What I didn't expect was that watching John Lithgow being humanized by a giant, kind-eyed big-foot would send me hurtling into a vortex of pain - childhood movie pain. Harry and the Hendersons, you see, reminded me for some ridiculous reason of a film I saw back in 1984 - a terrible, no-good, very bad film that made me very, very sad when I was eight years old.
WARNING: What you are about to read is full of spoilers. It is pretty much made up only of spoilers. Why you would be upset to find out things about movies you could have seen hundreds of times over since the 1980s, I don't know, but there it is. And if you have seen either of these movies (I'm going to talk about another one, too, because remembering the misery caused by watching the first one reminded me of the misery caused by watching the second one) hundreds of times, you are a terrible, terrible person who wants to support filmmakers who make young, sensitive, imaginative girls cry their hearts out. Also, by "spoilers", I mean "plot points I'm pretty sure I remember having been part of the plots of these movies, but that I may, in fact, have made up because I was under ten years old when I saw the movies, and my memory is not very reliable."
So. In 1984, I saw Iceman. I just looked it up on Imdb and discovered it was directed by a man named Fred Schepisi, who looks like a cross between a jolly uncle and Freddy Krueger and went on to make things like Roxanne, Six Degrees of Separation, and, naturally, Mr. Baseball. Iceman starred Timothy Hutton, and John Lone, and Lindsay Crouse (Riley's boss from the Initiative [Buffy]). Here's the Imdb summary:
"An anthropologist who is part of an arctic exploration team discovers the body of a prehistoric man who is still alive. He must then decide what to do with the prehistoric man and he finds himself defending the creature from those that want to dissect it in the name of science."
That's right. There is a lovely prehistoric man who is very confused but wants to be friends with people, and a couple of decent scientists who respect life and feelings, and then there are EVIL, HEARTLESS science-y people who want to torture this poor, confused, friendly creature in order to learn things. Here's where my memory gets a bit hazy. For some reason, this man hates the sound of helicopters. And after a whole lot of "But he's a living creature! He deserves respect!" and "He could advance the cause of human knowledge! He must be dissected!" he is hanging out in his enclosure, the bad science people bring in a helicopter for some reason, and he freaks out, jumps off something and dies. He just dies. And all the kids watching learn a little something about moral ambiguity, and the suffering of innocents, and how life is tragic and awful and tragic.
Remembering how inconsolable and angry I was at the end of this movie reminded me of how inconsolable and angry I was at the end of another movie. This one was called The Dog Who Stopped the War (or La guerre des tuques), and it was also released in 1984. That year was one that made me very sad, apparently. The film poster makes the whole thing look like an adorable cuddle-fest:
"During Christmas' holidays, the children of a village split in two gang to play a snowball war. But that half-tone war scattered some bitterness and make more difficult the mutual attirance between Luc, the chief of the assailant and Sophie one leader of the snow castle defenders."
The kids have a snowball fight. They build giant snow fortresses. They start kind of hating each other. There is a big, goofy, lovable dog. The children become more and more hateful and competitive and vicious. THE BIG, GOOFY, LOVABLE DOG IS CRUSHED BY A COLLAPSING SNOW-FORT AND DIES. The children realize that they have become hateful and competitive and vicious and decide never to fight again BECAUSE THEY KILLED THE DOG.
I believe I saw this in the theatre at someone's birthday party. During the closing credit sequence, all you could hear was the sound of dozens and dozens of young children weeping. One of those children was I. I knew those snowball-throwing kids were taking it all too seriously. Throughout the movie, I was thinking, "Come on, guys. You should learn to cooperate and be nice to one another." I already knew that kids shouldn't fight and be mean. THE DOG DIDN'T HAVE TO DIE.
Thank God for the arrival of 1985 and movies like Back to the Future, which was only upsetting because I kept thinking Marty McFly was going to make out with his mother.