June 7, 1985
I have long held a stance on THE GOONIES that was highly controversial: I found it annoying. I don’t think I’m alone on that anymore, but it used to get me into trouble because of how many people of a particular age group hold that movie as a sacred relic of childhood.
For most of my writing career I’ve had a policy of being ambiguous about my age, because I wanted to seem like a crusty old man, regardless of how little that seemed to fit with the particular things I was knowledgeable about. As I get closer to being authentically old and crusty I’m starting to be more lax about that, so at last the truth can be told: I am exactly the right age to have grown up loving this movie. In fact, I did grow up loving this movie. And I’ll even go you one further: I saw it twice in one day. My mom took me and my friends to see it on my birthday, and since there wasn’t room in the car for my siblings, she brought them to see it later in the day, and I went that time too.
But when I saw it again as an adult I learned something disappointing: those fucking goonies never fucking shut up! This despite one character putting their hand over another character’s mouth to shut them up being a major motif. It’s a movie starring a group of pre-teen boys, and though they’re not quite as naturalistic as the kids in E.T. (which I think they were deliberately modeled after) they do have an accurate 12-year-old-boy energy, which means they’re constantly joking and giggling and bickering and yelling over each other and telling each other to be quiet. I was less patient with them than my mom must’ve been with my carload of friends, so for years after that viewing I would say that GOONIES feels like being tricked into chaperoning somebody else’s kids at Chuck E. Cheese. I didn’t remember that Martha Plimpton’s slightly older character actually sums up the movie well when she says something similar: “I feel like I’m babysitting except I’m not getting paid.”
Fast forward to today. The futuristic year of 2020. That figurative trip to Chuck E. Cheese was considerably longer ago than the double-screening birthday party had been at that time. Since then I’ve learned things. I’ve been through things. My tastes have changed. The world has turned more goonie. I was kind of excited to see it again and find out if I still hated it. I had no idea if I would.
It is, of course, the story of a bunch of kids in Astoria, Oregon going on an adventure on what they think will be their last weekend before having to move so their neighborhood can be demolished for the expansion of a country club golf course. The nearby docks (and surrounding neighborhood?) are called the Goondocks, so the kids are called the Goonies. I don’t think I understood as a kid that it’s a class distinction, which is why they proudly refer to themselves as Goonies but bad-guy-son-of-the-country-club-owner Troy (Steve Antin, PENITENTIARY III) yells “YOU GOONIESSSS!!!” like it’s an insult.
They’re all convening at the home of Mikey (Sean Astin in his pre-TOY SOLDIERS theatrical movie debut) and older brother Brand (acting debut of Josh Brolin, followed by THRASHIN’) when they go into the attic (which they’ve never been in before?) and discover clues about a lost pirate treasure once believed to be hidden in their town. It leads them to a boarded up restaurant which they discover is
1) the hideout for a family of counterfeiters who just escaped from the local jail (long story)
2) over the entrance to a series of tunnels with a series of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK style booby-traps and a waterslide and a pirate ship and etc.
It was the second movie of the year for director Richard Donner, LADYHAWKE having been released in April. At the time he was the-guy-who-did-SUPERMAN (which is referenced when Sloth (NFL defensive lineman John Matuszak, CAVEMAN, THE ICE PIRATES) reveals his Superman t-shirt and a bit of John Williams’ theme plays), but the opening scene nods to his future as the-guy-who-did-LETHAL-WEAPON. Jake Fratelli (Robert Davi, CITY HEAT) is an inmate who fakes a hanging so he can attack the guard and be busted out by his brother Francis (Joe Pantoliano, RISKY BUSINESS, EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS, THE FINAL TERROR) and their mean, beret-wearing mama (Anne Ramsey, ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN). The resulting high speed car chase and shootout is well shot, with only the score by Dave Grusin (THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE) and the occasional wacky bystander reaction to tell us not to take it seriously.
The design of that opening scene is very clever, and reminds me more of producer/story-provider Steven Spielberg in the way it visually establishes the geography of the town and introduces all of the main characters as the chase goes past them. For example Chunk (Jeff Cohen, who had done one TV movie and episodes of Tales From the Darkside, Webster, The Facts of Life and Kids Incorporated) actually witnesses the chase from a fast food restaurant while Mouth (Corey Feldman, the most experienced of the kids with numerous credits including THE FOX AND THE HOUND, The Bad News Bears tv series, Madame’s Place, FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER and GREMLINS) doesn’t notice it go by his house because he thinks the sirens are from the cop show he’s watching on TV.
