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Good Adventure Movies (1975-80): Turning from the Past

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Drew Turney itcherThe adventure genre had been set in the wide open plains of the Western, the hidden jungles of the creature feature and the strange worlds of the imagination. But the arrival of a movie from a galaxy far, far away reset the genre’s gaze towards the sky. There were a couple of examples of the sort of thing that had made past adventure films great, but it was undoubtedly the dawn of a new era. ~ Drew Turney

Adventure Enters Its Second Golden Age

The nascent film technologies that would come to rule cinema in the 1980s were kick-started by a couple of movies about a shark and a battle fought with blasters and The Force.

Even while one or two holdouts looked to the sweeping Cecil B De Mille-style of ages past, most directors were reshaping the adventure genre into the modern popcorn movie.


Evolutionary Adventure Movie Recommendations

‘The Man Who Would Be King’ (John Huston, 1975)

“Danny’s only a man. But he break wind at both ends simultaneous – which is more, I reckon, than any god can do.”

You know John Huston for iconic gumshoe noir thrillers starring Humphrey Bogart (and later, his role in Chinatown). You know Sean Connery for his years as Bond and everything since. And you know Michael Caine from any number of films between ‘Zulu’ and Chris Nolan’s ‘Batman’ trilogy.

But we’ll bet you didn’t know they all came together for a riotous swashbuckler! ‘The Man Who Would Be King’ depicts Connery and Caine playing two British soldier in Raj-era India who pass themselves off as gods in a remote region that hasn’t seen white faces for centuries.

Today, there’s all kinds of subtext about colonialism and racism, but Huston was only ever interested in story and character. Together with the David Lean-inspired visuals of the sweeping West Asian deserts, it’s about nothing more than good, clean fun.

‘Orca’ (Michael Anderson, 1977)

“It is known that they have great memory and even after many years they will always remember the human being who has tried to harm them.”

‘Orca’ was the highest profile of the ‘Jaws’ clones before it became a cottage industry in itself. It’s another time capsule of history that would never be repeated today in our era of environmental sensitivity.

But Richard Harris, Bo Derek and Charlotte Rampling fighting a Killer Whale was all about the war between man and nature.

There’s a slightly ridiculous plot about the titular giant following the cast across the world to get revenge on them for the death of his mate and pup. But it further cemented a new wave of adventure film. Volcanoes, time travel and lost worlds were all very well, but suddenly, there were thrills to be found just off the shoreline.

‘The Wiz’ (Sidney Lumet, 1978)

“Success, fame, and fortune, they’re all illusions. All there is that is real is the friendship that two can share.”

Based on the successful play, ‘The Wiz’ (as the title suggests) is a modern retelling of the most famous adventure story of all.

It takes ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and pretty successfully updates it to late 70s era Queens, where the Yellow Brick road leads past the iconic New York Public Library, into the Subway and eventually to the Emerald City (Manhattan) where the Wizard (Richard Pryor) awaits in the World Trade Centre complex.

Urban New York and funky Motown music never seemed the stuff of adventure movies before, but the source material and gleeful musical numbers propel it firmly into the genre.

‘King Kong’ (John Guillermin, 1976)

“You know I had my horoscope done before I flew out to Hong Kong. And it said that I was going to cross over water and meet the biggest person in my life.”

Sure, the 1933 version was a classic (and Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake a worthy update). But it’s hard for movie technology from the era to be truly convincing no matter how charming.

Rick Baker’s Kong suit and Richard Kline’s cinematography captured the perfect sweet spot between the two eras of filmmaking technology. This Kong, discovered by an oil company ship crew searching for a big score in Indonesia, was alive with personality and realism.

A young Jeff Bridges and a debut performance from Jessica Lange humanised the story and recast man as the villain – rapacious capitalism and ecological destruction threatens the existence of a unique form of life.

‘The Black Hole’ (Gary Nelson, 1979)

“There’s an entirely different universe beyond that black hole. A point where time and space as we know it no longer exists. We will be the first to see it, to explore it, to experience it!”

After the staggering success of ‘Star Wars’, the adventure genre recast old legends from Westerns and war movies as sci-fi romps with creatures and ray guns, ‘Flash Gordon’-style.

Disney’s entry into the race is often overlooked now, but it was one of the final adventures movies where the design of the sets and set pieces adequately conveyed a sense of epic scale.

It’s the story of a deep space surveying crew who stumble upon a long lost ship perched at the event horizon of a black hole, and the mad scientist Captain’s plan to enter it.

Combining the thrills and action of ‘Star Wars’, it’s hard for directors – even today, with CGI – to stage visuals as epic as the “rolling fireball” sequence.


The Beginning or the End?

With the success of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Jaws’, moviemaking and everything about it changed forever. It was the start of a vibrantly creative period and many classics, but would also lead to an increasingly homogenized genre with room for little else but superheroes and endless sequels.

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