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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

It's About the Magic: 10 Life-Changing Movies

Posted on January 25, 2013 at 9:55 AM

With all of the talk about technology, and 4K, and will home theater kill the commercial cinema, and the disappointment of some film transfers, and all the other grumbling and griping we tech writers like to indulge in, I thought I would take a different approach with this post.

Sometimes I think that we get so hung up on all the tech and the presentation and the pomp and circumstance of things that we lose sight of the fact that ultimately movies are about having fun.

And whether they are viewed in a full-blown, multi-million-dollar Theo Kalomirakis-designed home theater, a bedroom TV with a soundbar, an iPad and headphones, or a commercial cinema—they are all a portal to enjoying movies and to providing an escape. And with a film that really resonates, it can be a wonderful, amazing, life-changing experience. And that magic can happen wherever you choose to watch.

In that vein, I thought I’d share some of the movies that really stand out for me personally. Not all of them are my favorite films, mind you — those you can see here — but are movies that have raised the bar or had an impact or left a deep emotional resonance. (These are all old movies—but, you know, spoiler-alert if you haven’t seen some of them . . .)

Here are ten movies that changed my world.

1) Jaws (1975)  (originally viewed: drive-in)

I was five when this movie came out. And I was five when my dad took me to a drive-in to see it. He made me close my eyes at the very beginning when they went skinny dipping — heaven forbid I caught a shadowy glimpse of some boobies! — but left me to my own devices to watch the rest of the film. I had nightmares for weeks about old Ben Gardner’s head popping out of the boat. I was worried that it would pop out of our toilet. Or out of the bathtub. To this day, I don’t like to go swimming at night in dark water. Even in my own pool. And when I’m in the ocean, I always wonder what’s lurking just at the edge of my vision. And that is entirely because of Jaws.

2) Star Wars (1977) (originally viewed: commercial cinema)

I was fortunate enough to see Star Wars on its initial theatrical run. I went into the theater having no idea what the movie was about. My parents went out shopping and dropped my cousin and me off at the theater, and this was the movie they were showing. At seven, I had no idea about special effects or film production, but I can remember the opening scene where the Star Destroyer flew overhead—and kept flying, and flying—and having the sound rumble from the back of the room to the front and felt like I’d just been gobsmacked. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I was totally and completely under Lucas’s spell. In fact, when the movie ended, we walked outside, told my parents how awesome it was, and promptly turned around and went back in to watch it again! (I recently had the pleasure of sharing Star Wars for the first time with my daughter, Lauryn. You can read about her feelings on seeing Star Wars here.)

3) Salem’s Lot (1979) (originally viewed: home)

This TV miniseries was based on a novel by Stephen King about a Maine town that has been overrun by vampires. I sat right alongside my dad through all the vampire mayhem. Neck bitings, corpses rising, stake-in-heart-driving, and a terrifying, Nosferatu-styled vampire who replaced all of Lugosi’s camp with evil and hissing. I remember literally screaming out loud at the end of one part when a body in a casket suddenly opened its eyes and bolted upright. But, in the stream of memories, that one is a forgotten laugher. The one that still haunts me is Danny Glick. Again, a boy roughly my age at the time who floats back from the dead and scratches against his friend’s window, trying to get him to open up so he can . . . play. Scratch . . . scratch . . . “Open the window. Open the window, Mark. Open the window, Mark. Please! Let me in! It’s OK, Mark, I’m your friend.” I’m 40+ years old, and no joke, to this day I do not like to sleep near a window that’s not drawn because of Danny Glick. If I can see the glass, Danny Glick will come floating up, he will scratch on the window, smiling with his blood-soaked smile, and he will get me to open up . . .

4) Dead Poet’s Society (1989) (originally viewed: commercial cinema)

I graduated high school in 1988, so this story of coming of age and accountability and standing up for what one believes in made a big, lasting impact on me. I love this film. Love. I want to be a student at Welton Academy. I want to have Mr. Keating, “Oh, Captain, my Captain!” as a teacher. I want to be Todd, who struggles with pleasing his parents and fitting in with society but who ultimately stands up for what he believes at the end.

5) Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – (Originally viewed: commercial cinema.)

