|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 21 August 2001|
If "The Goonies" had been made circa 1970, 10-year-olds would have thought they’d died and gone to movie Heaven. It’s likely a lot of 10-year-olds may react the same way today, though they’re at the same disadvantage as the rest of us – we’ve all seen "Raiders of the Lost Ark," which played for real (within its fairytale terms) where "Goonies" keeps stepping back from itself and saying, "Just kidding." This can’t possibly be a coincidence – Steven Spielberg not only executive-produced "Goonies" (with Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy), but he also supplied the original story from which writer Chris Columbus (now director of "Harry Potter") derived the screenplay. Although "Goonies" is directed by Richard Donner, there’s no mistaking the Spielberg-in-family-mode touch in this story of a gang of bright-eyed kids who get involved with spectacular events, enhancing their own sense of wonder while at the same time becoming heroes.
Four pre-adolescents (Sean Astin, Jeff Cohen, Corey Feldman and Ke Huy Quan) and a teenager (Josh Brolin), brother to one of the younger boys, are all from working-class families in an Oregon coastal town scheduled to be bulldozed out of existence. Astin’s character discovers an old treasure map in the attic and persuades his friends – plus two girls (Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton) – to go with him in search of the treasure promised by the ancient document in order to find the funds to save their homes. A trio of desperadoes (Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano as brothers, Anne Ramsey as their Ma Barkeresque mother) are on the loose in the vicinity. The two groups collide, propelling everyone into a wild adventure.
The opening sequence sets up the villains comically but with enough menace to know they mean business. Thereafter, "Goonies" starts pulling its punches – Donner shows us a pit full of spikes only after he’s established that the kids won’t plunge into it. The baddies are so blatantly clumsy and incompetent that (dead body notwithstanding) we can’t imagine that they can harm anyone even if they try.
Nick McLean’s camerawork is lovely enough to make us want to bicycle around the Oregon coast ourselves, and it’s been handsomely reproduced for the DVD. Sound is very curious – this is one of those 5.1 remixes that uses the rears to simply echo (and fairly faintly, at that) effects that are in the mains. For instance, a waterfall that sounds quite realistic in the mains in Chapter 21 softly fills in more running water behind us. Even Chapter 7, with Cyndi Lauper’s "The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough" cranking loudly on the soundtrack (the song’s music video appears as one of the disc’s special features) doesn’t receive the kind of separation we might expect from a musical number. One odd feature is that when there are loud, vibrating noises like thunder, there’s a density to the sound that seems to thicken the listening atmosphere, producing a sensation not unlike the ear blockage that occurs during takeoff on airplane flights. This is particularly evident in Chapters 5 and 17. However, the dialogue track is clear and solid throughout – which is a blessing, because a lot of the characters talk simultaneously.
One really entertaining aspect of the "Goonies" DVD is its audio commentary track, which provides an onscreen introduction all of its speakers – director Donner and six of the seven now-grown kids (Sean Astin was likely in New Zealand in his two-year stint as a hobbit in "Lord of the Rings" when the track was made) – who begin teasing themselves and each other before the movie even gets underway and then provide overlapping, high-spirited and sometimes hilarious remarks throughout. The placement – some right, some left, some center – is also fun, though it’s easy to lose track of who is where. There is also a nicely entertaining making-of short from the time of the film’s original release – the two-channel sound on the featurette is solid and the print is clean if faded. (Film buffs may note that Mick Garris, who went on to direct "The Stand" and "The Shining" for TV, is the featurette’s director/producer.)
Many kids – and some kid-at-heart grownups – will enjoy "The Goonies" completely and it’s probably churlish to quibble with it. Still, there are standards set by films that predate "The Goonies" – "Raiders" and "E.T." are two that come immediately to mind – that makes you wish this movie had aimed and hit a little higher so that some of us cranky older types could lose ourselves in it, too.