When The Goonies hit screens during the summer movie season of 1985, I graduated from high school. At 18, I probably didn’t fit the exact demographics for which this light-hearted adventure tale aimed, but as a serious devotee of the world of Steven Spielberg, I figured it’d merit a look and probably offer the best flick of the season. No, Spielberg didn’t direct the film himself, but he concocted the story and it came from Amblin, his production company, so I thought it would likely mesh neatly with his other works.
Despite the Spielberg imprimatur, however, Goonies didn’t live up to its billing. Although the movie performed decently at the box office, it didn’t dominate the multiplexes, and I also didn’t think it was much of a movie. To be certain, it offered some fun moments, but as a whole I found it to be an excessively cute second-rate action flick.
Although the movie wasn’t an enormous hit in 1985, it has cultivated a fairly solid audience over the years, many of whom fondly remember it from their childhoods. As such, I figured Goonies was worth a second look many years after the original experience.
At the start of the film, we meet a mix of kids who refer to themselves as “Goonies”. The movie attempts some emphasis on a “misfits” theme, but this seems incomplete. Mikey (Sean Astin) is a little fragile medically, mainly because he suffers from asthma, while his older brother Brand (Josh Brolin) seems like he should be a major stud; he’s a hunky dude, and clearly the babes dig him. Granted, he’s mainly a Goonie by association, as the main members are Mikey’s age. Data (Ke Huy Quan) is a wacky wannabe action hero who creates lots of bargain-budget-Bond devices, while Mouth (Corey Feldman) is an obnoxious, cocky jerk. Lastly, Chunk (Jeff Cohen) provides the stereotypical clumsy and dopey fat kid.
All is not well with the Goonies, as a greedy land developer is poised to evict all of their families so a new golf course can cover the land, the area the kids call the “Goondocks”. Unless adequate funds can be raised quickly, this will happen and the Goonies will split as their families leave the area.
In preparation for their departure, the mother of Brand and Mikey orders them to pack, and as they check out the attic, they discover a wealth of pirate-related materials collected by their father. Among them sits an apparent treasure map, and though most of the kids regard it as a myth, Mikey believes in the legend of One-Eyed Willy. After they trick Brand - who was charged with Mikey’s care by mom - the Goonies head out to discover the reality of the situation and try to find the “rich stuff”.
Along the way, they experience a wealth of adventure, mainly due to their attempts to avoid the evil Fratelli family (Anne Ramsey, Robert Davi, and Joe Pantoliano). Those baddies have already killed to get to the treasure, so they won’t let some stupid kids stand in their way. Before long, Brand catches up with the Goonies, along with Andy (Kerri Green) and Stef (Martha Plimpton), and this expanded pack heads after the loot.
From there, the movie follows their adventures as they try to skirt the Fratellis and also capture the money. The story deals with some minor subplots, but for the most part, it simply pushes the Goonies toward their goal, and much action generates from both the threat of the Fratellis and the traps left by pirate Willy.
I can see why kids would like Goonies, as it offers a great deal of loose and silly adventure that seem to be aimed at a younger set. That doesn’t mean the film won’t work for adults as well, but I think this was a piece that sits best with the littler ones, especially within the pre-pubescent and early teen demographics.
As an adult, I thought it was generally entertaining, but it lacks the cohesion and development to make it more compelling. A lot of Goonies pandered a bit too much to the aforementioned audience. The movie features an awful lot of semi-innocent jokes about male genitalia and other bodily functions. Yeah, I know kids in this age group love that stuff, but that doesn’t mean such a film must include those elements. I think they come across as unpleasant and forced.
In addition, Goonies suffered from a cutesy side that the best action flicks avoid. At heart, this is a Scooby-Doo adventure, and the film featured a cartoony side that lent itself to semi-patronizing silliness. For example, it included far too many malapropisms, and some were repeated apparently ad infinitum; “booty trap” ain’t any funnier the 15th time. I also hated the fact the kids always referred to the treasure as “the rich stuff”. How dopey are these boys? That seems like a term a five-year-old might use, but for some early adolescents to blubber about “rich stuff” infantalized them.
Despite these weaknesses, Goonies did offer a generally entertaining experience. Director Richard Donner knows light action flicks. His work ranges from the good (Superman) to the decent (Lethal Weapon) to the downright ugly (Lethal Weapon IV), but his skills usually come through acceptably well. The characters were thin stereotypes, but the action set pieces seemed to be well staged and fairly exciting, and Donner helped milk the situations for all they were worth. Goonies featured a rather relentless pace, but the adventure never felt too rushed or forced, and many of the pirate-related situations were fun and clever.
