March 29, 2009
A thought by James Berardinelli

For me, 1983 was an "off" year as far as movies were concerned. The reason? No new Star Trek films. In fact, when I think of that year, the first thing that comes to mind is the snowstorm of February 11, which dumped nearly two feet on Southern New Jersey. Living in the mid-Atlantic, I became accustomed to 6 inches or 8 inches or even a foot of snow in any given storm, but I had never seen anything in excess of 20 inches. It happened on a Friday, which was a little unfortunate because we only got one school day off. Had the snow fallen on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Monday, we would have had a loooong weekend. The economy was in the dumps, but I made some money shoveling driveways and sidewalks. I still remember the aches in my arms and back that evening - it takes a lot of effort to remove that much snow.

On the current events scene, I only recall a few things from the year. Beirut was not a place to be in 1983. The U.S. Embassy was bombed in April, killing 63, and the U.S. Marine Corps barracks were hit in October, killing 241. Until September 11, 2001, the 1983 Beirut strikes were the most overt terrorist attacks against U.S. targets. This woke Americans up to terrorism, but the bell didn't ring as loudly as it might have because the killings occurred overseas.

September 1983 was not a good month for airplane travel. On September 1, one of the most infamous Cold War events of the Reagan era occurred when the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines commercial jetliner that strayed into Soviet airspace, killing 269. Only three weeks later, on September 23, a bomb exploded aboard a Gulf Air flight, causing it to crash in the United Arab Emirates, killing 117. We have a tendency to think of current times as being "unsettled," but it's worth remembering how dangerous the '80s were with the Cold War still being fought and the threat of global terrorism on the rise. In some ways, it's a minor miracle that the world survived the decade.

For Star Wars fans, 1983 was the year when we found out how it all ended. By the time Return of the Jedi arrived in theaters, I wasn't close to being the devotee I had been in 1977-79. In fact, unlike The Empire Strikes Back, I didn't try to see the film on Opening Day. I saw it on either a Saturday or Sunday afternoon (can't remember which) and left the theater feeling vaguely let down. After Empire, I had been expecting something truly remarkable and what was there? Ewoks. Hundreds of cuddly teddy bears. Since there was no Internet in 1983 and I was no longer plugged into the Star Wars fan network, I didn't know what the consensus reaction was to the movie among the die-hards, but all four friends I saw it with thought it sucked. (I was disappointed at the time. Subsequent viewings have allowed me to see strengths alongside the weaknesses, but there's little doubt this was the weakest of the original three movies. I would go further and contend it was the weakest of the six non-animated Star Wars productions.)

Generally speaking, I didn't spend much time in multiplexes during 1983. There wasn't a lot to excite me. I probably spent more time playing D & D in 1983 than during any other year, so that ate up my Friday and Saturday nights. I also watched a lot of Doctor Who on TV. The venerable British sci-fi series had reached its 20th anniversary in the U.K. and was at the height of its popularity in the U.S. In my market, it was on six days a week: 25-minute episodes weeknights at 11:00 (I stayed up, despite having to rise at 6:00 a.m. for school) and omnibus "movies" Saturday afternoons.

Overall, I can recall seeing only six movies all year. In addition to Jedi, I paid hard-earned lawn cutting money for War Games (June 3), Superman III (another second sequel disappointment - June 17), and Twilight Zone - The Movie (June 24). Plus there were the "dueling James Bond" films, both of which were pretty horrible. The Official Bond movie, Octopussy came out on June 10. The Connery contender, Never Say Never Again (a remake of Thunderball) waited until October, and became the only movie I saw after Independence Day.

A couple of 1983 movies received limited attention during their theatrical runs but developed into cult hits once they arrived on home video and TV. In fact, both of these "below the radar" titles are better known today than many more financially successful films of that time. I'm referring to Brian De Palma's Scarface and nearly everyone's favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story. I didn't see either of them in 1983. I recall having some interest in Scarface (having recently seen Al Pacino in The Godfather either on network TV or HBO at my neighbor's), but the R rating kept me away. At the time Scarface opened, I was 16. As for A Christmas Story… I didn't know of its existence until a number of years later when I saw it on videotape.

1983 was an exceptionally bad year for sequels, with mediocrity being the pinnacle. In addition to Return of the Jedi, Superman III, and the 007 flicks, there were Jaws 3-D (unwatchable), Psycho II (not terrible, but not terribly good, either), and Porky's II (awful, and mostly ignored by audiences). It was also the year when Tom Cruise began to flex his movie muscles with both Risky Business and All the Right Moves.

When it came to awards, the Oscars loved Terms of Endearment. In addition to winning Best Picture, it also snagged victories in four other categories. I have seen the film once (in preparation for watching its 1996 sequel, The Evening Star) and hated it. Despised it. Loathed it. So there will be no review of Terms of Endearment now or at any time in the future. I can't recall another instance when I have had such a negative visceral reaction to an Oscar winner. Of course, since I didn't care one way or another what critics or the Academy thought in 1983, all of the praise of Terms of Endearment didn't mean anything to me at the time.

For me, 1983 was a movie theater downer. Of the limited number of films I saw, only one (War Games) was worth the money. Too bad at the time I couldn't peer a year into the future because some of what 1984 had to offer would redeem cinema in my eyes.

Related reviews: Sudden Impact, Scarface, WarGames, Risky Business, Flashdance