Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cute old people and Sci-Fi...it must be the 80s

What exactly was it about the 1980s that made old people bankable on both television and in film?  I mean suddenly the elderly were in vogue in shows like The Golden Girls, Murder She Wrote, and Matlock...I suppose because this was the first time that spunky old people were given lead roles rather than side roles (Jessie Royce Landis in To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest comes to mind...but she wasn't front and center...more of a curiosity to the side).  These were real people with real problems and personalities, not stereotypes in rocking chairs and playing shuffleboard, and I suppose that's where the appeal came from (and perhaps there was a little bit of morbid curiosity as well...wondering if old people really do talk about sex and all that).  However it was David Saperstein who combined sassy old people and science fiction for the first time in his novel, Cocoon, which proved to be a hit combination.  Ron Howard enjoyed the book so much that he decided to make a film of it (changing a ton of elements in the process) and making a huge hit for 20th Century Fox.  It is a tale of growing old, fearing death, and wishing for rejuvenation while keeping a curiosity for the unknown.  Without further ado, I bring you...Cocoon.

The film opens with a young boy, David, watching the stars before going to bed.  He just misses seeing a large spaceship fly over and shine its light over the ocean near his home.  The next day, at a local retirement community, Art, Ben, and Joe find their usual trespass to the pool next door interrupted by newcomers who are renting the house that the pool belongs to. The newcomers also surprise Jack, a local boat rental captain, when they offer to rent his boat for 27 days at full price.  They expect no questions asked and Jack complies (though he and Ben, Art, and Joe are considerably curious about the cargo they are pulling up from the ocean floor everyday).  The geezers decide to use the pool when the newcomers are gone and discover it filled with rock-like objects that sound hollow and make the pool like a virtual fountain of youth.  Soon each man is growing stronger and younger and is sharing the fountain of youth with his respective wife/girlfriend, not really caring where the power comes from.  It isn't long, however, till they all realize that the new owners of the house are aliens and the rocks are really their cocooned officers, left from when their base on Atlantis sank over 6000 years ago.

Cocoon is a very complex story with several characters and different plot points, and that is why it has such an appeal with viewers.  Everyone can relate to wishing they could remain young (or get young again) and wishing they could have a quick fix like a fountain of youth (or a swimming pool) to make it happen.  We can also relate to having loved ones die, and others can relate to being curious about what is going on out there in the universe.  Its a real ensemble piece too, with Steve Guttenberg, Wilford Brimley, Don Ameche, and Hume Cronyn creating amazing characters along side actresses Jessica Tandy (beginning her big comeback), Maureen Stapleton, and Gwen Verdon.  Oh, and don't forget Brian Dennehy as the lead alien, Walter.  He is wonderfully dry, yet lovable character who experiences death for the first time while with the other leads.  Its a touching moment that adds another layer to the film (because everyone has to experience the death of a loved one for the first time).  If you've never seen Cocoon, or haven't seen it in a while, its a lovely 1980s fantasy experience that, while not exactly as heartwarming as recent work, is still good for a few laughs and some very touching moments (though to be honest, the one that really makes me cry is the sequel Cocoon: The Return).

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