(This was the very first piece of writing I published on The Apple Box, on January 14, 2012. It seems like the perfect time to revisit it now, 23 years to the day after my very own magic moment of movies.)
In Martin Scorsese’s recent movie Hugo, characters bandy about that old phrase “the magic of movies.” The titular hero talks repeatedly about the power of films, about their ability to create dreams and magic. We witness a character watching a movie for the very first time; the look of sheer wonder on her face is a thing of beauty.
A century ago or so, every person who had seen a motion picture could describe the first time they witnessed such magic. Even up until the mid-twentieth century, children could recall the actual first time they saw moving pictures.
With the spread of television, though, everything changed. The first movie a child eventually saw didn’t often have the same impact such an occasion once did, because most children had already seen the wonder of moving pictures on their television sets before ever setting foot in a movie theatre.
The true, magical moments of cinema still exist, though. These days, it comes not with the first experience one has with a movie, but the first experience one has with a great movie; with something that opens a child’s eyes not merely to the technological capabilities of movies, but to the creative potential, as well.
The Apple Box is going to be a blog of movie reviews and movie-related columns. I’ll refrain from classifying it any more just yet, largely because, to borrow a quote from The Social Network, I don’t even know what it is yet. Most of the writing will be done by myself, though there will also be a guest columnist or two.
For now, rather than futilely try and explain what this blog will be when I don’t truly know yet myself, let me instead inform you a little into what made me the movie critic I am. Let me share my magic moment with you.
Growing up in the 1980s, I didn’t watch most of the live-action fare of the decade. The first movie I saw in a theatre was The Land Before Time, in 1988. Other than a VHS copy of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial that I owned but never much appreciated at that young age, I didn’t start watching live-action movies until 1990, the year that gave my demographic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Kindergarten Cop, and Home Alone.
I explored watching more live-action as the next years continued (including my best friend and I stealing his dad’s copy of Total Recall and secretly watching the R-rated movie during a sleepover), though I still preferred animation for the simple reason that it could accomplish anything. Live-action movies, in my ten-year-old mind, would always be inferior because they were always bound by reality.
All that changed for me on June 11, 1993. As an early 11th birthday present, my parents took me to an opening night showing of Jurassic Park. That night marked the divide between my childhood and my youth.
A year earlier, my father had given me his paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s novel. I’ve read it numerous times since, but despite my father’s assurance that I would love it, I never actually gave it a chance at that young age. I flipped through it, saw all the scientific words, and decided to play Super Nintendo instead.
I told my father I’d read it and loved it, though, wanting to be able to bond with him over something his clearly liked. I regretted lying about that, but I’ve also always been glad I did, because it led to his decision to take me to see the movie adaptation for my birthday.
I didn’t know what to expect from Jurassic Park other than the involvement of dinosaurs – which, to my father’s credit, I had always been obsessed with. I’d had the story explained to me, but to a ten-year-old, “genetic engineering” and “DNA recombination” are as foreign concepts as disco. For some reason, I interpreted all the terms to mean “robotic dinosaurs.” Needless to say, I was bound to be surprised by the movie.
Still, I wasn’t prepared for the wonder I experienced. To me, at that ripe age, Jurassic Park was perfection and revolution. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me scared. It made be angry. It elicited pure joy.
Specific scenes or moments aren’t particularly important, as the movie itself didn’t specifically have to be Jurassic Park. For me, it happened to be. For you, it likely was another movie entirely. Whatever film it was for you, though, the odds are that you know exactly the effect I mean. Everybody has that one movie that serves as a stark dividing line between the naïve innocence of youth and the wondrous revelation of seeing a dream made real.
On that day in 1993, I sat in the theatre, flanked by my parents on either side. I always sat between my parents at that age, since I was a child – or at least, I still was as the movie began. By the time the credits rolled and the house lights came up, I may still have been not quite 11, but I was forever changed.
I began Jurassic Park mentally relating to the child characters (like I always had up until then) but found myself aligned with the adult leads by the end of the film. I’ve mentally aligned myself with the adult characters in movies ever since. I left that theatre in 1993 still a boy a few days shy of turning 11, but having gained the power of perspective in those two hours of cinema.
Almost 19 years later, that theatre has been demolished. The ink on the ticket stub that granted me access into that wondrous world has long since faded. Even that old paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park my father gave me has aged with the years. But the effect of that movie, on that night, has shaped who I still am today, as I’m sure that one very special film on yours once did the same for you.
The exact movie is almost irrelevant. The experience itself is a universal one. That is the true magic of movies.