Directed by Patrick Read Johnson.
Starring John Francis Daley, Austin Pendleton, Colleen Camp, Neil Flynn, Emmi Chen, Steven Coulter and Justin Mentell.
5-25-77, Patrick Read Johnson’s autobiographical love letter to growing up in late ’60s and ’70s cinema, has finally seen its official release. The film took nearly 20 years to make, due to delays of various kinds, and now it’s available on Blu-ray in an edition that includes an ac commentary track, three image galleries, and a post-screening Q&A. of 2013.
I remember hearing about 5-25-77 from time to time over the years, and I confess that until I received this Blu-ray to review, I thought it had been released at some point. Little did I know until I did some reading online that it took over 20 years for the movie to see the light of day in its final form.
The film is an autobiographical account of director/writer Patrick Read Johnson’s key childhood and high school years while growing up in a small town in Illinois. Played by John Francis Daley of weirdos and nerds Johnson is portrayed as a likeable nerd whose small circle of friends are amused by his amateur film efforts, including a sequel to jawswhile the best jock in his school watches him from time to time for a beating.
Having grown up in the 1970s, I can attest that guys like Johnson really stuck out like sore thumbs back then, especially back then. Star Wars‘ momentous 1977 release. johnson loves 2001: A Space Odysseyfor example, and dreams of one day meeting special effects genius Douglas Trumbull, an aspiration his friends don’t really understand.
Neither do his siblings, who mostly agree with his ideas, such as coming up with a way to hang his little brother from the basement ceiling to make it look like he’s drifting in space. Unfortunately, his father leaves the family during Johnson’s childhood, and his mother is the one who has to deal with events like Johnson clogging the pool filter with blood and fake guts as part of his jaws 2 production.
However, her mother cherishes her dreams and finally makes a cold phone call to Herb Lightman, editor of American cinematographer magazine and friend of Trumbull and other special effects guys. That leads to a cathartic trip to California, where Johnson witnesses the special effects for Close Encounters of the Third Kind Y Star Wars in action, meeting his hero Trumbull, John Dysktra, a highly connected head of Industrial Light and Magic, and even a very young Steven Spielberg. He ends up becoming the first outsider to see early. Star Wars archival footage, which cements his anticipation for the film and leads him to try to get not only his friends but his entire school together to see it on May 25, 1977.
Johnson and his team did an excellent job of recreating the 1970s period and capturing the movie people of that time, except for Spielberg. The actor playing the famous director looks like a teenage version of Spielberg, rather than the guy who just turned 30. He doesn’t look anything like him either, which made my suspension of disbelief even more difficult.
And marking 132 minutes, 5-25-77 it feels a little swollen. It probably could have been scaled back a bit, especially some of the special effects-heavy sequences that give us a peek inside Johnson’s mind, but get a bit tedious after a while. The opening credits are also a bit laborious. He wanted to say, “I know, I get it, you’ve shown who this guy is. Let’s pick up the pace a bit here.”
Those are minor quibbles, however, for a film that’s not just a love letter to that era and the monsters and geeks that inhabited it, but also a coming-of-age story as Johnson falls for a girl he sees reading Arthur. C. Clarke. 2001: A Space Odyssey novel in the school cafeteria. He falls in love with her, envisioning a future in which she will accompany him to Hollywood as he seeks to fulfill her dreams, but she is not entirely on board with it, creating an emotionally complex situation that is typical of many teenage romances.
It’s a shame that some of the people involved in this film didn’t get to see its final version, including producer Gary Kurtz (american graffiti, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back), the real Herb Lightman and others. I would imagine they were at least able to see an early cut though, so at least that’s it.
In fact, Johnson confirms that at least Lightman was able to do it in the 54-minute Q&A included on this Blu-ray disc. It is from a screening of the film in 2013, before all the special effects were finished and even when the rights to the music had not yet been obtained. (Don’t tell ASCAP!) Johnson recounts many stories about the making of the film, including how close it is to reality (short version: very close, but they took liberties with the timeline to make it fit the the narrative of the film).
Johnson also gets the chance to delve into the film’s story on the commentary track, which features AV Squad founder Seth Gaven leading a screen-specific discussion. Given the movie’s extraordinarily long production history, Johnson gets plenty of opportunities to talk about when certain sequences were filmed and why. Fun fact: The opening shot was actually the last one filmed (a week before the commentary was recorded, according to Johnson).
For whatever reason, the feedback track is in the Settings menu, so be sure to check it there before assuming the packaging is wrong, like I did at first. Finally, we have a trio of photo galleries: cast and crew and behind-the-scenes images, location shots, and model photography.
Blinking Myth Rating – Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★