The Spielberg/Amblin touch is obvious in this setting of a small town, picturesque but with realistic texture, seen mostly through the perspective of its children who ride around on bikes, go to each other’s houses, with parents popping in sometimes but mostly at work. I really like the way cinematographer Nick McLean (CHEECH AND CHONG’S NEXT MOVIE, STROKER ACE) shoots the town – production designer J. Michael Riva (HALLOWEEN II, TANGO & CASH, DJANGO UNCHAINED) probly deserves credit for this too. The feel of the movie is far from gloomy, the sky is grey and foggy, houses and fences and things look aged and dirty, living rooms are realistically cluttered, giving a real world grounding to the fantastical journey they’re about to go on. Which mainly consists of tunnels, traps, skeletons, a waterslide, and a grotto with a pirate ship in it. Kind of underwhelming compared to many movies, but stuff that would be pretty impressive for a kid to discover in their town they think they love but will get the hell away from when they get older.
One thing I’ve noticed about these Goonies is that they’re weirdly bad at noticing things. Chunk doesn’t notice that he’s smooshing his hamburger and milkshake against a window. Andy (Kerri Green) doesn’t notice that the little boy in the not completely dark cave who she grabs and makes out with is not the manly teenage jock she has a crush on. All of them take a few minute to notice that the coins they find in the wishing well are pennies and nickels, not treasure (or “rich stuff” as they call it in their Astorian slang and/or infantilizing dialogue). For half of the movie they don’t notice that the “candles” they find and carry around do not look like candles, and do look like dynamite, and also have the word “DYNAMITE” written across at least one of them in large, plain letters.
The cast is good. Feldman was obviously a good kid actor, and knows how to pull off this smart ass with an Eddie Haskell front to parents and a sadistic streak. I feel like the part where he convinces non-English-speaker Rosalita (Lupe Ontiveros, EL NORTE) that Mrs. Walsh (Mary Ellen Trainor, ROMANCING THE STONE) has threatened to lock her in a dungeon is a little grim. Jeff Cohen as Chunk gets alot of broad clumsy-guy and fat-guy-eating-things material, but he has a very natural comic persona that’s crucial to the movie being watchable.
I’m glad Astin has become better known for a couple of popular wizardy movies, because I don’t have to feel bad about saying I think they saddled him with a real wet bag of a central character here. Everybody else gets to be funny, but he’s supposed to be the sincere dreamer guy, which mostly just means he makes a couple whiny speeches about finding the treasure and keeps talking to long-dead-pirate One-Eyed Willie the way William Petersen looks across the city and talks to the killer in MANHUNTER. But other people don’t seem bothered by it, so maybe it’s a personal thing to me, some kind of discomfort with having seen myself like that when I was young. (Not that I identified with him at the time. Obviously I wanted to be Data [Ke Huy Quan, following INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM], and build some kind of fancy shooting contraption.)
The Fratellis are well cast, and Davi especially plays it like a straight villain instead of a broad HOME ALONE type of approach. Anne Ramsey is most remembered for this movie and THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN, for her distinct appearance and performance as a mean old lady. She does her thing, but there’s one little moment I really appreciated this time where she has pushed the kids out of the restaurant/hideout. She closes the door, leans back against it and sighs before saying, “Kids suck.” I mean, it’s partly funny because I agree with her that these kids are exhausting, but it’s also just a tiny slice of nuance to her character. We get this one little peak at a different side of her where she’s stressed and grateful for a moment of peace.
If a movie imprints on you when you’re young sometimes you accept some weird shit and don’t really think about how weird it is. So watching it this time I wondered – we’ve got this whole class issue with the land development deal, but the main bad guys are an Italian-American crime family who are not connected to the treasure (except by coincidental location)… and by the way they have a deformed brother who they keep chained in a dungeon? Kind of a CASTLE FREAK? Or a restaurant freak I guess. It’s a weird idea, but kind of funny that Chunk becomes his pal.
I know everybody points this out, but it feels important to mention that at the end Chunk tells Sloth he’s coming to live with him. This is an example of the movie seeming to take a child’s perspective of the world and not caring what adults are going to think. It seems like Mr. and Mrs. Chunk probly have enough to worry about with moving all their stuff back into their house without having to worry about spontaneously welcoming an adult muscleman with a childlike mentality raised in a dungeon by a crime family into their home. But kudos to them for being willing to face this challenge.
It never occurred to me before how Tobe Hooper some of that shit is. The scene where Chunk sees into the room, where this monstrous dude is chained to a chair, and he sees only the back of him, hearing him moan and his brother berate him, with a TV on… it was so much like THE FUNHOUSE. And like that movie there’s a scene of hiding and trying to be quiet while seeing the scary guys through floorboards with unusually wide gaps between them. And later there’s the organ built entirely out of human bones.
Speaking of bones, let me mention another little thing I really like: the opening titles, with the three-dimensional skull and crossbones that flies at the camera, and the unique sort of carved out white lettering. I love when a movie starts out strong like that. I haven’t verified if he personally designed the font, but the title designer is Richard Greenberg of R/Greenberg Associates. He did the incredible, even iconic titles for SUPERMAN and ALIEN. Also FLASH GORDON and visual FX for PREDATOR. In 1989 he directed that movie LITTLE MONSTERS. With his later company Greenberg/Schluter he designed LETHAL WEAPON for Donner, and THE MATRIX for, you know… civilization.
