In late 1985, aged ten, after seeing this TV spot for The Goonies, I really wanted to see it. I voiced my enthusiasm to my mother, not expecting that I would actually be taken. A few days later, my mother informed me that my father wanted to see me that evening, after school. Panicked thoughts rushed through my mind. What had I done now? Had the school complained about me again?
It turned out that my father had decided to take me to see The Goonies at the cinema. Needless to say I was thrilled. I recall the excitement of attending what was then the ABC cinema Magdalen Street Oxford – an old-school art deco one screen auditorium, complete with balcony, and one of those lovely red curtains that rose to reveal the screen. Memories of perusing lobby stills, buying the “storybook”, and then sitting in anticipation of the upcoming film remain as vivid as ever for one chief reason: this was the first time I ever went to the cinema with just me and my father. Every prior cinema trip had included my mother and/or my sister.
Before the main feature, we were treated to the full-length music video for Election Day by Arcadia (Duran Duran in all but name) – a bizarre, pretentious but visually arresting Cocteau influenced bit of 1980s kitsch. We also watched a newsreel update on the money raised by Live Aid, along with a second music video for Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s cover of Dancing in the Street. I call also recall exactly which trailers ran beforehand, including Teen Wolf, Legend, and Back to the Future.
Finally the main feature arrived, which I thoroughly enjoyed. These days I don’t eat cinema snacks, but on that occasion my father had purchased a large packet of Maltesers, chocolates which I have associated with The Goonies ever since. As with everything Steven Spielberg had his name on in those days (even as executive producer), I immediately wanted to see the film again the moment the credits rolled.
Fast forward to 2019, and The Goonies is presently on re-release in UK cinemas. Today, I went to see it again, with my wife and children. We’ve all seen it before, several times, but cinema is in our blood, and we know the big screen is where films really belong. As such, how does The Goonies hold up on a cinema viewing, some thirty-four years later?
The painfully honest answer to this question is to acknowledge that The Goonies is not a great film in the same league as the other classics from the heyday of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Whilst the likes of Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Back to the Future have all stood the test of time as stone-cold masterpieces, the same cannot objectively be said of The Goonies. At best, it’s a modestly successful children’s treasure hunt adventure, shamelessly pillaged from countless Famous Five or Hardy Boys books, or the Children’s Film Foundation films of the 1970s. Add a pinch of Raiders of the Lost Ark and a dash of Treasure Island and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect.
What is undeniable, is that if you watch the film when you are ten years old, you will love it forever, regardless of an objective assessment of the material. If you watch it for the first time as an adult, you’ll probably find, with a certain generosity of spirit, a reasonably diverting story, with engaging performances from a cast that includes the young Sean Astin and Josh Brolin. Richard Donner directs well, and some of the set pieces are effectively exciting, even though the third act degenerates into pantomime with its trio of incompetent villains.
Viewed for the first time as an adult, you’ll also probably find the children loud and obnoxious – not to mention sweary. This film was made back in the day when children could swear a bit, and you’d still get a PG rating. In fact, it amazes me what you could get away with in a PG film in those days. Parents understood exactly what “Parental Guidance” meant and therefore didn’t expect the BBFC to nanny their children. Hence why today, many films of my childhood (including The Goonies) have 12 certificates instead of PG certificates.
So why do I love The Goonies so much? Well, for one thing the sheer nostalgia. The film reflects childhood days when children played outside, unsupervised, on bikes without safety helmets, and went on (normally imagined) adventures where they hunted for treasure and outwitted foolish villains. There isn’t a mobile phone is sight.
Obviously, that sounds very old-gittish, so here’s a better reason: the subplot between Chunk and Sloth. Of all the Goonies, Chunk is my favourite. Not only do I love his hysterical, very Jewish sense of humour, but I love the deeply humane way he gets to know the “monster” Sloth, leading to the shamelessly sentimental but undeniably touching moment at the end, where he says he’ll take care of him from now on.
But the most important reason I love The Goonies is this: the afore-mentioned treasured memory of seeing the film in the cinema with my late father. Today, in honour of the occasion, I broke my no-snacks cinema habit and purchased some Maltesers. There were other strange echoes of that evening long ago – including a music video for Pink’s Walk Me Home (which played in full beforehand), which reminded me of seeing that Arcadia video.
I will also confess that one small moment in the chaotic finale actually brought a tear to my eye, for obvious reasons. When gadget obsessed Data is reunited with his equally gadget obsessed father, said father tries to take a photo, but his gadgety camera malfunctions. Data just smiles and says “It’s OK Dad. You can’t hug a photo”.
The Goonies might not be a great cinematic work of art, but because it is inexorably tied to memories of my father, for me, it will always be a great film.