May 20, 2012 in Features

Summer’s a good reminder of lessons learned from movies

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Molly Quinn photo


(Full-size photo)

There’s a scene in 1991’s “Grand Canyon” in which a film studio executive played by Steve Martin speaks to a lawyer friend.

“That’s part of your problem,” he says. “You haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

What if that’s true?

If it is, even a little bit, we might want to consult the lessons of the big screen before launching ourselves into the Inland Northwest summer of 2012.

Where to start? Summer blockbusters, naturally. Maybe those box-office behemoths have something to tell us.

You doubt it? Well, consider this.

Remember in “Jaws” when Chief Brody says “You’re going to need a bigger boat”? Sure. Well, isn’t that often exactly right? In local, nonshark situations, I mean.

Or what about the lesson of “Jurassic Park”? If you are on a family road trip and one of your kids stumbles onto some preserved dinosaur DNA, what are you going to say?

Of course. “Put that down, Madison. You know what I’ve said about T-rex genetics in the car.”

But perhaps you don’t have encyclopedic recall of summer movie blockbusters. Not to worry. There’s still time to quickly review the advice they offer.

OK, let’s say your family is at Glacier National Park when a huge alien spacecraft appears overhead, blotting out the sun. What should you do?

Well, if you have seen “Independence Day,” you know that’s your cue to find a grizzly bear and explain that it’s time to head back to the cave and den up. “And is it OK if my wife and kids come with us?”

Or suppose you are newly divorced and facing a season of shuttling your son or daughter back and forth between parents. Sure, that can be rough at first. But “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” teaches us that a child’s abandonment issues needn’t be devastating if he or she can simply befriend a funny looking little guy from another planet.

Works every time. Why didn’t you think of that?

But keep an eye on your phone bill.

For children who can’t get excited about the prospect of operating a lemonade stand, “Ghostbusters” suggests that true entrepreneurial spirit sometimes expresses itself by recognizing a market niche others overlooked. Bored couch creatures about to be on summer vacation, take note.

Local single moms anxious about the challenges of the looming summer might want to remember that “Aliens” showed us there is nothing a brave, determined woman cannot accomplish — including kicking the butt of a drooling, toothy menace, should the need arise.

Various kinds of computers will play a role in the summers of many Spokane area families. But it might be wise to exercise a bit of caution about embracing the online world. If your young son sidles up to you in the kitchen and whispers “Dad, my phone has become self-aware,” you’ll know the warnings of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” weren’t just some Luddite crying wolf.

On the other hand, the robots in “WALL-E” make the case that love will find a way. So you can pick and choose your high-tech harbingers.

If carsickness is an issue in your family, you probably know how to deal with it. But thanks to “Alien,” we might remember that occasionally there’s something in that upset tummy that’s going to come out, one way or another. Enough said.

Thinking of trying a bold new hair style this summer? “Star Wars” gives you an emphatic thumbs-up. Of course, Princess Leia had a couple of other things going for her.

If you will be traveling to far-away locales in search of adventure, be sure to remember the lesson of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”: Don’t trust Nazis. That’s always good to keep in mind.

Ever find yourself reading a daily paper and wondering “Are the people at the newspaper nuts?” Well, the take-away from summer-hit “Spider-Man” was, yes, some of the people working at the paper are indeed crazy. Some editors, at any rate.

Need advice about lake life? You could do worse than internalizing the core message of “Top Gun”: Always wear sunglasses.

Or let’s say you have been invited to a backyard cookout. You’ll want to make an impression, right? Never fear. Several of the “Batman” movies point the way. Just make like Bruce Wayne and be dark, brooding, moody and really, really rich.

It’s worth noting that sometimes summer blockbusters also show us how not to conduct ourselves. For instance, you wouldn’t want to sound like the pilot in “Airplane!” and skulk around Hoopfest saying things to children along the lines of “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”

And “Animal House” shouldn’t really be viewed as a guide for those who are about to be college freshmen, though its insights on the fraternity pledging hierarchy remain valuable.

Admittedly, some of the lessons of summer movies from the past are quite general in nature. Take, for instance, “Die Hard” and its unspoken admonition to stay out of big buildings as much as possible. Or “Back to the Future” and its subliminal warning about guys with names like “Biff.”

Moreover, certain cinematic lessons aren’t really applicable to life in our area exclusively. The melding of magic and growing pains in “Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban” offered insights for young people everywhere.

The same could be said of “Toy Story 3” and its observations about loyalty and change, and also the cautionary tale in “Braveheart” regarding the eventual fate of men who wear skirts.

Still, there are moments that seem to resonate with inferred local flavor. Sure, “Forrest Gump” wasn’t talking about Expo ’74 when he intoned “My mama always said you’ve got to put the past behind you before you can move on.”

The seagulls repeatedly saying “Mine” in “Finding Nemo” were not actually commenting on Inland Northwest lakefront-access debates.

And Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” isn’t talking about ArtFest or Pig Out in the Park when he says “I think we’ve all arrived at a very special place.”

But some highlights in summer blockbusters just seem to lend themselves to local application.

Even if you don’t really think any of these movies have much to tell you about how to live, surely you would agree they might have something to suggest about what to say.

With that in mind, let’s return our attention to “Jaws,” the big fish in this particular pond.

Can you think of a single situation you might encounter this summer, from a spilled pitcher of iced tea at a picnic to a suddenly split pair of too-tight shorts in a softball game, that would not benefit from you uttering a time-honored declaration?

“This was no boat accident.”


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