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Film

How June 8th 1984 changed cinema forever

@TomTaylorFO

Remember when everyone was talking about Scandinavian crime drama? Remember the time when true crime documentaries were confined to the sort of cable channels that don’t get much flick-through traffic? Remember when blockbusters weren’t just remakes, sequels or franchise fodder? Do you remember when stand-up comedy was all about incessantly remembering things? Do you remember June 8th, 1984? Well, you might not remember the date, but you will know what it spawned.

On that fateful day in cinema history, two huge films were released into the world: Ghostbusters and Gremlins. For anyone other than those with a maladjusted animosity for smiling and fun, these two-family favourites are popcorn masterpieces.  Whether you’re a tearaway feral eight-year-old with your finger up your nose, or you’re an esteemed retired eighty-year-old judge also with your finger up your nose, you’re likely to at least passively enjoy the two films.

These were blockbusters brimming with a sense of fun and originality—so much so that they even helped to define an era that modern tv and film seem to nostalgically pine for. Stranger Things is now rewriting record books and it is, in reality, a homage to the films of the golden era which it depicts, when family entertainment viewed together in the cinema or around the same tv was all the rage. 

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Therefore, it seems remarkable that both films were released on exactly the same day. And that collision has had some sorry side-effects. In the 1980s, your memories of movies would most likely be of the variety you might like to refer to as Haribo movies, the sort that kids and grown-ups love alike. Crafted in this nostalgia-soaked sugar-coated mould were films like the aforementioned duo alongside The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story and a slew of other tales of adolescent adventure with enough self-aware charm and sideways glances to still captivate adult audiences to this day.

In short, this represents a fad—a glorious fad, but a fad, nevertheless. Naturally, these fads only make up a fraction of the cinematic output from each era, and you’d be right to point out converse outbreaks of indie films and other emergent genres even within the mainstream. However, when you look back, this pocket of blockbusters – who clearly drink at the same bar – prove more era-defining than most

While on the surface their occurrence might seem self-evident; if a film proves a Hollywood box office hit then it is in the best interest of studios to try and emulate the success. Since Hollywood’s rapid commercialisation when fish became a tasty box office dish with Jaws in 1975, profits and generating them sustainably rose to the forefront. 

This coincided with films like Heaven’s Gate and Apocalypse Now where runaway auteurs nearly caused the entire studios to fall into ruin. In fact, six days into the filming of Heaven’s Gate, director Michael Cimino was already somehow five days behind schedule. By the second week, United Artists had calculated that at the current rate the film would cost them a million per minute of usable footage. Thus, studios evidently had to get a handle on things, and figuring out what was hot or not was part of the process.

Once more, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite a good thing, we want what we like, and the odd tastebud testing olive will inevitably crop up anyway. But on June 8th, 1984, we also saw things get competitive. Two huge blockbusters were going head-to-head. Even though it would seem that a Halloween release date might have suited Ghostbuster and a Christmas date would’ve certainly been more appropriate for Gremlins, commercial spots now had to be filled and battles had to be won.

The tale of how Ghostbusters came to fruition is a paradigm of this. Dan Ackroyd pitched a wildly different script to the one we know to director Ivan Reitman. He admired the core concept but knew it needed a lot of reworking. However, he was still able to pitch to Columbia Pictures head honcho Frank Price with merely a title and his three comedic stars: Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis. As we now know, Price somewhat recklessly agreed, and the gamble paid off. We were the benefactors of that gamble, but we are also the victims of a stipulation that went along with it: the movie had to open 13-months later. 

While Reitman and co pulled it off, and deadlines are a consequence of life, the rush to make it to market has been a reverberating one ever since. Now, we see half-baked trash delivered just in time for the school holidays, crews are beleaguered by mountains of work resulting in environments unconducive to creativity at best, and dangerously slapdash, blind-eye, and bully-like at worst

(Credit: Columbia Pictures)

Reitman and co’s triumphant overhaul was a victory for creativity and we have been basking in great works like Stranger Things inspired by the massive influential film ever since. But it earmarked the end of such feats. After all, when the runaway disasterpiece of Heaven’s Gate hit the fan, the lead star Kris Kristofferson recalled the first signs of the scale of the catastrophe at Cannes when a chance elevator encounter with UA president Norbert Auerbach resulted in the tycoon quietly remarking: “The money has to be taken from the creative people.” To which Kristofferson retorted: “Who you gonna give it to? The un-creative people?”

His question was valid and will forever remain valid. In fact, it is so valid that it has underpinned the entirety of the movie industry ever since. If outlaw auteurs interviewing 300 horses for a role were to be stopped in their squandering ways, then films had to be designed by committee. The problem is, brainstorming almost never works. They might have hit lucky in the ’80s, but the returns have been diminishing ever since with each step further towards commoditization.

Since brainstorming was first branded by an advertising agency head named Alex Osborn in 1939, every single study conducted on it proves that ultimately it doesn’t work. As researcher Ben Taylor writes in Why Most Brainstorms Don’t Work: “Three big problems jump out from the research. First, people have a bias toward agreement and conformity. A promising idea early in a brainstorm tends to shape the rest of the session as people gradually fall in line.”

He continues: “Second, participants tend to lose their train of thought as other people speak aloud or share in front of the group. Called ‘production blocking’ this phenomenon actually stymies the generation of new ideas.”

Lastly, he concludes: “Brainstorm attendees have a bias toward practicality. Despite Osborn’s emphasis on wild ideas, groups tend to favour “reasonable” solutions that sound achievable on paper. In front of so many peers, there’s too much social pressure to risk a wild idea that might fail.”

Thus, with that final point still fresh, it is often the case that modern Hollywood movies, more often than not cooked up in a boardroom as opposed to a dogeared notebook of a hopeful who has cogitated on a dream for years, ignore a wild idea that might fail and champion a plan that has already succeeded. ‘How’s about we do Tornado, but in space! People love space! And people love Bruce Willis…’ all of a sudden Tornado becomes Armageddon and so on and so on…

Gremlins is the perfect case in point for this theory. In fact, you could get much more bedroom bound. The script was written by a youngster outsider of the industry named Chris Columbus. As he lay in bed at night, he could hear mice crawling around in his loft, but he could never see them. Perhaps after a bit too much cheese, this let his mind race, and the playground of his imagination quickly cast the mice as some other little beasties. 

His script following a pet that needs peculiarly specific care came to the attention of Steven Spielberg who called it “one of the most original things I’ve come across in many years” and the great cinema one-two of the summer of 1984 came gloriously to the fore. However, the notion of the creative competition between the two has unfortunately hamstrung cinema to an extent ever since. 

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