Gremlins are back, and this time, they're causing chaos in a New York high-rise building. No, seriously, that's pretty much all there is to it. Out of this simple premise comes one of the most insane sequels ever made - one that literally spoofs the original movie. There's a lot more Gremlins, pop culture references and jokes galore, cameo appearances by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Hulk Hogan, and even a scene where the film literally breaks, because the Gremlins have taken control of the projector. This movie is nuts.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: 1984's Gremlins was a huge movie for me, and I still remember when I found out there was going to be a sequel. There was a short teaser trailer when I went to see The Little Mermaid back in December 89. As soon as I saw that short little trailer, Gremlins 2 automatically became one of my must see films of 1990.
The movie did not disappoint in the slightest, at least to me. I absolutely loved the non-stop humor, the wide variety of Gremlin creatures introduced in the film, the "breaking the fourth wall" jokes, and just how totally nuts this film was. Everything was ramped up, sillier, and just a lot more fun. Some of my friends were actually disappointed with how over the top comedic the film was, and wanted something darker like the first movie. But to me, the movie was a riot. I even paid to see it twice at the theater.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Again, not much has changed. I think this is one of the more underrated sequels ever made. Returning director Joe Dante was given a golden opportunity. The studio was so desperate to get him to come back to make a sequel, they were pretty much willing to make whatever he wanted. And so, he made the craziest movie he could possibly think of. This is kind of like a live action Looney Tunes cartoon crossed with a spoof/tribute of 1950s horror and Sci-Fi. I love the characters, I love the wizardry of the puppets, and I love how this movie tries to throw just about anything it can into the film, including a Gremlin musical number.
But most of all, I'm amazed with what they were able to do with puppets in this film. There are so many creatures, and often so much happening in a single scene, you can watch it multiple times and not catch all the little sight gags that the puppeteers came up with on the spot in certain scenes. This movie is a great argument for physical effects over CG. This may not be the Gremlins sequel that some fans wanted, but for me, it works beautifully every time I watch it.
THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS
RELEASED: JUNE 15
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A kitten named Milo and a pug puppy named Otis grow up on a farm together, and become best friends. While playing hide and seek one day, Milo hides in a crate by a dock, and winds up accidentally floating away. Otis the dog goes to find his friend, while Milo tries to find his way back. Along the way, both make a lot of discoveries about nature, and even fall in love and start families of their own. Dudley Moore narrates the film, and gives it a certain children's storybook quality.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: A friend of my mom's had come to visit this summer, and she had brought her young daughter, so I took the kid to see this movie. This was obviously geared toward younger kids, but I do remember getting some enjoyment out of it, due to the fact that I was a huge animal lover (still am). This is a probably about as simple of a kid's movie you can find, but it has it's charms, and Dudley Moore's narration is kind of cute.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: If you like this movie, don't read up on the making of the film. You see, this movie was originally made in Japan, and released in 1986 as "The Adventures of Chatran". And while it was a huge success, the movie also drew a lot of controversy, due to rumors that many of the cats and dogs that were used to play the main characters were hurt or killed during the making of the film. Watching some of the stunt scenes (cats being made to dive off cliffs, or dogs taking on bears), it's easy to see that maybe the safety of the animals was not the top priority for the filmmakers. The Japanese version of the film can be found on Youtube, and there's even more dangerous stuff that was cut from the American version, as the studio deemed it too intense for a G-rating. The allegations against the film have never been definitively proven, but it's not hard to see the point of those who protested against the film when it was released.
RELEASED: JUNE 22
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The future in law enforcement is back, and this time, he's going after a bunch of drug dealers who are pushing a deadly new substance called Nuke. There's more violence, more gore, a foulmouthed little kid who acts as one of the main villains, and even a new Robocop, which has the brain of a criminal put inside it, which probably wasn't the brightest of ideas.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: After Total Recall, my parents weren't keen on me seeing Robocop 2, so my friend and I snuck into this one. I remember enjoying it, but not finding it as good as the original was. The movie has all the violence and weird humor of the first movie, but it's just not as funny and exciting. The movie also oddly enough doesn't really focus on Robocop all that much, instead focusing on the criminals and various bad guys around him. They pretty much drive the plot, which is a big step down, since Alex Murphy's (the man inside the suit) struggle with his new life as Robocop, and his old life with his family, was one of the stronger aspects of the first film.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: Pretty much the same. This is not a terrible sequel, but it's a huge step down. The new director was obviously doing his best to mimic the style and humor of the first movie, but it just doesn't work as well here. You have to admire Peter Weller's (the actor who played Robocop in the first two films) commitment, though. It could not have been comfortable stomping around in that outfit, and the fact that he came back for the sequel is admirable.
DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER
RELEASED: JULY 4TH
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: John McClane is back for another action-filled Christmas. This time, a bunch of rogue military officers take control of a Washington D.C. airport, and unless they are stopped, a plane full of innocent people (including McClane's wife) will not live to see the New Year.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This is one R-rated film I knew I would be seeing in advance, as my dad and I were huge fans of the first movie, and he promised to take me to it. We saw it opening day (apparently with everyone else in our town, judging by the crowd that turned out). I remember we both had a great time with this movie. Unlike Robocop 2, this movie does a much better job of recreating the successful formula of the first movie. The characters are just as likable as before, and the action is just as big. This was a really fun movie, and ranks as one of my better memories I have shared with my dad.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: You know what interests me the most about watching this movie now? Bruce Willis. He was so charismatic and funny in the first two movies. Look at him now. The man sleepwalks through just about every role he plays. Even in the last Die Hard movie (which was terrible), he barely seemed to be making an effort. Comparing him in his prime in this film to now is like night and day. It really is kind of sad.
That being said, I still think this movie is a hell of a lot of fun, and ranks just below the first one. The original Die Hard, in my mind, is probably the most perfect action movie ever made. And while no movie could probably ever top it, this movie makes a very good effort, and is still entertaining to this day.
RELEASED: JULY 13
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A young businessman (Patrick Swayze) is murdered in what appears to be a random mugging. However, the love for his girlfriend (Demi Moore) keeps him on Earth, as he tries to figure out and how to deal with the fact that he is now a ghost. Following his girlfriend, he learns that someone set up his death, and now she may be in danger as well. The man must turn to a con artist psychic (Whoopi Goldberg), who is the only one who can hear and communicate with him, in order to get his message across.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: This was the little movie that eventually became the biggest summer movie of 1990. Director Jerry Zucker (who was best known for making wild spoof comedies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun) got out of his comfort zone with this film, and manages to find a good blend of drama, a love story, and comedy (mostly provided by the antagonistic relationship between the Swayze and Goldberg characters). It's easy to see why this movie became a hit, as it made a great date movie at the time, having stuff that could appeal to both men and women. I went with my mom and my brothers to see this, and I remember really enjoying it.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While this movie has aged pretty bad and is definitely a product of its time, there are still things to enjoy here. The chemistry between Swayze and Goldberg is still very good, and is pretty much what carries the film. The main problem I have is that the relationship between Swayze and Moore never comes across as strong to me. Yeah, everybody remembers the clay pottery scene, but does anyone remember any other moment that the two lovers share in this film? They're kind of a boring couple. The special effects are kind of hokey, and the central love story is bland, but the comedic relationship between Swayze and Goldberg still makes me smile when I watch this.
RELEASED: JULY 18
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: A mild-mannered doctor with an intense fear of spiders (played by Jeff Daniels) moves his family from the big city to the country, hoping to start a new medical practice. Unfortunately, the town he chooses to live in has just been invaded by a rare and deadly jungle spider who stowed away in the casket of one of its victims, and is now in the small town, mating with a common spider in the doctor's barn, and creating a new breed of deadly arachnid that starts killing off the doctor's patients, earning him the nickname "Dr. Death".
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: What I remember more than the movie is the experience of watching it with my brother, who is quite afraid of spiders himself. Why he thought he could handle this movie, I don't remember, but I just remember his jumping and squirming in his seat, while I was sitting perfectly still, enjoying the movie. I remember wishing I had a rubber spider or something in my pocket that I could put on his arm at some point during the movie. Yeah, I could be an evil kid sometimes. As for the movie itself, I remember enjoying its mix of horror and comedy (The commercials even called it a "thrill-omedy".), but really finding the reaction of the jumpy audience more fun than the movie itself.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: I actually recently watched this for the first time since seeing it in the theater for this article, and am surprised by just how well it holds up. The movie does a great job of handling its central problem, which is how to make something as small as a spider into something that can seem threatening up on the big screen. There are some really fantastic close up shots of the spiders, and the movie does a great job of creating a sense of menace from the little guys. It also has some good laughs, as well, and manages to mix scares and absurd humor well.
But my favorite part of the film has to be the extremely cheesy end credit song performed by Jimmy Buffett. Easily the best song ever written from the point of view of a spider!
