Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Goonies (1984)

Dir. Richard Donner
Starring: Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman 

When I reviewed Super 8 I described it as The Goonies for the 2010s”. After all, both were produced by Steven Spielberg. But what then does that make The Goonies? Well, how about Indiana Jones for kids? 

What are the basic plot points of an Indiana Jones movie? A  legendary treasure. A dangerous quest to find it. Ruthless opposition. Traps and puzzles. Humour and romance. The Goonies has all of these. It even also has Ke Huy Quan, who played Shortround in Temple of Doom!

What it doesn’t have is the exotic locations. Dr Jones getson his seaplane and leaves his dotted red line across the map from Nepal to Egypt, Shanghai to India, Venice to the Canyon of the Crescent Moon. The Goonies find adventure in their own home town.

That home town is Astoria, Oregon. The summer is over and autumn is setting in. A fine drizzle soaks the forested hills. Leaves fall in sodden clumps. And all across the ‘Goon Dock’ area families are being evicted to make way for a new golf course. For the kids who live there – ‘the Goonies’ – this will be the end of their life as they have always known it. They have one final day in which to have an adventure. 

This adventure comes courtesy of a tattered old map. Dating from 1632 it purports to be describe the location of the treasure of notorious pirate One-Eyed Willy. Mikey Walsh (Sean Astin – Sam from The Lord of the Rings) is determined to try and find the “rich stuff” to save his house. He drgas along his friends. There is the gadgeteering James Bond wannabe Data (Ke Huy Quan). There is the fat one – there’s always a fat one – Chunk (Jeff Cohen). And there is Corey Feldman – there’s always Corey Feldman – as the cocky smart arse ‘Mouth’. 

Following the map to an abandoned cliff-top restaurant the Goonies stumble upon the lair of criminals the Fratellis. Newly busted out of jail opera-singing Jake (The Untouchables’ Robert Davi) has joined his toupee-wearing brother Francis (Joe Pantoliano) and fearsome Ma (Anne Ramsey) in a plot to forge banknotes. When the Goonies – along with Mikey’s older brother Brand (Josh Brolin), Brand’s girlfriend Andy (Kerri Green) and her friend Stef (Martha Plimpton) – stumble upon their plans their only chance to escape is to find the hidden tunnel that leads to One-Eyed Willy’s treasure… avoiding all the deadly booby-traps the long-dead pirate left behind.

Okay, if you want to subject it to intellectual rigour it doesn’t hold together. If Willy and his pirate band were not able to escape the cave-in, how did his treasure map get out? Why build such elaborate tunnels and booby traps? Why did no one ever follow the treasure map before? How come all the Spanish is transaltable into English in verse? There also seems to have been some pretty unsympathetic editing: when they escape at the end Data tells the assembled policemen, journalists and parents that the most frightening moment was “the octopus”. Ermm, what octopus? Finally, especially when they are all together, the Goonies’ acting is quite rough and raw as excitement gets hold of the child actors. In no way are the performances as polished as in Super 8. 
The boys had learnt to never again look at
Dad's 'secret' collection of magazines...
This, though, gives it an air of spontaneity. It is like being on adventure with your best friends yourself. It is a Sunny D thrill ride that does not shy away from the consequences of failure – I lost count of the number of dead bodies they stumble across, whether they date from the 1630s, the 1930s or just a few minutes earlier. These fractious, squabbling children are up against real adult nastiness in the Fratellis (armed with revolvers rather than Chelsea Daggers). The Fratellis may be a family, but there is greater closeness between the (mostly) unrelated Goonies. The Goonies are there for each other, they care about each other, they would do anything to help their friends out. After all, “Goonies never say die!” Compare this to the Fratelli in-fighting. Jake and Francis hate each other, and both are terrified of their mother. And then there is their disfigured other brother, Sloth (John Matuszak). They chain him up in a cellar like a beast. It takes the Goonies – and more specifically Chunk – to see past Sloth’s fearsome appearance and recognise in him a good soul. He is just a big kid (albeit an immensely strong one), and they welcome him into their gang and their families. 

The summer is over and autumn is setting in. This was the Goonies’ one big final adventure. Even if they save their homes it is the end of their childhood. They are exposed to death, danger, violence, evil and horror. Mikey rallies them at one point by saying that up on the surface it is their parents’ time; down in the tunnels it is their time. But they have to return to the surface eventually, and they have all grown up as a result of their adventures. Mikey even gets a kiss in the dark. But there is a melancholic mood. By saving the day the Goonies have made adult decisions, assumed adult burdens and defeated adult foes – not just the cartoon villainy of the Fratellis but the more respectable bullying of the banks and the Country Club. The Goonies is a kids’ adventure. But by the end of it our heroes are no longer kids.

What have I learnt about Oregon?
I think the most I have learnt is about the climate. It may abut Califiornia and Nevada, states principallky thought of as hot and sunny, but Oregon has a whole different weather system. It is – in autumn at least – wet and chilly. It is a rain-forest without the tropical monkeys. The coast line is hilly and those hills are coated with dark green evergreens. Mist rolls in from the sea and drizzle seems ever-present.

Forget Pirates of the CaribbeanOregon had Pirates of the Pacific. The (fictional) pirate One-Eyed Willy seems to have been a classic 17th-century villain, but operating on the west coast of America rather than the east. This does make sense – the vast wealth of the Spanish Empire that so tempted the Caribbean swashbucklers came originally from Peru and Bolivia. It was then shipped down the west coast of South America, carted across the isthmus of Panama, and then loaded onto ships again; a pirate operating in the Pacific, where Spain thought it was safe, could actually stand to make a huge fortune. However the British Empire was, apparently, present in these waters to, and it was they who outgunned and hunted down the Inferno. With no British territorial possessions on the Pacific coast of the Americas at this time I found this a bit harder to swallow.  

Can we go there?
The Goonies lived in Astoria, the settlement founded at the mouth of the Columbia River by John Jacob Astor’s beaver-trapping empire that made him one of the world’s richest men. Tye film was largely shot on location  in Astoria and nearby. The Walshes’ house was located at 368 38th Street. It’s still there, but privately owned. Data’s house is right next door at 370. Mikey and Brand’s father worked at the Captain George Flavel House Museum. The Clatsop County Jail, from which Jake escapes at the start of the film, has now been transformed into the Oregon Film Museum. As one would expect, it has an actual gallery devoted to The Goonies. There actually is an Astoria Country Club. I would take care if using the toilets however… 

Some slight licence has been taken with the terrain outside Portland however. They cycle quite someway through Ecola State Park in the south of Clatsop County to get to the coast. This is where the restaurant was located. The sea-stacks that are seen prominently are Haystack Rock and the Needles south of Cannon Beach. Cannon Beach is also where the Fratellis’ get-away car mixes in with the 4X4 beach race. The final scene, where they see the Inferno sail again was shot shot down in California however: at Goat Rock State Beach near Jenner in Sonoma County. All of the tunnel sections – including the final sea cave – were filmed at the Warner Bros studios in Burbank, California, however. 

Overall rating: 3/5

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