By this point in my life I was well aware of special effects and wasn’t likely to be impressed. But from the second that o’le “liquid metal” came on screen I was mesmerized. I remember sitting in the theater thinking, “I have no idea how they are doing this, but this is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” I couldn’t wait to see what happened next on screen. Cameron took effects to the next level here, raising the bar for every movie to follow.

6) Speed (1994) – (Originally viewed: home.)

You could say that no movie changed my life the way Speed did. I watched this on Laserdisc at a friend’s home, on his dad’s brand new (very modest) surround sound system. And from the opening credits, I was hooked. I remember being totally entranced by the rattle and clang of elevator cables happening behind me, and the swirl of sounds that thrust you right into the middle of the action. I had no idea that you could have any kind of experience like this in your own house. And it was like that first sweet taste of meth; I’d had it and I was hooked and I wanted more. Following the movie, I knew that I had to have a surround system of my own and this led down a path that ultimately ending up with me quitting my job and starting an entirely new career.

7) The Matrix (1999) - (Originally viewed: commercial cinema.)

“No one can be told what The Matrix is…” The movie was so cool and slick and meta that you went into it knowing it was going to be about…something. But whatever it was, it looked amazing. From the first scene with Trinity, it was clear that this was a world the likes of which we’d never seen before, where things happened in an amazing slow-motion that defied understanding and that the Wachowski brothers had taken the bar that Cameron set with T2 and raised it to the next level.

8 ) Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999/2002) (Originally viewed: commercial cinema.)

This movie was clearly a massive disappointment. But, it represents a perfect example of how the movie going experience can rise above the mediocrity (or even outright terribleness) of a movie. I flew 3000 miles to wait in line for hours to see this movie with friends on opening day. We had all been waiting 16 years for a new Star Wars movie and it was a huge event. And yet, that isn’t the experience that resonated with me. In 2002 I saw this movie again at The Stag theater inside of Skywalker Ranch, the place where ILM and Skywalker Sound was located and where a good part of the film was finished. I sat right behind George’s seat, right next to the giant mixing console, in the plush, acoustically perfect and totally light controlled theater. Seeing a movie in The Stag – arguably the finest theater in the entire world – is one thing. Seeing a Star Wars movie in The Stag, well, that’s about as close to magical as a movie going experience can get.

9) Avatar (2009) (Originally viewed: commercial cinema.)

It seems that it takes an average of 10 years for technology to catch-up and leapfrog the previous milestone for what you thought was amazing and possible in a movie. I didn’t think that any movie could come along and surpass the stunning visual effects I saw in The Matrix. Everything I saw after that just seemed some new derivative of the same effect, but nothing took it to the next level. Until Avatar. Sure, the story might be a hokey retelling of how the white man robbed the Native Americans, or an essay on how we’re raping the land, or whatever, but the 3D in Avatar was so stunning and immersive and believable, that it firmly put you into the world of Pandora and elevated the story. Even subtle things like the computer monitors or aircraft heads-up displays or falling leaves took on a magical, “Did you see that?!” quality in Avatar. This movie established the benchmark for how 3D should look, and has yet to be equaled.

10) Inception (2010) (Originally viewed: home.) 

I loved Inception because it engaged you on multiple levels. Mentally, you’re trying to keep up with the action on screen. What level are we in? Is this real? How much time has passed? The acting is also brilliant, with every character contributing to the film. And while you don’t consider Inception and “effects film” it is full of some mind-bending effects such as the weightless hallway scene that look different than anything to come before them. Effects that are so good, they don’t seem like effects. Combining the awesome imagery with the intensity of what is going on, Inception was one of those movies that you think and discuss for weeks afterwards. The top…did it or didn’t it…?

Honorable Mention:

Jurassic Park (1993) (Originally viewed: commercial cinema.)

Yes, the cinematic dinosaurs were amazing. But the thing I remember most about this movie is the DTS surround trailer before the film even started. I’m talking about the one where the disc swirls all around the auditorium and then shatters in a huge explosion up on screen. It was the most awesome display of sound I’d heard in a movie. I remember turning to my friend and saying, “That was so awesome! I don’t even remember what movie we came here to see!”

What films have moved you? Share some of your favorite movie moments in the comments below.

Categories: January 2013, Movies, Top 10 List

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