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CNN Looks at Decades Again – This Time Through 'The Movies'
July 7, 2019  | By Mike Hughes
 

As the 1980s began, movie moguls were still in their '60s/'70s haze.
 
Perplexed by the new generation, they'd written big checks to "auteurs" – directors who looked and sounded hip and artful. Then Heaven's Gate happened. 

"It was a shot through the heart of the auteur era," journalist Chris Connelly says in the opener of The Movies, CNN's six-part, blitz-paced series (Sundays at 9 p.m. ET, barring breaking news, of course).  
Heaven's Gate cost $44 million and made $3.5 million in North America. Its director (Michael Cimino, fresh from the Oscar-winning Deer Hunter) would go five years before his next movie, its studio (United Artists) would collapse, and Hollywood would regress.
 

That was in 1980, a convenient starting point for this opener. It eyes the '80s, the post-auteur era.

 
Yes, there were still eccentric new filmmakers, but they were people who could make films on a budget – Tim Burton with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Steven Soderbergh with Sex, Lies and Videotape, John Hughes with teen comedies, Spike Lee with micro-budget movies and then Do the Right Thing
But the big checks? Those went to young directors who had high-adventure tastes.
 
George Lucas was producing two Star Wars films while his friend, Steven Spielberg, was going non-stop.
 
As a director, Spielberg made the Indiana Jones (top) trilogy (produced by Lucas), The Color Purple, and more. As a producer, his style was obvious in PoltergeistGremlinsGoonies, and the wildly entertaining Back to the Future.
 
There were more Spielberg productions, including a massive one: "Who Framed Roger Rabbit is the most complicated movie ever made," Tom Hanks insists here.
 

Hanks is in a tricky situation: He's one of the show's prime producers, an on-camera commentator, a friend of Spielberg, and an actor who made his breakthrough in the '80s. His own films – including the delightful Splash in 1984 and Big in 1988 – are mostly ignored here.

 
But Spielberg gets plenty of attention, as is logical. His big action films soared; so did a smaller one, trying to show, he says here, "how the divorce of my mom and dad affected me and my three sisters."
 
The budget was tidy, under $11 million, but that "smaller" movie, ET, soared, making $435 million in North America and $792 million worldwide. Both records that would last a decade.
 
This became typical of the decade's most satisfying movies. They are, as one person puts it, "small stories told against a large canvas."
 
Certainly, many directors forgot all about anything small or human. "There was an overload on us," Neal Gabler, critic and historian, says. "The aesthetics gravitated to bigger and faster and louder."
 

But the best films, including James Cameron's Aliens, remembered the personal story at the core.

 
Director Brad Bird points to Die Hard as the ideal: "It isn't the size of the fireball. It's how much we care abour the person running from the fireball."
 
In Die Hard, we cared about Bruce Willis – alone and barefoot, trying to rescue his wife from a high-rise occupied by gunmen. Then we saw him elude a spectacular, '80s-style fireball.
 
The Movies has the same strength and flaw as the five series Hanks produced about the decades. The strength is its awesome range, a cascade of clips, and comments from most of the key people; its flaw is its formlessness, a dizzying journey with no real destination.
 
Still, there are interesting moments along the way. Two came during the brief look at dance films. 
Maya Rudolph recalls loving Flashdance – and loving the fact that its star (Jennifer Beals) is, like Rudolph, biracial. "That just wasn't a thing at the time," she says.
  
And Kyra Sedgwick said she was already dating Kevin Bacon (now her husband) before she saw his Footloose movie: "I thought, 'Oh, I see why people fell in love with him.' "
 
 
 
 
 
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