The first thing I will say is even though I love the films directed by Steven Spielberg I probably love the films he produced and/or wrote, through Amblin Entertainment, a lot more. I shouldn’t say love more; but I love Spielberg for having this extra-curricular activity of producing films he wanted to see, it just so happened they were the films we wanted to see.
“NO MATTER HOW MUCH HE CRIES, OR HOW MUCH HE BEGS, NEVER, NEVER FEED HIM AFTER MIDNIGHT.”
The first Steve Spielberg presents film I ever saw was Gremlins. My brothers and I loved the Gremlins and Gizmo. I would imagine that Gremlins is the first certificate 15 film that many children saw. I would have been 7 years of age at the time and luckily home entertainment in the form of videos had come into full force by 1984.
In the Autumn of 1984 Gremlin’s came to the cinemas, released the same day as Ghostbusters, and before we ever the film we just loved the look of the Gremlins and Mogwai. We knew that toys had been made of them and we had to have them! I remember being at my grandparents and my dad came to pick me up. Gary, my elder brother, came with him and was in the back seat when I got in. In his hand popping out between his thumb and fingers was the head of Gizmo. I was so excited that he had a Gizmo toy. He wouldn’t let me see it to begin with but when he eventually did it was a trick this wasn’t a toy but just a head of Gizmo, it was a candy container for the Gremlin head shaped candy sweets that had been released. He fooled me, which he was always doing as the elder brother! We finally did get the Gizmo and Gremlin figures for Christmas and I have talked about this in a previous blog (please click here to view).
How did we know so much about Gremlin’s film though without seeing it at the cinema? Well this was because we had the story magazine of the film with a tape read by none other than 4th Doctor Tom Baker. We finally saw the film on video. I would say that 1985 was the last year we saw films at the cinema for a long time (about four years) because we saw everything on video then.
The story and screenplay for Gremlins was written by Chris Columbus who went on to direct Home Alone, he’ll also gets mentioned again in this article as he was such a big part of the Mid 80s Spielberg Presents ensemble. The film is quite sinister with comedy horror and was directed by Joe Dante, who would go on to have a few more collaborations with Spielberg. There is one scene that always appears to be in the film for no reason when Phoebe Cate’s character tells a story of her dad dying at Christmas. There is no need for the scene to be in the film and nothing really comes of it, it’s one of those nasty little things Dante likes to do.
The next Spielberg Presents film I remember is Back to the Future. Suffice to say Back to the Future was probably the fourth Spielberg Presents film I saw. One of the others before this was Innerspace.
“THE TUCK PENDLETON MACHINE - ZERO DEFECTS!”
Innerspace does not get mentioned much but it is a truly wonderful film. A great performance by Dennis Quaid in a Harrison Ford type role and outstanding tour de force by Martin Short. This was yet another film directed by Joe Dante, the second he’d done under the Spielberg Presents banner. I don’t think Dante’s made a bad film and Innerspace is one of his best, with a great supporting cast of Robert Picardo as the Cowboy, Kevin McCarthy as the main villain; Victor Scrimshaw, and Henry Gibson in a minor role as Martin Short’s supermarket boss; Mr. Wormwood.
I saw the trailer to this on TV during commercial breaks on Saturday morning shows when it was released at the cinema. The stand out moment on the trailer is Martin Short standing up and shouting “I’m possessed!” If you haven’t seen Innerspace then watch the trailer – Not as fast paced as today's trailers but I’m sure you’ll want to watch the film after seeing this
There were no toys made for this film at the time, which is a shame as it could have been brilliant for the Innerspace submarine Dennis Quaid drives around inside Martin Short. As I’ve said we didn’t see these films at the cinema we waited until it was on rental video and then saw it. Weekends became video weekends and we’d go to our local video shop to get the latest releases or films that looked good.
“I'M NOT BAD. I'M JUST DRAWN THAT WAY.”
The next Amblin Entertainment film which my brothers and I were obsessed with was Who Framed Roger Rabbit? There was big hype for this movie and until writing this blog I forgot how big the hype was. There were TV adverts, programmes on the making of the film and a Southbank Show on cartoonist Richard Williams, the man who designed the look of Roger Rabbit.
