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NextImg:Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Greatest Geek Year Ever: 1982’ On The CW, A Docuseries About One Of The Best Years For Movie Fans

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Greatest Geek Year Ever: 1982

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Greatest Geek Year Ever: 1982 is a four-part docuseries that takes a look at what was pretty much one of the best years ever for movie fans. Dozens of classic films came out in 1982 in all genres, from sci-fi blockbusters like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Blade Runner and Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan to comedies like Fast Times At Ridgemont High, 48 Hrs. and Tootsie to action/adventure and horror films like The Thing, Poltergeist and Conan The Barbarian. And that’s just scratching the surface of what came out that year.

Opening Shot: A scene from E.T. where the little alien dude is playing on a Speak & Spell while the TV is on. Superimposed on the TV is real-life archival news clips about the various movies that came out in 1982.

The Gist: Roger Lay, Jr. directed the docuseries, and JoBlo Movie Productions was also behind the series. It’s split into four episodes: “The Summer of Spielberg”, “Science-Fiction’, “Fantasy & Action” and “Comedy & Horror.”

The first episode has an overview of the year. Many of the dozens of people interviewed for the series, including big names like Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, John Sayles, Roger Corman, Nicholas Myer, Bryan Fuller, Cameron Crowe and more, as well as journalists and film critics, including Leonard Maltin, talk about how this was the first year where the blockbuster era that was started with Jaws in 1975 and gained steam with Star Wars in 1977 was fully realized, buttressed by the still-evident auteur era that the early 1970s fostered.

Spielberg is the focus of the rest of the episode, given his influence on the movie business since Jaws, and the fact that he had two massive films, E.T. and Poltergeist, come out that summer. Spielberg directed E.T., of course, and we get a story from Sayles about how he wrote the original script when it was going to be more of a horror film, but Spielberg turned to Melissa Matheson to write the film when he decided to concentrate on the little alien who missed his flight home and the family that took him in.

Poltergeist was produced by Spielberg but directed by Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, mainly because Spielberg was under contract to direct E.T. But Spielberg was heavily involved, and the direction was more of a collaboration, which people on the film, including star JoBeth Williams, saw gave Hooper some discomfort, despite his respect for Spielberg. For his part, Spielberg wanted the family in the film to be the focus, which is one of the factors in the film’s success.

E.T., Henry Thomas, E. T., 1982. © Universal Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection
Photo: Everett Collection

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Greatest Geek Year Ever: 1982 is certainly along the same lines as the talking-head pop culture shows from CNN, like The Movies.

Our Take: I was excited to sit down and watch Greatest Geek Year Ever: 1982 because I distinctly remember that year as one of the best years for movies ever. And some of the memories I had of that year were the memories that the interviewees talk about in the series.

For instance, with E.T., Spielberg kept the content of the film completely under wraps. There was a lot of anticipation for it, given that it was Spielberg, but not much was known about the film — imagine that happening in our always online days? The week before the movie’s premiere there were sneak preview screenings across the country, which one of the journalists interviewed mentioned. I also went to one of those screenings, which I specifically requested for my 11th birthday. I have very vivid memories, 41 years later, of almost dissolving in tears when E.T. almost died, and getting chills when he made the bicycles fly to help him escape.

The fact that a talking head series can tap into such specific memories is remarkable, because shows like that can be very surface, rocketing from topic to topic in the hope of covering everything that needs to be covered. But by slowing down and making the entire series specifically about the movies that came out that year, and making other pop culture like video games more of a supporting role (more on that in a second), Lay has time to evoke those feelings as well as take a deeper dive into the specific films they’re looking to examine.

Like we said, though, other aspects of pop culture are mentioned, because they inevitably intersected with the films. In the E.T. segment, for instance, the horrible Atari 2600 video game is mentioned, and when they showed the Atari Age cover that introduced the game, my nerdy heart jumped; I had that magazine!

Lay and his producers manage to cover a ton of ground in that first hour, from giving some time to the rise of Siskel & Ebert and film critics as popular figures to even game designers like David Crane, who gave us Pitfall!. If you came of age during that time, like we did, you won’t come away from the series thinking anything was left behind, but even if you weren’t around then, there’s a wealth of information about films you’ve likely come to love over the years as you watched them at home.

Sex and Skin: None, but seeing that Atari Age cover really got us excited.

Parting Shot: Atari founder Nolan Bushnell mentions when he saw the company’s logo in Blade Runner (which takes place in the oh-so-futuristic year of 2019), “and I said, ‘yo!'” He punches his fist for emphasis.

Sleeper Star: We have to hand it to Lay and executive producers Mark A. Altman, Thomas P. Vitale, Scott “Movie” Mantz; they managed to get a very impressive roster of interviewees.

Most Pilot-y Line: Was the video game segment a bit too long? Maybe, as it took focus away from the movies that came out during the year. But, it was also a good introduction to the second episode, which covers Blade Runner, Wrath Of Khan and other sci-fi blockbusters.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Greatest Geek Year Ever: 1982 will flood those of us who were around back then with lots of great memories of going to the theater that year. But it’s a surprisingly deep and informative review of one of the best years ever for mainstream films.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.