Genre Films of 1982 vs. 2008 – Fight!

In all the annals of geekdom, the year 1982 is our SF nonesuch—debuting classics left and right. From ST II: The Wrath of Khan to Blade Runner, a fan’s cup had truly runneth over by summer’s end ’82.

But now it seems we have another contender entering the ring—a strapping, quick-on-its-feet fighter that’s hungry for victory. Even the most hypercritical would have to begrudgingly admit that 2008 has shaped up to be a great genre year cinematically.

But, how does it compare in the blow-by-blow action against 1982, the leading heavyweight? Let’s cut to the action now….

Former TV Giants Square Off

Mighty Blow! Shaking off the Enterprises’ lethargic premiere theatrical performance, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan delivered an awesome roundhouse. Critics cheered, fans were ecstatic. Kirk’s long smoldering romance revealed itself; a noble villain made a welcome return appearance. “Now this is the Trek we love,” was the rallying cry. Henceforth, it would remain the high-water mark to which we would compare all ST films.

Left Hook! After eight long years, Mulder and Scully, one of the best couples to ever cross genre paths, reunited on the big screen and the result was….tepid. X-Files: I Want to Believe felt uninspired to many fans. Sure, it was great to catch up with our friends and see the chemistry reignite, but many grumbled that the plot only delivered something slightly better than the average TV entry from the series.

Ding, ding! And the winnah is….1982 by a knockout! (Sorry Scully, I still love ya, but this match wasn’t even close.)

Spielberg Enters the Ring

What’s this? A one-person tag team…?

Steven Spielberg was already in excellent fighting shape before he entered the ring in 1982. But it was the Reese’s Pieces eatin’ box office behemoth known simply as “E.T.” that forever etched his name in every American’s brain. Incredibly, this bravura performance was preceded only two weeks by Poltergeist, for which Spielberg served up the story and a rousing stint as producer (plus more if you buy the long-running rumors).

No matter how you spin it, Sir Steven owned Hollywood in 1982.

Such is not the case in 2008, however. After finding it easier to locate the Ark of the Covenant than a script everyone could agree upon, Spielberg and Lucas finally cracked the bullwhip again after 18 years for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The results? An incredible $786 million haul worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo, but many of us left the theater ambivalent and/or underwhelmed (ardent CG gopher fans excepted).

Ruling: 1982 with a crushing knockout. Again, this one isn’t even close. E.T. was everywhere in ’82, large and in charge, before trading in guns for walkie-talkies.

And speaking of CG….

“Who are you calling ‘program,’ program?”

TRON PosterWhen 1982’s TRON rezzed up and burst onto the game grid, many a future IT worker realized his new life’s calling. Unfortunately, most of that summer’s filmgoers were too enamored of the aforementioned alien to notice much else. As a result, TRON the game earned more than TRON the movie.

But, the Master Control Program’s influence spread far…

Would we have the Pixar of today without our venerable game grid warrior paving the way? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, much of today’s incredible CG films should doff their server farm rendered chapeaus out of respect to TRON, their blacklight, quarter-fueled progenitor.

Long in the CPU tooth or not, TRON is seminal.

Having said that, this summer gave us WALL•E. And while I love the T-man, his performance just doesn’t compare to the richness and emotion of that little robot’s entry. Looks like the Los Angeles Film Critics agree, and that oft-ignored film component called a “script” really does matter.

Winner: 2008 by a terabyte.

Ding ding! So at the sound of the bell, that’s two for the mighty ’82 and one for ’08. Whose dream will reign supreme? My forthcoming Part Two offers the answers to that and more—and it involves a monumental match pairing a costumed detective against a hard-nosed noir PI.

Don’t miss it!

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