My brother is a great artist and was always drawing Roger Rabbit for fun and for his GCSE Art project. I seem to remember he drew Roger in various positions like the applause figurines. We had many of the applause figurines of Roger Rabbit and we also had the cuddly toys of Roger and Benny the cab. Yet again, bizarrely, for being so obsessed with this film we didn’t go to the cinema to see it. We got the comic adaptation of it but didn’t see the film for another year until it was released on video.
This was the summer blockbuster of the year and well deserved. Eddie Valiant is played by the late Bob Hoskins and it’s a great performance as you do forget that he is acting against nothing and that the “Toons” were all animated after it was filmed. You also have to remember this, like Gremlins, was made in the days before CGI, so everything is drawn on rather than going through a computer.
“DON'T SAY THAT, NEVER SAY THAT! GOONIES NEVER SAY DIE!”
There were two other Spielberg Presents films which I saw in 1988 – one mentioned previously is Back to the Future which I saw on Christmas Day (please click here to read more about this amazing experience).
The other film I saw was in the Summer six weeks holidays from finishing primary school before going to secondary school. We rented this film out on video from the video shop down the road from my grandparents’ house. There seemed to be an abundance of video shops at this time, once you had signed up with your rental card you could rent your video for the weekend for the fee between £1.50 to £2.50. Downloaders do not realise what they are missing! Looking through those walls of videos finding something that’s just come out or that you haven’t seen before. There is no denying that picture quality is better with HD and DVDs but there was something magical about going to a video shop.
I went with my mum and younger brother Guy to the video shop and picked the video for
our weekend viewing. We brought it back to my grandparent’s house and Gary asked what we had rented. He was shocked and thought we’d got the certificate 18 movie out Ghoulies! What we had got out was Goonies! I can’t think of two films that are so completely different!
We watched Goonies and loved it. Myself and my younger brother pretended to be Mickey and Mouth or Data and Chunk for days after. Re-inacting scenes and making our own adventures. There were no toys made at the time for Goonies and it wasn’t until a few years ago the ReAction made a great range of figures of the main four children and Sloth. A must for all Goonies fans!
There are too many funny and memorable scenes in Goonies to mention – But I will recount the opening scenes of Mouth showing the hired cleaner around the family home; speaking in Spanish and telling her to always separate the drugs, and Chunk breaking their Mum’s favourite ornament of a naked man, him trying to fix it and gluing the penis on upside down! The one which stands out for me, which by today’s standards is not that funny but made us cry with laughter, is when Chunk gets trapped in the freezer with the “stiff”. Gary could act out a good corpse from this scene and would make us laugh even more.
If there was a film that I wanted to live when I was 11 it was the Goonies. I would have loved to have the adventures they had. There is still talk of a sequel to the film all these years later, it is maybe the best film with child actors ever! Goonies is another film with a screenplay by Chris Columbus from an original story by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg even directed a few scenes along with director Richard Donner of Superman and Lethal Weapon fame.
“I ALWAYS SUSPECTED THAT BECOMING A FRIEND OF YOURS WOULD END IN DISASTER!”
Two Spielberg Presents films which I will mention here but can’t remember when I saw them are Young Sherlock Holmes and Batteries Not Included. Young Sherlock Holmes came out in December 1985. I remember the commercials on TV for this film and we were impressed by the special effects, the stained glass knight’s scene was shown a lot to promote the film. This was the first fully computer generated special effect to animate a character.
An interesting fact about this film is that Claudia Wells who played Jennifer, Marty’s girlfriend, in Back to the Future told TC Restani on his After Hours Podcast show that she was auditioning with pool of young women for roles in all of the Spielberg Presents films at this time – Gremlins, Young Sherlock and Back to the Future. Interesting to think that should have ended up in any of these as well as Phoebe Cates and Sophie Ward.
Young Sherlock Holmes is not my favourite out of the Spielberg Presents films of this period, but it is a curio for being directed by Barry Levinson, who had and has directed some spectacular movies – Diner, The Natural, Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man to name but a few. Henry Winkler, Fonzie of Happy Days fame, is a producer on the film and Chris Columbus, again, wrote the story and screenplay.
