'The Goonies': THR's 1985 Review
On June 7, 1985, the Goonies hit the big screen. The 109-minute film, featuring a story by Steven Spielberg and exec produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, has earned lasting popularity years after its release. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.
Whether being pursued by bloodthirsty gremlins or hobnobbing with cute extraterrestrials, the kids in Steven Spielberg's movies have always managed to appear extraordinarily real and childlike. It's one of the strengths of his films, and perhaps the most saving grace in The Goonies, his latest action-adventure fantasy. The action at the center of Chris Columbus' script occasionally falters and generally feels manufactured, but the kids go about their chores as if convinced that all their make-believe is true.
It's also pleasant to report that, unlike Poltergeist and Gremlins, the terrors that beset the Goonies are not likely to haunt the nightmares of their youthful viewers. It's more like sailing with Long John Silver in Treasure Island — or even with Peter Pan's Captain Hook. Indeed, the film's final sequence, a search for sunken treasure aboard a Spanish galleon abandoned in an enormous subterranean cavern, might well have been inspired by the Pirate Ride at Disneyland, with its wax displays of mummified brigands in tattered finery surrounded by mounds of ill-gotten gold and jewelry.
In fact, rather more than in most Spielberg outings, The Goonies is crammed with reminders of other movies. Its story is simply an updating of the cave sequences from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It has a monster (John Matuszak) who's a replica of Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame — and later reveals himself as a misshapen Superman, (the film versions of which were directed by The Goonies' Richard Donner). He re-creates Errol Flynn's splendid slides down a sail from The Seahawk (which in turn was inspired by Douglas Fairbanks' similar feat in The Black Pirate. And the youngest of the Goonies (Ke Huy-Quan from Indiana Jones) sports scaled-down versions of James Bond's inexhaustible armory of lethal gadgetry. The list goes on ... In almost too literal a sense, The Goonies is a "movie movie."
But far from spoiling the fun, it enhances it for those who catch the references, and certainly mars it for those who don't. For them, it's simply a straight-line action film that's set in motion when the Goonies, four kids of about 10 to 12-years-old, stumble upon an ancient map to buried pirate treasure. Because the local realtors are about to foreclose on their houses in order to build a country club, they need that treasure right now.
Their search leads them to an abandoned cliffside restaurant which, as luck would have it, is currently being used as a hideout for the notorious and deadly Fratelli gang (Anne Ramsey, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Davi) and their hideously deformed brother (Matuszak). And so, in addition to avoiding all the booby traps set by the pirates so many centuries ago, they also have to avoid the clutches of the Fratellis — especially after they have learned from the voracious Jeff Cohen, on pain of having his fingers lopped off in a blender, that there's loot on the premises.
Fortunately, Cohen is able to make friends with the monster, and the Goonies are joined by a trio of resourceful teenagers (Josh Brolin, Kerri Green, Martha Plimpton).
With the Fratellis in hot pursuit they manage to throw up enough roadblocks to reach the pirate ship in safety. But just as they are enjoying their new-found treasure, the Fratellis come, leading to a kind of battle royale that graced the final reels of pirate films of yore.
As usual with a Spielberg movie, The Goonies abounds with visual excitement, the highlight here being an impromptu shoot-the-chutes down a watery toboggan leading to the underground cavern (ingeniously photographed by cinematographer Nick McLean, who gives the entire film a marvelously creepy, shadowy look). Dave Grusin's score, interspersed with perhaps a dozen hard rock numbers, all recorded at top decibel, also contributes to the excitement, albeit often to the detriment of the dialogue. But since that seems to consist mainly of "Wow!" and "Oh, my God!," it's no great loss. Donner can tell this story perfectly well without words.
As noted above, the Goonies, as played by young Cohen, Huy-Quan, Sean Astin and Corey Feldman, come off as sensible and likable kids, not the depraved sex maniacs of Animal House or Porky's. I think it's also important to add that, although the parents are glimpsed only briefly at the beginning and the end of the movie, they emerge as loving, caring and concerned. All too often in today's youth-oriented films the parents when seen at all, are even more monstrous than their offspring.
It will be instructive to watch how this Warner Bros. release, with its accent on high adventure rather than violent action, performs in this summer's marketplace. It may hold the clue as to how necessary all that violence really is. Certainly Walt Disney got along without it very nicely for years. — Arthur Knight