Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
For the millions of movie fanatics living nowhere near Austin, Texas, the next few months will be marked by a slew of $100-million-plus, major studio blockbusters, long-awaited tentpoles the likes of Men in Black 3D, The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus, and The Amazing Spider-Man, amongst several others. Jump-started into maximum overdrive two weeks ago with the record-breaking opening of Marvel’s epic The Avengers, the summer of 2012 is shaping up to be the most profitable one of all time, and the levels of audience elation and businessman celebration are enormously tangible.
So why single out the vibrant city of Austin, Texas, then? Because there, specifically at the storied film-buff haven Alamo Drafthouse theater, the following weeks leading up to August 25th are all about the past. Beginning last weekend with a special screening of the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led fantasy classic Conan the Barbarian, the Drafthouse is dedicating this year’s hot weather months to a truly badass, you’ll-wish-you-lived-in-Austin series called the “Summer of 1982,” inspired by the historical fact that the June-August stretch of ’82 saw the theatrical releases of eight monumental genre films: the aforementioned Conan, The Road Warrior, Rocky III, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and TRON. All of which will screen at the Drafthouse’s downtown Ritz site for either one-night- or one-weekend-only engagements.
As the series tagline states, it was “the greatest summer of movies… ever.” “Every movie that we’re playing is almost as relevant and discussed now as anytime in the last 30 years,” says Zack Carlson, 37, one of the Drafthouse’s fulltime programmers. “It’s not like you can bring up the original Conan the Barbarian and anybody over ten-years-old says, ‘What’s that?’”
And, considering that it’s the Alamo Drafthouse, “Summer of 1982” is typically loaded with an abundance of special features. With each movie screening on the same weekend that it opened back in 1982, those eight movies will all be shown in their original 35MM print form, complete with the same exact trailers that played before them 30 years back and a Drafthouse menu—from which each patron can order restaurant-quality food and/or beer, per usual—accessorized by out-of-date items like Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers and a selection of choice ’82-specific candies.
Most importantly, though, the Summer of 1982 events have been designed to give fans who have never seen these classics on the big screen, in their original, pre-digital-conversion forms, the chances to do so in the neatest possible ways. It wasn’t an easy task to accomplish on the programmers’ ends, though. Despite the Drafthouse’s over-2,000-prints-deep archive of 35mm films, the O.G. prints of the program’s eight old-school blockbusters all had to be obtained by Carlson. In some cases, all it took was a painless phone call to the respective studio and a pleasant request, aided by the widely respected Drafthouse name; yet, the problem children, so to speak, weren’t as smoothly obtained.
Take this weekend’s entry, for example; The Road Warrior, Mel Gibson’s second, and best, turn as the legendary post-apocalyptic action hero Mad Max, and an oldie that Warner Bros., the studio that owns the film, isn’t quick to relinquish. Carlson had to work extra hard to get the studio to send him an original 35mm version. But there was a catch: Warner’s lone copy is an Australian theatrical version, in which the U.S. title of The Road Warrior isn’t seen; instead, the title reads Mad Max 2. “That makes it a little more special,” says Carlson. “Not only is it an authentic, used 35mm print, but nobody in the U.S. has ever seen this version of the movie in a theater.”
The unique Mad Max 2 experience doesn’t stop there, either. To translate all of the film’s heightened carnage and violence, Carlson and his colleagues have scheduled a four-car demolition derby before this Friday night’s outdoor screening, garnished with Road Warrior-esque flaming barrels and automobiles ramming into one another at ludicrous speeds. “It’s probably going to be illegal, I guess,” says Carlson, along with a laugh. “We don’t have any kind of clearance for this; we don’t know what kind of clearance we’re supposed to get. But the drivers have all volunteered and signed waivers.”
The biggest coup of them all, however, is the original 1982 print of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.—the scheduled June 8th Drafthouse screening almost couldn’t even happen. In 2002, as E.T. die-hards too agonizingly recall, the sci-fi, family-accessible masterpiece was re-released in a special 20th anniversary edition, a sanitized version in which FBI agents’ handguns were digitally replaced by flashlights, phones, and other non-threatening objects; even worse, E.T. himself was, as Carlson puts it, “Jar-Jar-Binks-ed up.” When Carlson first reached out to Universal Pictures about showing a 35mm print of the film, he was told that only the 2002 edition is authorized. Naturally, he wasn’t having it. “We need to show the one that looks like 1982,” he told the Universal rep. “We can’t show the computerized, child-friendly version. That would be bullshit.”
Still met with resistance, Carlson tested the hater’s film-loving heart. “I said, ‘Can you imagine going back to relive those E.T. moments and you see these fucking digital flashlights? That would be so awful!’” he recalls. “The guy was quiet for a little bit, and then said, ‘OK, we have one of the original in the vault, and you guys can use it—but just once!’ That felt like a real moment, one where even the people who should be standing in our way felt the spirit of this Summer of ’82 thing, which was nice.”
As complete as the program seems, though, it’s actually not 100% whole. One of the biggest and most influential flicks released in that summer, director Ridley Scott’s seminal Blade Runner, isn’t, sadly, on the schedule. But not for lack of effort on the programmers’ end. “That’s the biggest tragedy of 2012 for me, so far,” says Carlson.
Blade Runner, a monumental display of excellent storytelling and stunning visual effects, didn’t come cheap. Made for an estimated $28 million (not exactly chump change back in 1982), Scott’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? required several wealthy parties to hop onboard as producers, in order to secure the financing necessary for Scott to present his futuristic vision of Los Angeles in all of hits dystopian, neon-colored glory. The downside to that communal funding, however, is that numerous people now own the film, meaning that lawyers had to get involved once Carlson came a-calling. One cold-blooded attorney, unfortunately, hasn’t been on the same page as Carlson, his Drafthouse crew, and all of Blade Runner’s other handlers, namely Ridley Scott himself, who has given his approval for the “Summer of 1982” look. “This lawyer was just like, ‘Why would it benefit us to screen this movie anywhere besides L.A.?’” says Carlson. “[He also said], ‘L.A. is the movie town, so why would we show it in some po-dunk Texas theater?’”
Carlson isn’t about to give up the good fight. And, fortunately, the film’s original release June 25th, 1982, release date gives him five more weeks to win the battle. “I just picture this lawyer bonehead as the dude from the Monopoly box, but much uglier,” he says. “He’s sitting there, laughing and snickering at us, and saying, ‘Ha ha! No fun allowed! No good things in this world!’ We’re battling true evil to get Blade Runner on, because, obviously, I feel like it must happen, and I’m not giving up.”