29 June 2005 | mentalcritic
The Goonies ARE good enough
It was in 2001 or thereabouts that I watched and listened to the audio commentary track that is on the DVD version of The Goonies. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, and seeing how the principal cast had aged (or hardly aged in Josh Brolin's case) was worth the price of admission on its own. But this is just one of The Goonies' selling points. Despite what the IMDb's ratings would have you believe, it is an immortal classic that warrants repeated and frequent viewings. It is not a coincidence that many of its cast and crew have repeatedly appeared in all sorts of productions before and since. Indeed, this was probably the first film that introduced me to the reality that the same actor will often play ten different parts in ten different films when I realised that Jonathan Ke Quan was the same brat that made parts of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom so amusing. Seeing him in the video-enhanced commentary of the DVD nearly two decades later was a surprise and a half.
The film revolves around a group of children and adolescents who live in the poorer, less trendy part of a beachfront town. Unlike an episode of Barney, every member of this principal group is given a background and a string of differences from their castmates. You will not see the teenaged Brand responding to the same situation in the same manner as the ten year old Mikey, and that is where a major part of the film's strength is derived. The only weakness in the characterisations is with Martha Plimpton and Kerri Green, who join the adventuring boys a little way into the film. Exactly what they are doing other than giving the character of Brand something similar to himself to bounce his more adult-oriented lines from is anyone's guess, but they do work in their limited capacity. It is just a pity that Chris Columbus' screenplay did not give them a little more to do, other than defuse one fiendish trap towards the end of the ride.
Speaking of fiendish traps, the adventurers journey from one puzzling location to the next with barely a stop for breath. It works because unlike similar adventure films where the director expects us to be impressed by a fiendish-sounding name, the specific places that are visited by the Goonies have function. The bone piano shown in one such sequence, for example, would appear in the nightmares of children learning a regular piano for years after the film's theatrical release. It also gives Corey Feldman a good chance to act out a character who speaks very fluent Spanish. And while I am on that subject, who could forget the immortal scene early on in the film where Mouth deliberately loses something in the translation when Rosalita is shown around? But the prize for scene-stealing goes to John Matuszak, who plays the unofficial eighth Goonie, Sloth, with a weird aplomb that may well scare the willies out of parts of the intended audience. But then, in 1985, scaring the intended audience a little was considered a healthy part of making a film for those in the age ranges depicted here.
They say you cannot have a good protagonist without a good antagonist to bounce off. Robert Davi, Joe Pantoliano, and Anne Ramsey provide antagonists so good that they utterly hose the rule about not working with animals or children. The Fratellis work so well here because they are working with children. The late Anne Ramsey played her part so well that the mere thought of watching her in anything scared the willies out of me for years. Nowadays, as I have fully realised the mechanics behind film for some years, I am keen as mustard to see some of her other work in such pieces as Throw Momma From The Train (now there's a title that brings images to mind) or Meet the Hollowheads. That a performance can produce two entirely different reactions in the same person at different stages of their life should tell you all you need to know about its quality. Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano are somewhat overshadowed here, but the manic, cackling quality of their introductory act also left quite a lasting impression.
You might have noticed that I have so far only mentioned the special effects in passing while heaping praise upon the acting. This is because unlike films such as the recent Star Wars prequels, the effects complement the acting rather than overshadow it. From what I am able to tell, all of the effects in The Goonies are practical, and some of them quite inventive. There is no use of blood squibs, which may disappoint some viewers, but there are enough mechanical sets and air vents to fill three films. Some of these effects did not turn out so well and were cut from the final film (the squid sequence being the most famous example), but unlike a lot of films that depend on special effects for a crucial element, everything shown in the final cut is in perfect sync here. Suspension of disbelief is never an issue, which is just as well considering some of the preposterous things that roll by the screen with a certain nonchalance.
I gave The Goonies a ten out of ten. Like Superman or the original Lethal Weapon, it shows that Richard Donner knows how to make a classic. Now that it is twenty years old, it stands forever as a relic of a time when the world of those under the age of eighteen was far less oppressive. If you have not introduced your children around the age of ten or greater to its joys and moments, then shame on you.