RELEASED: JULY 27
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Ben (the late John Ritter) and Flo Healy (Amy Yasbeck, who eventually married Ritter in real life) are a couple who can't have children, so they decide to adopt. Unfortunately for them, they manage to pick little Junior (Michael Oliver), who just may be the spawn of Satan. He terrorizes the neighborhood, sends his new grandpa to the hospital seconds after meeting him, and idolizes a serial killer. And yes, this movie was marketed as a kid's comedy.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: While it has never been one of the my favorites, I do remember enjoying this movie, though wishing they had cast a different kid in the role of Junior, as I never found him to be that good of an actor even back when the movie came out. Still, the movie had enough raunchy humor and wild behavior that just about any kid from that time could enjoy it. This is back when the MPAA (the ratings board) was much looser with their guidelines, and movies that featured violence and cursing could still get away with a PG-rating. Remember 1990 was also the year we got the original Ninja Turtle film, and that had violence and cursing plenty.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie is quite obnoxious and hard to sit through as an adult. If the grating lead child performance doesn't get you, then a shrieking Gilbert Gottfried will. Speaking of Gottfried, he recently interviewed the writers of this film on his podcast, and they shared some interesting stories about the making of this film. One of which was this movie was actually based on a newspaper article about a couple who adopted a kid, only the orphanage didn't tell them about the kid's violent mental issues. The article was auctioned to be made into a movie, and while most writers pitched it as a horror story (ala The Bad Seed), they were the only ones who pitched it as a dark comedy. Eventually, the script was watered down, and eventually sold as a family comedy, though the movie is probably one of the darker family comedies ever made. I mean, it has a scene where John Ritter's wife makes love with a serial killer in the kitchen, while Ritter's character is right outside!
But yeah, if you enjoyed this movie back then, it's probably best to keep it in nostalgia, as it has not held up well. But hey, at least it's not Problem Child 2. If I get to do another one of these articles, I'll cover that little "gem" next time...
DUCKTALES THE MOVIE: TREASURE OF THE LOST LAMP
RELEASED: AUGUST 3
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: Everyone's favorite greedy and child-endangering millionaire, Scrooge McDuck, gets his first movie. He goes off hunting for a lost treasure, but only winds up bringing home what he thinks is a worthless oil lamp. Turns out the lamp holds a genie (voiced by Rip Taylor), who starts palling around with Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and causing trouble. There's also an evil wizard named Merlock (Christopher Lloyd) who wants the genie's powers for his own purposes.
WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT THEN: I was a big fan of DuckTales growing up, so I was actually kind of looking forward to this movie. And while it was nothing great, it pretty much gave me what I wanted. It's an extended episode of the cartoon with slightly better animation than the TV series. Although, I seem to remember thinking that if Disney had released the movie 2 years earlier, it would have been better. Apparently I was right, since this movie was a huge flop, and pretty much killed their plans to adapt any of their other syndicated TV shows at the time into feature films.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: While it's not a great animated film, it does hold up fairly well, and doesn't insult the memory of the TV show that inspired it. Yeah, Rip Taylor as the Genie gets a little grating at times, but Christopher Lloyd actually does a great job of the villain, and I really wish they could have used his character again in some way. If you have any fond memories of the series, you will enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, it can be kind of hard to find. It is available on DVD, but you can only special order it direct through Disney's mail order service. I have a friend who is a member of their service, so I was able to watch this again for my article. It's certainly a minor effort, but I don't understand why Disney is so embarrassed by it that they're trying to hide the movie. They've certainly done worse. (The live action Inspector Gadget movie, anyone?)
RELEASED: AUGUST 24TH
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?: The final film that Jim Henson worked on is an adaptation of Roald Dahl's dark children's novel. The story tells of a little boy staying at a hotel with his grandmother, where he stumbles upon a group of witches who actually are having a convention at the hotel (disguising themselves as harmless old ladies), and are plotting to overthrow the world. The boy is discovered eavesdropping on their plans, so the head witch (played by Anjelica Huston) turns the boy into a mouse. The boy escapes and, still in the form of a mouse, must find a way to stop the witches before they carry out their plan.
WHAT I THOUGHT THEN: Being a huge fan of Dahl's novel since I was a kid, I remember being really happy with this film, except for one big issue. The movie, for the most part, stays remarkably faithful to the original book, which is what made me so happy. What bothered me was the ending, which was completely changed from the book. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who has not read the book or seen this film, but it feels very tacked on, like the studio pressured them to change the ending. Still, this is a fairly small issue. The movie itself is a great adaptation up until its final moments, and does a great job of capturing the dark humor of the book, as well as the danger and adventure.
WHAT I THINK OF IT NOW: This movie holds up quite well. I'm still not a fan of the new ending, but the film has a very offbeat, dark and kind of scary feel that I think is missing from some family films. I also enjoy it when movies targeted at children can add a little bit of scariness to them, and I think this movie does a great job, while not getting too intense. I don't remember this movie getting that much of an audience when it came out, and I don't think a lot of people remember it today. That's too bad, because this is a really enjoyable film that more people should seek out.
Well, that's it for the movies of Summer 1990. I hope you enjoyed it, and would love to continue looking at the summer movies of the 90s. Of course, that's up to the response I get to this article. Feel free to share your own thoughts of these films, or your favorite summer movie memories.
As the great Siskel and Ebert used to say, until next time, the balcony is closed...