by Judson Cade Pedigo
Movies aren’t a big deal anymore. I’m sorry you had to read it here and I’m sorry I had to say it but it’s true. Back in the day, when a movie was released it was an event but now the business model seems to be to throw Chris Pratt in front of the cameras, hope it makes that opening weekend bank, and then dump it into the internet streams where people can watch it while waiting at the doctor’s office or getting their oil changed. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Yeah movies, no big deal. Time was you could tell if a movie was going to be a hit based solely on its fast food promotional drink cups. (Case in point, the summer of ‘93 I doubled down hard on Last Action Hero over Jurassic Park. It was about a kid who could go into the movies! If only I had listened to the cups. The Jurassic drinks were gorgeous while the Action offerings had the effect of making you feel like a drunk trying to decipher a Magic Eye poster. Magic ticket my ass, McBain). The point is that there isn’t much out there to extend the movie beyond the screen anymore. I can hear it now: “Hey old man, don’t give us another lecture about how you had it so good. We have smart phones and Lebron James. LOLZ, totes, af!” To which I would reply “Listen hypothetical teenager that I can’t relate to, put down your selfie stick and I’ll tell you about a magical place called the 80’s!” We didn’t need hashtags, we had Lazer Tag! Movies were a big deal back then. Sure, when you get right down to it, it was crass commercialism but what a time to consume! My favorite merchandising tie-in of all time came with a phrase that will make most people of a certain age stand up and put a hand over their heart. “You’ll know it is time to turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this…”
Way back BW (Before Wikipedia) if you wanted to learn more about your favorite movie you had to work for it, gleaming little pieces of information from backs of trading cards, book fairs, and articles in the back of Starlog. I doubt I would have as much fondness for Ghostbusters II if I didn’t have the book with “12 Collector Stickers Inside” (I still have seven left!). Since it took movies a lot longer to hit home video and even longer before they were priced to own, a book was the only way to live in that world while you waited to watch it again and the Read-Along Storybooks were the king! For those who don’t know, they came with either a record or cassette, which narrated the story while you read along and looked at the pictures. Simple enough but they had a way of capturing a child’s imagination by bringing the movie right into their hands, hearts and ears. They are still around today just not in the volume they once were. Heck, even Wrath of Khan had one. (Hey kids, listen as Captain Kirk wrestles with middle age…in SPACE!) I’ve got a stash of cassettes that followed me into adulthood and recently I thought I’d see if they had any of that old magic left. On the way to the supermarket I put on Honey I Shrunk the Kids and my four year old daughter was immediately enamored by the whole thing and had questions like, “Who are these kids? Why do they keep shrinking all the time? Can we listen to it again?” Even when we got to the store she asked the sales clerk if they had “Shrink the Kids.” Yep, they still got it. Instead of reviewing any movies, I thought I’d offer up my thoughts on a few movies on books on tapes.
Willow: What do you do when you want to make Lord of the Rings but don’t feel like paying all those licensing fees? You make Willow! I’ll tell you what though, I’ll take Warwick Davis over Elijah Wood any day. Willow was a big time movie and the audio adaptation sounds like a million bucks featuring the actual score and voice actors so good your ears will have to squint to make sure that they didn’t lure Val Kilmer into the recording booth using a trail of vodka and fried pies. What the recording does and does well is condense a two-hour plus movie into a little over ten minutes of radio play. This thing moves, man. All without sacrificing anything that made Willow great. I still get goosebumps when I hear Willow outwitting the evil Queen Bavmorda in the final showdown. (Spoiler alert, it was his old disappearing pig trick!) Willow 4 lyfe!
Super Mario Bros: Fun Fact, I once lost a whole day driving to different Sun Coast Motion Picture Companies trying to track down a copy of Super Mario Bros: The Movie on DVD. Since I couldn’t find it, I figured it must be one of their best sellers but it turns out it hadn’t even been released. That was something I couldn’t wrap my head around because I firmly believe that Super Mario Bros: The Movie should be readily available on ALL formats ALL the time. Well, except for the storybook cassette format it turns out. This thing is 35 minutes which makes it the Titanic of Read-Alongs! It draaaaaags. The actors all sound like they took a bottle of Dramamine, the music sounds like it’s from a bad 90’s horror anthology played through a Sega Genesis, and the prose goes on for far too long. Check out this description: “Iggy and Spike would stand out where ever they go. They looked just like their names with long gaunt faces and an unnatural pallor to their skin.” Look guy, this is an adaptation of a movie that was a not so great adaptation of a video game, not a James Patterson novel! I guess considering the source material they may have felt the need to flower up the writing a bit. As much as I love the flick, Citizen Kane it ain’t. Sorry, but our princess is in another castle.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit: Now this is how you Read-Along! I have been in love with this movie since day one and my appreciation for it only grows the older I get. It is an amazing movie and it’s really a wonder that it even got made at all with the complex technical craft required to bring it to life and it’s adult themes of racism, alcoholism, and adultery. This movie would never be made today. Whenever I hear people talk about how Dreamworks Animation is great because it appeals to children and adults, I think “How quaint. In Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman flat out makes a dick joke, in a Disney-produced movie no less! How’s that for grown up humor?” Since they couldn’t import all the sex, greed, and murder that made the movie so great, the storybook pulls out all the stops. The Bob Hoskins sound alike is on point, the Alan Silvestri score is as bombastic as ever, and the whole thing is narrated by Charles Fleischer! None other than Roger Rabbit is reading HIS story to you! You couldn’t get closer to the movie unless you had Robert Zemeckis there to turn the pages for you. Here’s the interesting part of this particular adaptation…it features a scene that didn’t make it into the film, the infamous Eddie Valiant piggy face shake down! It may have been cut but at least you can hear how it went. Look at that, an analog bonus feature. P-P-P-P-P-P-Please Roger, don’t stop!
Other essential titles to add to your home audio library: Tron, The Empire Strikes Back, Escape From The Gremlins, My Left Foot (nah, just kidding but if it happened, it would be narrated by the foot).