The one thing about Young Sherlock Holmes is that it leaves you on a cliff hanger and although you can see how it goes into the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels it was crying out for a sequel, in today’s sequel obsessed Hollywood industry it would have had five follow up scripts ready before the first was released.
Batteries Not Included was released in cinemas in 1987. I think I first saw this when it was shown on TV in 1990. This is a film that I have had greater fondness for as I’ve got older. At the time I didn’t really enjoy it. There was too much sentimentality in it and not enough about those great robots I thought. When I watched this a few years ago I really enjoyed it and could appreciate the schmaltz and adult themes more. It also as a great ending in the style of the Amazing Stories series….but more of that later.
Batteries Not Included stars Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, who were also in Cocoon together. Jessica Tandy had a career resurgence with films such as Driving Miss Daisy and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.
“THIS IS THE '80S! NOBODY LIKES REALITY ANY MORE.”
Batteries Not Included was originally going to be an episode of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, but Spielberg liked the idea so much he said it should be a film. Amazing Stories was a television series that Spielberg had created, it was in the same mould as Twilight Zone but for children, usually with a happier ending. It was first aired on television in America in 1985, but wasn’t broadcast in the UK until 1992 and then at strange times. The first episode shown in the UK was “The Mission” which was directed by Spielberg who had also come up with the story. The episode stared Kevin Costner, who had just become the biggest star in the world through Field of Dreams, Dances with Wolves and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Keifer Sutherland was also in this episode; neither he nor Costner were big names in 1985.
I recently watched Amazing Stories again and it really is a great series. It’s got Spielberg’s finger prints all over it. It also has a great cast in each episode, writers and directors which have gone on to make some incredible films. Spielberg came up with a lot of ideas for stories for the shows. He was prolific from the 70s into the 80s for story ideas, ones he would direct himself and ones he would farm out to guns for hire to make, usually under the Presents name or Amazing Stories.
The Spielberg Presents monica came to an end though. We had the Back to the Future sequels Parts 2 and 3 in 1989 and 1990 and then there was Gremlins 2 – The New Batch which came out in 1990. This was the last year I believe of Spielberg Presents films. There was quite a bit more merchandise with both Back to the Future sequels and Gremlins. I have the cuddly Mogwai which have velco backs and are reversed into Gremlins. I also had a Back to the Future Part 3 LED game for my birthday in 1992, I played that game non-stop!
Gremlins 2 is not as dark as the original, Dante realised that the comedy parts of the first needed to be ramped up in order for the sequel to be different and still be as good. The story setting is fantastic – The original is set in a small town in America and the second is set in New York but contained within an office block. The New Batch is great and a worthy successor to the original.
There is only one film I haven’t mentioned in this 80s output and that is Poltergeist which in many ways is the first Spielberg presents film. I didn’t see this until the 1990s and I think I will need a whole other blog to fit this films development all in. All I will say is it is a great film whoever directed it!
Throughout the 90s and 2000s Spielberg produced more TV and films, these weren’t under the Spielberg Presents tag though. The medical series ER was a great success by Spielberg and Michael Crichton, a winning formula off the back of Jurassic Park films. Even though the films which Spielberg was producer and executive producer on in the 90s and 2000s were good (The Flintstones, Men in Black) they didn’t feel like Spielberg Presents films.
“I KNOW THAT'S YOUR CAMERA, SIR, BUT TECHNICALLY, THAT'S MY FILM.”
The one that stands out from this period and it’s more to do with it being a homage to Spielberg than anything else is Super 8 from 2011. It’s a great film and the only downside is the ending, not that it is a bad ending, it just feels like an ending to an Amazing Stories episode rather than a Spielberg film ending.
For me the golden period of Spielberg Presents are the 1980s. Action, Excitement and Sci-fi were the ingredients and Spielberg could fire these out one after the other, it truly is the golden age of Spielberg and any fan of his should look into watching these films if they haven’t already seen them.
We may not have the same sort of films being made now because we expect quick editing and fast paced movies with something happening in every frame to keep our attention. But these films were the templates for the films of today. Spielberg is the Godfather of modern day cinema, the architect for the monster blockbusters we expect nowadays and for those 80s films I love to watch again and again and again. And for this I salute him.