Overall, The Goonies felt like a kiddie version of an Indiana Jones flick. While it doesn’t live up to those three movies, it still had some good moments, and it provided a reasonably compelling experience. I can’t claim that Goonies will ever reside in my list of favorite films, but I enjoyed much of the time I spent with it.
One sidenote: The Goonies may offer more goofs and continuity errors than any other movie I’ve ever seen. Frankly, I’m usually terrible when it comes to detecting these, but some of the film’s examples were so glaring that even a buffoon like me noticed them. For instance, in one scene Davi sits at a truck steering wheel and sings. During close-ups, we see him croon, but other shots show him in the side-view mirror, where we watch him smoke and smirk! In addition, the kids mention a non-existent encounter with an octopus at the very end. The latter makes more sense when you check out the DVD’s “outtakes”, but viewers of the original film must have felt awfully confused.
The Goonies appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As a whole, this was a splendid picture that almost never betrayed its age.
Sharpness looked nearly immaculate throughout the film. One or two shots displayed a tiny bit of softness, but these occurred extremely infrequently. The vast majority of the movie offered an exceedingly crisp and detailed impression. I noticed some moiré effects during one segment in which the roof of a house shimmered, but otherwise the picture remained tight. Print flaws appeared to be very minor. I saw a speckle here and there, and I detected one small hair, but otherwise, this was a defect-free presentation; most movies from 2001 don’t look this clean, so it was a minor miracle to find such a fresh image for a film that’s old enough to drive.
Colors were wonderfully rich and vibrant. The film generally went with a naturalistic palette, and the DVD showed these tones with fine clarity and vibrancy. Chunk’s hideous shirt displayed some lively hues, and other clothes and sets also demonstrated great colors. The tones remained vivid and concise throughout the entire movie. Black levels were also deep and rich, and shadow detail looked excellent; low-light situations offered clean and nicely visible images. Ultimately, I was very impressed with the quality of this transfer, as it was absolutely top-notch.
Also very strong was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Goonies. The mix showed its age at times, but as a whole it provided an active and involving experience. The soundfield favored the forward channels, where I heard a broad and engaging image. Music featured good stereo separation as the movie’s score sounded neatly delineated.
Quite a lot of effects came from the side speakers, as the mix added a great deal of discrete sounds from the left and right channels. However, I thought these elements of the track tended to seem fairly “speaker-specific”. Sounds blended acceptably at times, but usually the elements appeared to be stuck a little heavily within the specific channels. The localization was strong, but the bits didn’t fit together as well as I would’ve liked.
Surround usage seemed solid for the era. For the most part, the track offered general reinforcement of both music and effects, but a few scenes featured greater activity levels. The action sequences came to life nicely, and some split-surround activity occurred as well; for example, the scene in which the bats flew around the kids appeared nicely realistic and involving. Overall, the soundfield provided good breadth and dimensionality across the channels that seemed superior to the vast majority of films from the era.
Audio quality also sounded good, though a few small concerns appeared. Dialogue generally appeared to be acceptably distinct and crisp. Some lines appeared moderately thick and muffled, but these were infrequent instances, as most of the speech provided adequate delineation, and I noticed no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music seemed to be nicely lush and vibrant throughout the movie, as John Williams’ score offered solid fidelity. Dynamic range appeared to be strong, and the music showed good depth.
Bass response seemed even livelier in to the film’s effects. Many elements demonstrated very deep and rich low-end. For instance, an early thunderstorm displayed positive rumbling, and Sloth’s roar really shook the house. Effects also were clean and realistic, and they showed no signs of distortion. Ultimately, the soundtrack of The Goonies was extremely strong for an older piece.
In addition, this DVD offers a mix of interesting supplements. Most significant is an audio commentary from director Richard Donner and all of the “Goonies” themselves. We hear from actors Corey Feldman, Sean Astin, Kerri Green, Josh Brolin, Ke Huy Quan, Martha Plimpton and Jeff Cohen. All were recorded together for this running, screen-specific affair. The new Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory SE offered a similar track, and it remains a terrific idea.
The commentary itself is a nice piece as well. With some multiple-participant tracks, the proceedings can become rather chaotic as too many people try to speak at once. That problem occurs occasionally during Goonies, but it’s mainly apparent early in the piece; after a few minutes, the eight of them manage to balance their remarks fairly well.
Somewhat surprisingly, this commentary suffers from a few empty spaces; that seems odd since it includes so many potential speakers. Some of them come and go as well. Brolin briefly splits to use the can, and Astin completely departs at one point. Nonetheless, the track as a whole seems spirited and entertaining, and it includes a fair amount of information about the film.
