1997 was a fantastic year for movie fans. The year really kicked off with the 20th anniversary rerelease of the original "Star Wars" on January 31st.
This "special edition" of the movie had a few "improvements" that were made to it by George Lucas, including "enhanced" special effects and an extra scene. I drove to the Barclay Square 6 to see it one wintry Saturday afternoon. My car at the time (a white Ford Escort) wasn't super reliable, but it was fine for driving around town. I got there kinda late, the biggest screen had been reserved for the movie. The place was packed, incredible for a movie that was 20 years old and there were tons of kids seeing the movie for the first time on the big screen. I had to sit off to the side. I was quickly into it and felt much as I did as a child viewing it for the first time 16 years prior. It was a great experience returning to that galaxy. The "Star Wars" reissue was actually the number 8 top-grossing movie of the year earning well over $100 million. The movie industry was shocked at how many showed up to see a movie that could be viewed at home. 3 weeks later, I returned to Barclay to view the movie that introduced me to the Star Wars saga, "The Empire Strikes Back". I went to see it in the evening (at the time, I had just started working for Premiere Video). And 3 weeks after that, it was "Return of the Jedi". Dori accompanied me to that one. She wasn't too impressed, though (she generally doesn't like scifi movies, anyway).
Other movies I went to in the spring of 1997 included Kurt Russell in a fabulous thriller called "Breakdown", Chris Farley in "Beverly Hills Ninja", Eddie Murphy in "Metro", Kevin Smith's "Chasing Amy", Chevy Chase's "Vegas Vacation", Jamie Foxx in "Booty Call" (shut up!), Howard Stern's "Private Parts" (heh heh), "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" (I paid to see it this time), Robin Williams in the crappy "Fathers' Day", the original "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery", Val Kilmer as "The Saint", Bruce Willis in "The Fifth Element", and Jim Carrey in "Liar Liar".
The summer was even more rockin'. I saw Harrison Ford in "Air Force One", Will Smith in "Men in Black", Mel and Julia in "Conspiracy Theory", Julia in "My Best Friend's Wedding", Jodie in "Contact" (the opening sequence in it is awesome), Lemmon and Matthau in "Out to Sea", Tim Robbins in "Nothing to Lose", the Disney movie "Hercules", a remake of "Leave it to Beaver", Chris Tucker's breakthrough in "Money Talks", Nicolas in "ConAir", "Batman & Robin" (Dori actually enjoyed this one, in no small part because Clooney played the Dark Knight), and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park". What would most likely be my favorite movie of the year also came out in the summer. To this day, it is one of the best action movies I have ever seen. I was left breathless by it and went to it three times that summer (including once with my friend from high school, Brian, and at the cheap theatre with my cousin, Andy Dick (no relation to the notorious comedian). Starring Travolta and Cage, I'm talking about
John and Nicolas just give fantastic performances in a movie in which they actually trade "faces".
In the fall of '97, I went to Michael Douglas's "The Game" (another solid thriller), the first movie from Matt Damon, "The Rainmaker" (he played a lawyer in it), the scifi flick "Starship Troopers" (before the movie started, I actually heard a geek say to another guy that he only watches scifi movies), Gere and Willis in the blah "The Jackal", Travolta in the not-very-good "She's So Lovely", Penn in "U-Turn", "Fire Down Below" (the only Seagal movie I've ever seen), Hopkins in "The Edge", Clooney & Kidman in "The Peacemaker", Pacino and Keanu in "Devil's Advocate", Pitt in "Seven Years in Tibet", another Tibet movie called "Kundun", "Boogie Nights", DeNiro and Hoffman in "Wag the Dog", Duvall as "The Apostle", "FairyTale: A True Story" (I don't wanna talk about it), Ethan & Uma in the futuristic "Gattaca", Kevin Kline in "In & Out", "I Know What You Did Last Summer", "Scream 2", "Good Will Hunting", and Nicholson in "As Good As It Gets".
It was now Christmas time and two new movies had just opened, both 3-hour epics: Kevin Costner in "The Postman" and a James Cameron movie (he had directed my favorite of '91, "T2") called "Titanic". I know I'm gonna get a lot of crap, but I wasn't too big on seeing "Titanic". I was like, yeah, we all know what happens at the end, blah, blah, blah. So I went to "The Postman" one weekend afternoon and enjoyed it, actually. The movie takes place in a near-future post apocalyptic world.
I didn't think too much about "Titanic" after that. I remember it getting a very positive review (A-) from EW. At this time, I was working at Barnes & Noble as a holiday season bookseller (I wasn't getting enough hours at the video store). I recall one of the female employees, Ann, coming into the bookstore at around 10pm. She was crying a bit and we were asking her what was wrong. She said she had just seen "Titanic" and that it had really gotten to her. I was starting to get the idea that this movie might be more special than I had originally thought. The buzz was speading. So, one wintry evening, I headed out to the Galleria theaters downtown to see it. It was playing on 2 screens there (and did so for several months). There were a lot of people there, especially women, so I had to sit off to the side again. The lights dimmed and we witnessed "Titanic".
I was captivated. It really took one back to that time. The music in the movie was very Enya-esque (I was a fan of hers at the time). And I found myself really getting caught up in the romance between Jack and Rose, so much so that when the iceberg approached, I was like, "Oh yeah, the ship is gonna sink, innit..." The last hour had just fantastic special effects while still allowing the characters' to take center stage. As the credits rolled, I felt something that I'd never really felt before in a movie. Just a huge sigh and bliss and joy at having seen something so incredible (I felt it again in '99 for my fave movie of that year, but haven't since).
It goes without saying that that night my favorite movie of 1997 went from being "Face/Off" to "Titanic" (the top grossing movie of that year and the top-grossing movie of all time, both in the U.S. and worldwide). About a week later, I went to it again. I can remember hearing a lot of sniffling over the last half hour of the movie. It really got people in the gut.
Little did I know that my 2 half sisters, Erin and Sarah, were about to begin their own love affair with the movie. They were only 9 years old, but they fell really hard for Leonardo. They went to the movie at least 10(!) times with my mother and plastered their walls with clippings of Mr. DiCaprio.
Sometime in 1998, I was at the Winona cemetary with the girls and my mom. I walked a ways away and said, in all seriousness, that I was looking at a grave that said J. Dawson (a reference to Leo's character in the movie). They both looked at me and one of them said, "Are you serious?". I said it was a joke.
Inevitably, a Leonardo backlash started. In 1998, when I was working as a caregiver for 3 developmentally disabled guys, I picked up the guys' mail. One of them had a subscription to Cracked magazine and on the cover was a picture of Leo with his head about to be taken off on a tree stump and titled: Leonardo Decapitated. I have to say I did get a chuckle out of it.
In 2003, the Chateau theatres in Rochester had a special Valentine's Day presentation of "Titanic". They showed it several times that day. I went to it in the afternoon (I hadn't seen the movie since its original release 5 years prior). There weren't too many people there, but that didn't matter. The movie played just about as strong as I remember. Incidentally, it was very cold in that theatre, so cold in fact, that I complained to an employee about it and was able to get a couple free tickets.
My mom bought me the special deluxe DVD edition of "Titanic" last year. It has deleted scenes, commentaries, and lots of other goodies. I'm looking forward to viewing all these extras in the near future as the 10-year anniversary of the release of "Titanic" approaches.
What's also interesting is that the movie that kickstarted 1997 for me, "Star Wars", is the number 2 movie of all-time in the U.S. while the movie that ended the year, "Titanic", is number 1.
I told you it was a great year for movies...