As much as movies are a part of my life these days, it’s hard to overestimate how special they were to a kid growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. Back then, mine was one of the last families on the East Coast (or so it felt) to get wired for cable television, and we only started renting movies when my brother got fed up and bought the VCR that my parents would not.
A quick look at today’s prime time TV schedule—things haven’t changed so much, it turns out—will give you an idea of how rare it was to find a good movie on broadcast television, so the movie theater was someplace magical.
But Newport was also a small town, and when a movie hit it big, it could monopolize screens for months. In the space of a few years, I remember, it happened twice. The first time was when the original Superman was released; a few years later, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial did it again. This week, both films return to area theaters, both changed in different ways. For viewers of a certain age, it might feel like summer all over again.
To begin with the one that’s changed more: Zack Snyder’s film Man of Steel is noticeable right off the bat for the absence of the main character’s name in the title. This version of the Superman story is grittier and more modern than the Christopher Reeve original (although co-producer Christopher Nolan swears it isn’t as gloomy as his Dark Knight series), following the current trend of hero movies. Henry Cavill (TV’s The Tudors) pulls on the tights in the title role, with Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) as his foe: General Zod.
The Zod character dates back to Terence Stamp’s indelible performance in the 1980 sequel to the first film; Zod was easily the best villain of the series. It’s refreshing to see the new series bring him in at the start instead of defaulting to the comic book standby of Lex Luthor. Here he travels to Earth to track down Kal-El; without saying too much, the origin story of Superman is slightly different this time around. While the original film had his father Jor-El (played here by Russell Crowe) sending him away from a dying planet, the reboot suggests that he may have been sent away to hide a secret of his birth.
Perhaps the most interesting detail, however, is the mystery of that big “S” on his chest, and how the hero gets his name. Asked by Lois Lane what it stands for, he replies, “It’s not an S. On my world, it means ‘hope.’” “Well, here,” she replies, “it’s an S.” Indeed.
The biggest changes to E.T., on the other hand, came at the hand of its own director. When Steven Spielberg put together the 20th-anniversary edition of the film in 2002, he made the lamentable decision to digitally remove the shotguns carried by the feds hunting down the extraterrestrial. In their place, he gave them all walkie-talkies, removing the sense of threat that made the original so moving to at least one nine-year-old I can recall. When the movie hit 30 last year, Spielberg bowed to public backlash and reinstated the hardware. If you want to catch the differences yourself, it screens at Hadley’s Cinemark Theaters on Sunday afternoon and twice on Wednesday, right around the time that Man of Steel plays in another theater right down the hall. With the official start of summer knocking at our door, what better time to head out for a big screen double-feature?
Also this week: Whose Is This Song? screens at Amherst Cinema on Wednesday evening as part of the annual Django in June music festival. In it, filmmaker Adela Peeva travels to a half dozen Balkan countries in search of the origin of a particularly haunting melody, one that each culture has made its own. The film will be introduced by Django in June founder Andrew Lawrence and preceded by a musical performance from Tcha Limberger and Sergiu Popa, two of the festival headliners.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.