Celebrating summer films of 1984

'Ghostbusters,' 'Gremlins,' 'Temple of Doom' among the many cinematic anniversaries setting off a gusher of nostalgia

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A threatening row of CGI-esque clouds gathered at the edge of Millennium Park. This was last month, at a 30th anniversary screening of "Ghostbusters" in Pritzker Pavilion. Twenty- and 30-somethings sprawled across blankets on the lawn, warily eyeing a quick summer storm as it pushed over the Loop, the clouds not so different from those ominous, non-CGI weather systems that circle Central Park in the movie.

David Sookochoff, a designer at Edelman public relations, hugged his green toy ghost closer, then told me the most extraordinary thing: "The summer of 1984, movie-wise, I do wish I had been alive that summer."

You do?

Legendary summer, he said.

It was?

He said he couldn't actually partake in that summer because he wasn't born until two years later — this may be the 30th anniversary of the summer of 1984, but he's only 27. Still, he knew all about it and was very schooled on the seemingly endless number of classic films released between May and August of that year: "Lots of them were cheesy, and some were campy. At the same time, so formative and very iconic."

Huh.

To be fair, I had come to Millennium Park because I knew that the "Ghostbusters" summer of 1984 was now revered by several generations of movie lovers; only days earlier, I checked out a "Ghostbusters" art show at the Rotofugi Gallery in Lincoln Park and got into a conversation with a young guy who insisted the simultaneous release of "Ghostbusters" and "Gremlins" (June 8, 1984) was a cultural milestone.

Still, I wished my younger self could have listened to this. In the summer of 1984, I was 13, and, sure, culturally it does seem formative now: Seeing "Gremlins" in a packed, riotous house screaming with every new shock is forever lodged in my head.

But at 13, a moment when kids begin to develop actual opinions, any summer might have become The Summer. Musically, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and Prince's "Purple Rain" were twin pillars. I played Little League. And I was so bored I went to movies constantly.

But I was not prescient enough to imagine my summer vacation as a precursor to future home-video special editions. And yet, Sookochoff talked about the glorious summer of 1984 the way I thought in 1984 of the summer of 1969.

I wasn't alive for Woodstock or the Beatles, and I had missed everything.

No, he said, shaking his head, I hadn't missed anything.

Indeed, if you were alive in Chicago in 1984, on Fourth of July weekend, the Cubs were looking promising (only to lose the National League pennant to San Diego), the Go-Go's and INXS were headlining a free concert at Taste of Chicago, movie tickets were only $3.30 and playing in first-run theaters: "Ghostbusters," "Gremlins," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," the musical time capsule that is "Breakin'" (followed quickly that December with "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo"), "The Karate Kid," "Star Trek III: The Search for Spock," a raunchy young Tom Hanks in "Bachelor Party," arguably Robert Redford's last star turn in "The Natural," the underrated Val Kilmer spoof "Top Secret!" and John Hughes' directorial debut, "Sixteen Candles." And still playing in second-run theaters: "Splash," Romancing the Stone," "Footloose" and "This Is Spinal Tap."

Before Labor Day, there would be Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America," the film version of "Purple Rain," "Revenge of the Nerds" and that corny, memorable Reagan-era exploitation flick "Red Dawn." (And by New Year's Eve: Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense," Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger Than Paradise," best-picture-Oscar-winning "Amadeus" and Arnold Schwarzenegger in "The Terminator." Also, "Beverly Hills Cop.")

Maybe he had a point.

Or maybe this is revisionist history.

Chris O. Biddle, who attended the Millennium Park screening of "Ghostbusters" wearing the loose jumpsuit of a Ghostbuster, was 9 years old in 1984. "The week 'Ghostbusters' came out, I went to see 'Indiana Jones' because 'Ghostbusters' looked stupid. I was wrong." Thinking back to "Ghostbusters" and "Gremlins" (the No. 1 and No. 3 films that summer, "Temple of Doom" being No. 2), he said, summer movies "were funny and scary in a way movies never are now. It was the end of writer-directors in Hollywood, right then."

Not exactly.

What he meant was that studio filmmakers with distinctive voices, a Steven Spielberg ("Temple of Doom"), a Joe Dante ("Gremlins"), a Harold Ramis (who co-wrote "Ghostbusters" with Dan Aykroyd) were still players in 1984. That isn't wrong.

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