The germ of the idea that ignites The Goonies, a movie of incalculable nostalgic value for many, comes from a deep well of nostalgia itself. The story, dreamt up by executive producer Steven Spielberg and later scripted by Chris Columbus, revolved around a pack of kids living in the “Goon Docks” of Oregon who idolized James Bond and other action icons, only to suddenly find themselves on the trail of treasure stolen by a ruthless pirate, One-Eyed Willie. Along with Spielberg and Columbus, director and producer Richard Donner grew up on classic adventure films and their excitement for those big-screen thrills fueled the project. (The career of Errol Flynn is specifically referenced through use of clips and music from The Adventures of Don Juan and Flynn’s ship from The Sea Hawk, which served as the model for One-Eyed Willie’s ship, the Inferno.) The eponymous gang of seven’s race through a series of underground booby traps was an attempt by Spielberg, Donner, and Columbus to provide a wish-fulfillment fantasy for a younger generation, not to mention their inner children—a fantasy rekindled worldwide only a few years before by Spielberg’s first two Indiana Jones films.
The story, however, didn’t hinge strictly on fantastical escapades. The dangers and pitfalls set up by One-Eyed Willie and his men were given an amplified urgency by the Fratelli family: two criminal brothers (Robert Davi and Joe Pantoliano) and their mean mother (Anne Ramsey). The elder brother (Davi) is broken out of prison in the film’s slam-bang opener, which intercuts a high-speed pursuit through town with introductions of five members of the Goonies. For Mikey (Sean Astin), the asthmatic leader of the gang, the idea of adventuring and finding gold doubloons gives him reason to believe that his family, including his older brother and fellow Goonie, Brandon (a young Josh Brolin), won’t have to move out of Oregon. Their comrades, expectedly, are typified by their specific skills: Mouth (Corey Feldman) is the charmer, Data (Jonathan Ke Quan) is the brains, and Chunk (scene-stealer Jeff Cohen) is the lovable comic relief.
The final two members, Andrea (Kerri Green) and Stephanie (Martha Plimpton), are introduced late, but they serve little more purpose than to act as romantic foils (Andrea for Brandon and Mikey, Stephanie for Mouth). And though women tend to not be portrayed with much nuance in these “boys club” scenarios, it points directly to The Goonies’s general shallowness. While the film’s first half runs through its machinations with due diligence and good humor, it soon becomes populated by scenes that involve little more than the teenagers screaming and yelling at each other in the face of newfound perils, punctuated only by the Three Stooges routine that the at-first legitimately threatening Fratelli family devolves to. The jumpy humor that came to typify the titular gang becomes a hodgepodge of half-baked romance, in-fighting and obnoxious panic.
In fact, the only relationship detailed with legitimate feeling is the one that develops between Chunk and Sloth (John Matuszak), the abandoned, deformed third Fratelli brother. Completely inconsequential to the thrust of the movie, save Sloth’s hand in the anti-climactic final confrontation between the Fratellis and the Goonies, their relationship offers sincere empathy for outsiders, whereas the rest of the Goonies suggest communal alienation but never bother to actually convey it. What the chase to find One-Eyed Willie’s treasure does offer is a hard-to-fake thrill of discovery, which was an undeniable facet of the films Spielberg, Donner, and Columbus loved in their formative years.
This is all a long way of saying that Donner’s direction remains consistent and engaging even as Columbus’s script becomes thin and aimless. But like The Karate Kid, The Goonies has survived on in the court of nostalgia and remains in the pop-culture psyche as a totem of its zeitgeist; the mayor of Astoria, Oregon recently pronounced October 26th to be now known as “Goonies Day.” Considering that Donner’s film is far more agile than a great deal of its ilk, it’s hard to argue against the immensity of its fandom, as exaggerated and ultimately unearned as it is. It’s a generally fun film and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it didn’t have nostalgic value for me as well prior to a recent viewing for this very review. On this evidence, one might argue that it’s a film meant to summon the rush of adventure for children and that, eventually, you must grow out of it. Such a viewpoint hides a cynical conceit: that the thrills from the movies we loved as children can and often do wear off and that this is completely okay. It’s lazy reasoning and at the risk of being presumptuous, it’s doubtful that Spielberg, Donner, or Columbus watch those classic Errol Flynn movies with any less awe than they did when they sat in front of the television, or inside old cinema houses, on rainy Sunday afternoons.
Warner Home Video has afforded The Goonies a solid 1080p transfer, only slightly tweaking the original 2.39:1 ratio aspect to 2.40:1. Overall clarity is fine with good detailing and colors look natural throughout. Some minor filtering issues come up, but stability is maintained and blacks are well saturated. But as with nearly every WHV release, the audio transfer completely outdoes the visuals. The dialogue is out front and resonates with stability and complete clarity while Dave Grusin’s booming score is given due justice. Atmosphere noise remains full and clear throughout as well. A good tech package, all in all.
The 25th anniversary edition stuffs ample extras into the box set, but the best extras remain on the disc, chiefly the commentary with the cast and director Richard Donner. Though Donner shies away from discussing the technical aspects of the action sequences, there’s a loving tone in every participant’s voice as they go over scenes, notes and off-screen incidents. It’s certainly more enjoyable than the by-the-books making-of featurette or any of the deleted scenes. Another fun facet of the Blu-ray is the "Hidden Treasure" feature, which offers the film with pop-up trivia and quotes. This edition also comes with theatrical trailers, Cyndi Lauper’s "The Goonies R Good Enough" music video, a 25th anniversary board game, storyboard prints, an illustrated booklet, and a reprinted article on the reunion of the cast and crew from 2009.
The release of The Goonies on Blu-ray affords the chance to consider whether it belongs with those great movies made to excite everyone including kids or those fun movies that have survived on in a foggy haze of irony and helpless nostalgia.