So that’s where I’m at. I didn’t turn around on this movie, but I wouldn’t say I hate it. I can acknowledge it has many technical strengths, good moments and unique qualities. I can see how it appealed to me as a kid, with this fantasy of something really incredible happening right there in your boring ass town. E.T. did it better and holds up better as an adult, but there are certainly worse versions of it than this. There’s something there. I’d rather watch THE MONSTER SQUAD, but I can see why Goonies ‘r’ good enough for you guys.
THE GOONIES opened at #2, behind RAMBO week 3. It went on to be the #9 highest grossing movie of the year and surely made a ton more on video.
SUMMER OF 1985 NOTES:
The biggest one was the video for Cyndi Lauper’s “The Goonies ‘r’ Good Enough” video. In the movie they see her singing the song on TV (which is weird since you hear the word “Goonies” in the song). Later she made a video, which is directed by Donner but takes place in the goofy world of her videos, where Captain Lou Albano is her dad and she runs a struggling gas station that gets terrorized by Rowdy Roddy Piper, Classy Freddie Blassie, the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff and The Fabulous Moolah. But then she finds a “hidden cave” where most of the Goonies happen to be with a treasure map, and then there are clips from the movie and then the wrestlers come after them dressed as pirates. She goes onto a rope bridge/waterfall set of the movie and calls for help from Steven Spielberg, who appears watching on a TV, but has no advice. And then there’s a cliffhanger and there’s a part 2 to the video where she’s on the pirate ship and Wendy Richter and Andre the Giant show up.
Spielberg also put Lauper in charge of the soundtrack. She suggested The Bangles, who would blow up the following year. There are also songs by Philip Bailey, Teena Marie, REO Speedwagon, Luther Vandross, Joseph Williams and someone credited as “Goon Squad” whose “Eight Arms To Hold You” was originally made for a scene where they get attacked by a giant octopus and use the song playing on a Walkman to scare it away. There was a 12” single with dance mixes.
The album had the theme by Grusin, but not “Fratelli Chase” from the opening, which was subsequently used in a million trailers.
There was a novelization by James Kahn, who also did books of RETURN OF THE JEDI, TEMPLE OF DOOM, POLTERGEIST and POLTERGEIST II. I didn’t read it, but apparently it is told from Mikey’s point-of-view, includes some scenes cut from the movie and has them living in fictional Hillside, Oregon rather than Astoria. According to IMDb trivia, it “confirms that Chunk’s parents actually do ‘adopt’ Sloth, going so far as to throw him a Bar Mitzvah.”
There was a video game for Atari, Commodore 64 and Apple II. In 1987 there was a The Goonies II game. So we know if there had been a sequel to the movie it would’ve been about Mikey going through buildings and caverns using a slingshot, boomerang and molotov cocktails to free his friends and a mermaid from cages.
In 2007 there was some sort of Flash-based game advertisement for Jeep called The Goonies: Return to Astoria. It was at www.returntoastoria.com, which now hosts “The Best Legal Anabolic Steroids UK / Legal Steroid Pills.”
pop culture references:
This is the most entrenched-in-pop-culture of the Summer of 1985 movies so far. Mikey has a Prince mural on his wall, Mouth wears a PURPLE RAIN t-shirt, they mention Michael Jackson, there’s a picture of ZZ Top hanging in the living room, they watch Cyndi Lauper on TV. Sloth watches CAPTAIN BLOOD and a cooking show (The Frugal Gourmet?), quotes The Electric Company, somebody mentions the Hardy Boys TV show and Martin Sheen playing JFK (either the Kennedy mini-series or THE MISSILES OF OCTOBER) and Mouth makes a dumb reference to ROCKY. There’s a joke about GREMLINS (since screenwriter Chris Columbus and Spielberg made it), but they restrain themselves from mentioning Indiana Jones. There’s a joke about Pole Position.
summer of 1985 connections:
Two weeks after the release of A VIEW TO A KILL we have the character of Data, who idolizes James Bond, wears a belt buckle with “007” on it and has the Bond theme play for him sometimes.
In addition to introducing Astin and Brolin to movie acting, this was the first major FX animation job for Wes Takahashi, who went on to become the head of animation for ILM, animate the DreamWorks boy-on-the-moon logo, and help Peter Jackson start Weta Digital. Also, for some reason, he appears in four Rob Schneider movies.
I don’t know for sure if this started it, but there started to be a whole lot of “falling down dirty waterslide” scenes.
THE GOONIES has also provided years of material for movie news aggregators, who get to report on every rumor of development on a torch-passing remake or every time Sean Astin or somebody are asked if they would be interested. I doubt it will ever happen, but who knows. The one new thing I have to add to this topic is that I heard a story years ago that David Gordon Green was in a meeting with someone who mentioned they were looking for ideas for a GOONIES sequel or remake, so he improvised a pitch about kids on rollerblades solving mysteries.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.