The recently announced acquisition by the Bainbridge park district of an 18-foot-by-20-foot inflatable screen on which to show Movies in the Park this summer got my film buff brain running in overdrive.
I can’t help it. I compile film series the way love-struck teenagers make mix tapes. Or, at least the way love-struck teenagers made mix tapes back in my day. How would a Twitter-age Romeo and Juliet express themselves anyway (#Shakespeareselfie)?
But, in considering possible popcorn fare for such a hypothetical en plein air festival, I was ultimately forced to ask myself: What makes a great outdoor movie?
Should it be movies about nature itself, thereby immersing viewers in images of the setting they’re actually in at that moment so as to create a truly meta viewing experience?
Does scale make a movie outdoorsy enough, something epic and grand to be enjoyed on a truly huge screen in a panoramic environment?
Perhaps it’s a movie that best matches the carnivalesque atmosphere that accompanies a large group screening (the best drive in fare was always raucous comedies and scary movies chocked full of jump scares), something best enjoyed in a group?
Maybe it’s a bit of all three?
I threw all that in my mental blender, added a bit of seasonal Sangria for warm weather inspiration, and here’s the cineaste cocktail I came up with.
1. “The Great Outdoors” (1988)
Of course, right? This one has the benefit of meeting two of my above mentioned criteria.
It’s about nature, obviously, and it’s a great group movie, too.
In it, the late great John Candy is taking his family to the remote lakeside cabin resort he himself loved as a child, when his vacation plans are shattered by the arrival of his annoying yuppie brother-in-law (Dan Aykroyd), who has his own freakish family in tow. Boating accidents, young love, steak eating contests and a bald-headed bear all play a role in this comedy classic, borne from the pen of the one and only John Hughes.
As a bonus, it’s rated PG. So nobody has to worry about curious youngsters wandering into view of something they ought not to see.
2. “Godzilla” (2014)
Arguably, this film is one of the core examples for those in favor of the occasional Hollywood remake (along with 1991’s “Cape Fear” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”).
In it, the second time proved more than charming enough for this, finally, the American Godzilla adaptation the King of the Monsters deserved. I saw the atrocious first American version (1998’s, as I like to think of it now, “Aged Ferris Beuller vs. Godzilla”) at the drive-in when I lived back east, and 10-year-old me was psyched. Obviously, the satisfaction declines sharply as one reaches the age of reason and gives that flick a rewatch.
So I love the idea of screening the new one, where we got everything right, under the wide open sky for the Godzilla fans in the making today. It’s huge, it’s loud, it’s fun and would lend itself well to a Kaiju-sized screen, beneath which we puny humans could easily flee in terror.
3. “The Searchers” (1956)
The saga of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards, a middle-aged Civil War vet with obvious issues, seeking to rescue his abducted niece is almost certainly one of the best American movies of all time. It was named the greatest American western by the American Film Institute in 2008, and it placed 12th on their 2007 list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time. Entertainment Weekly also named it the best western, and it’s now permanently enshrined in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
The awesome, authentic locales and scenery are no small part of the movie’s impact, either. It was filmed in Monument Valley and shot in VistaVision, a higher resolution, widescreen variant of the 35-mm format that paved the way for the IMAX and OMNIMAX formats of so many iconic films of the 1970s. It’s a film as big as the American dream and it deserves to be seen as large as possible, with the smells of the Earth and the sounds of nature completing the experience.
4. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
I have a dream. In it, I see a football field packed to capacity with costumed revelers all doing the Time Warp beneath a towering screen, upon which flickers everybody’s favorite pice of participatory cinema. It could be here, Bainbridge. It could be real. “It’s just a jump to the left…”
5. “Apollo 13” (1995)
More accessible than “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but a bit more off the beaten current cultural track than any “Star Wars” film, this is, for my money, the best space-themed movie to screen beneath the stars.
The story of our ill-fated third moon landing mission is exciting, visually captivating and chocked full of great performances. It’s an example of that truly rare silver screen beast: the heartfelt blockbuster.
6. Pick a Pixar picture
I couldn’t narrow it down. Seriously, that studio has done no wrong. From their early classics (“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters, Inc.”) to the more modern marvels (“WALL-E,” “Up” and “The Good Dinosaur”), it’s all worth a watch, and it would all translate well to the biggest screen we can put them up on. I guess personally, if pushed, I’d have to vote for “Ratatouille.”
7. “Jaws” (1975)
The first true summertime blockbuster, “Jaws” changed the movie-going landscape and remains a perennially popular scream-fest. It’s scary, but not too scary. It’s funny too, and has some truly wonderful performances. It’s got a bit of blood for the horror purists, but is arguably pretty tame by today’s standards.
Put the screen up on the beach and see if anybody’s in the water after five minutes (they won’t be). Only problem is, of course, we’re going to need a bigger spot — in which to fit the crowd that’s sure to turn up.