So, I have another movie theory. It’s a bit vague, but it generally goes like this: There comes a moment in your life when you see your first “bad” movie. And after that, nothing is exactly the same. It’s like finding out about Santa Claus or the Washington Generals or that some GMs in sports really don’t know what they’re doing.
I put “bad” in quotations because I’m not actually referring to simply bad movies. There are a lot of bad movies — you can’t avoid them for very long. I’m referring to the a movie bad enough to change your whole view about movies. I remember my first “bad” movie. It was Electric Horseman. That’s the one where Robert Redford rides a horse in a casino. Man did I loathe that movie.
Before that, I thought movies were magical. I don’t mean that I liked every movie I saw — I didn’t. Some were boring. Some weren’t funny. Some were way too long. But even those were MOVIES, capital letters, and the overall experience was mesmerizing. How does that bumper sticker go? You know, the one about a bad day fishing? “A bad day fishing is better than Bart Simpson peeing on a NASCAR number and Impeach Obama?” No, that’s not quite right. Bumper stickers kind of blend together for me.
The point is that for me, as a kid, a bad day at the movies was better than doing just about anything else. The whole experience — walking into the theater, smelling the popcorn, finding the perfect seat, hearing the sound of sneakers sticking to the butter- and candy-coated floor, falling way back into that seat (it seemed like every movie chair back then had a broken back). Then there was that captivating moment when the lights would begin to dim, and the curtain would begin to pull back to expose the film screen. Man, did I love those few seconds — and it depresses me that most movie theaters don’t do that now. I used to love just watching the curtains pull back and pull back, and there was no telling how far apart it would get or how big the screen would end up being. The screen, it seemed, was always bigger than expected.
Then there was the movie, and no matter how bad it might be based on conventional standards (like plot, acting, script, scenery, character development), it always had something that made me happy to be there — a good joke, a pretty actress, a cool special effect, a stirring scene, a great song, something, always something. And when the movie ended — no matter how good or not good it happened to be — I would need to sit there for a moment, watch the credits, let it sink in, brace myself for reentry into the atmosphere. When I walked out into the harsh and bright sunlight, I would need to cover my eyes, I would feel this terrible disappointment because it was over even if “it” happened to be a lousy movie.
Yeah, then I saw Electric Horseman.
I guess it comes down to this: Electric Horseman was the first movie I ever saw where I honestly would have preferred to be doing something else. Anything else. It wasn’t just boring, it was interminable — at least for an 11-year-old. I longed to be playing stoop ball in front of our house or reading an Alfred Slote book or watching whatever sport might be on television or, frankly, doing homework or washing my parents car or clearing the driveway of snow. I don’t know if Electric Horseman is really that bad, and I never will know because I’ll never watch it again. That movie broke the magic. After EH, movies started being just movies. They became “good” and “bad” in adult ways.
This didn’t just mean movies. No, suddenly, I started to judge everything. There were suddenly good television shows and bad ones. There were good restaurants and bad ones. There were good books and bad ones. There were good sports and bad ones, good games and bad ones, good players and bad ones. And the really bad ones, well, they were just BAD, a waste of my time, an insult to my intelligence, a pox on my favorite teams. Electric Horseman did that to me. But if it hadn’t been Electric Horseman, it would have been another movie.
I thought about all this when I took the girls to see Oz: The Great and Powerful. I can tell you how I felt about the movie if you care, which you shouldn’t. In fact, I would advise you to just skip to the next paragraph. I thought it was OK. The scenery was cool. The story: Eh. The plot: Eh. The acting: Eh. I thought James Franco was pretty terrible in it. I mean, really, he was distractingly terrible. I have nothing at all against James Franco, other than his Oscar hosting, I think he’s a fine actor. But throughout this movie he just kind of smiled in weird places, and he said his lines in this weird cadence, and he seemed sort of noncommittal about the whole thing. I just never bought it. I have plenty of other thoughts about it too, but that’s enough adult talk.
Truth is, I didn’t want to judge Oz. I wanted to see through my daughters’ eyes — particularly my youngest Katie. She’s 8. She had been looking forward to it for weeks. She bought and read one of those little kid paperback books about it. She watched The Wizard of Oz again the day before. It was an even for her — not least of all because it is one of the rare movies that is actually rated “PG.” If you are a parent, you know this: PG the new G. There are hardly any PG movies these days. Everything — even stuff that is kind of geared toward kids like “School of Rock” is PG-13. On weekends, we will often roll through the available movies to stream, and it’s astounding how few of them are rated PG. It’s so bad that every time we check for a PG recommendation, one of the first options will always be “Jack and Jill,” which I’m told by several unfortunate parents is so bad it will actually melt your eyes. But, hey, it’s PG.
So, anyway, while “Oz” was on the screen, I spent much of my time — maybe even most of my time — watching Katie. And: I wasn’t disappointed at all. She was entranced. Every joke made her laugh. Every jolt pulled her out of her seat. Every triumph brought this huge smile to her face. She didn’t care about the acting because she did not think of the people as actors. She did not care about the script because she did not think about the words being written down. The whole thing was real to her in a way that it was never quite real to me after Electric Horseman. I tried to see it through her eyes, and while you can’t go all the way back — not after seeing your first Electric Horseman — I found you can get back some of the way. Oz was magical. Because Katie thought so.
That night, after the movie ended, my wife Margo had Katie write out her own movie review by answering a few simple questions. I cleaned up the spelling a little bit.
Was it good?
Katie: It was wonderful, but some parts were a little scary. The reason you should watch it is because it is a magical fairy tale.
Was it OK for children?
Katie: It is a probably OK for children 8 and up (editor’s note: Katie is 8). Some scenes are a little violent and have one or two bad words.
What is the movie about?
Katie: It is a great magical fairy tale with scenes from other fairy tale movies like Snow White.
Would you recommend it?
Katie: Yes. It is the best movie I ever saw.