As was also the case with the Wonka commentary, this isn’t the place to come if you desire a wealth of nuts and bolts facts about the production. Instead, Goonies mainly sticks with anecdotes from the kids’ experiences, and many of these are quite fun. Not surprisingly, Feldman seems a little too pleased with himself, and he tries too hard to be witty and irreverent. However, the group generally falls into a nice rhythm as they enjoy the film and laugh at it as well. Donner largely sits back throughout the piece, and sometimes it doesn’t seem clear that he actually remembers the movie at all, but he chimes in often enough to make his presence worthwhile. In the end, I rather liked this lively little track.
According to the DVD’s case, the commentary also includes “hidden video treasures”. This means that it occasionally becomes a video program. During a few sections of the film, the movie image shrinks to the lower right corner of the screen as footage of the recording session then dominates. Unlike DVDs such as the SE of Dogma, you don’t have to do anything to activate the video segments while you watch the film. Instead, if you select the commentary from the main menu, the footage will appear automatically. Traditional commentaries use an alternate audio track, but this one actually works on a different “title” option; it’s totally separate from the main film presentation.
This feature remains somewhat gimmicky, but in this case, I thought it was somewhat useful, mainly due to the high number of participants. It could be tough to know who spoke when, and this program helped narrow down the possibilities. It was also nice to see the limited interactions between the members of the panel.
In case you want to skip ahead to the 13 specific video segments, I noted the appearance of each. They can be found at these points in the film: 6:22; 28:22; 36:07; 41:43; 60:00; 1:17:38; 1:20:04; 1:21:25; 1:23:20; 1:32:39; 1:36:13; 1:43:00; 1:53:12. Hopefully that includes all of them!
The next most significant extra comes in the Outtakes section. These are actually deleted scenes from the film, and we find three of them. Each runs between three minutes, 12 seconds and one minute, 52 seconds for a total of six minutes, 55 seconds of footage. The second clip simply offered a little additional - and fairly unnecessary - exposition, but the others clear up some of the film’s gaffes. Snippet one shows how the map got burned, while bit three offers the famous octopus sequence. These are a nice little addition to the set.
The Making of The Goonies provides a 1985 featurette. The six-minute, 50-second piece lacks any real depth about the production as it combines a few film clips with brief interview snippets and shots from the set. The sound bites mainly focus on Donner, but we also quickly see Steven Spielberg and actors Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano and Robert Davi. These are interesting, especially as Donner semi-kiddingly discusses working with some many kids, but the behind the scenes images offer the show’s clear highlight. Most of this short piece gives us great shots of Donner as he directs the kids, and they’re a lot of fun to see.
Next we find the music video for Cyndi Lauper’s The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough. I didn’t have MTV when this clip bowed in mid-1985, but apparently it ran as a two-part “cliffhanger”. Back in that era, some artists experimented with long-form videos. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” remains the most famous of these, though I think David Bowie’s “Jazzin’ for Blue Jean” is easily the best. Anyway, “Goonies” fell into that category, as the ambitious piece ran a full 12 minutes when both parts were combined.
I don’t know how often MTV ran the full program, but rest assured that the DVD includes the entire two-part production. The video is a definite relic of its era, as we see a Cyndi-oriented story that echoes the plot of Goonies itself. She and her family run a gas station that may be taken over by nefarious elements, all played by pro wrestlers. However, aided by the Goonies themselves, Cyndi discovers treasures, and along with a surprise guest at the end. In addition to the wrestlers, Steven Spielberg and all the Goonies kids except a mysteriously absent Kerri Green appear in this silly but entertaining clip. As for the song, it ain’t “Time After Time”, but it’s bouncy and catchy nonetheless.
Lastly, we find the film’s theatrical trailer plus a “Cast and Filmmakers” section. The latter just lists the participants; it includes no biographies or filmographies.
I hadn’t seen The Goonies since the mid-Eighties, and I must acknowledge that the movie hasn’t aged particularly well. It feels strongly like a piece from its time, but those dated aspects don’t overwhelm the fun and mildly exciting atmosphere that pervade the piece. It’s not on a par with the best action-adventure flicks, but it holds its own and can be entertaining.
As for the DVD, it does stand up against some of the better releases. Goonies doesn’t quite merit discussion among the format’s best releases, but it offers a very strong package nonetheless. Picture quality seems extremely positive, while the sound appears very solid for an older film. In addition, the mix of supplements offers a nice batch of materials. Fans of The Goonies should be absolutely delighted with this DVD, and those who think they might enjoy it should definitely give this fine disc a look.