Does anyone bother with movie ratings anymore? There are kiddie movies, then there are adult movies, and no real gradation of the spectrum exists between the two extremes. As for the guardians at the gate, it’s been years since I’ve encountered an adult there, and what 16-year-old is going to tell an eight-year-old kid he can’t go see a “Restricted” movie?
In 1981, when I was 16, getting into a “Restricted” movie required a modicum of finesse. To persuade the adult behind the wicket I’d crease my brow (a few lines on the face to make me look older), then strive for a friendly confidence that didn’t cross the line into presumptuous swagger. I was nervous going into my first attempt, so I enlisted a classmate to tag along for moral support. The old gal who stood at the gate gave us the stink-eye. “Boys, I’m gonna need to see some ID.”
“Sure, it’s right . . . aw, nuts: I forgot my wallet at home.”
A smirk. “Same with your friend, I suppose.”
Vigorous nods, gormless smiles.
She heaved a sigh and wearily shook her head. “Get in there.”
We hustled into the foyer, where we congratulated each other with discrete high-fives. Then we lined up for popcorn — and bumped into another classmate, working the snack stand. She blanched. “What’re you doing here?”
Now was the time for swagger. “Watching the movie.”
“How’d you get past her? She’s tough! If she knew I knew you guys I could get fired!”
“Then stop talking and give us the popcorn already. With butter, please.”
Once inside the theatre, the swagger disappeared. My buddy and I silently contemplated the forbidden mysteries that were about to unfold. What were we going to see? The mind reeled. We had no clue.
What we saw was a joke — Conan The Barbarian. The guy playing Conan was much too large for the role and spoke like someone had wrapped a tourniquet around his tongue. Everyone wore a bad wig and no shirt — including the women, which got old surprisingly fast, even for two horny and hetero 16-year-old dudes. The pacing was sluggish to the point of torpor, and scenes that were intended to shock instead provoked loud guffaws, the biggest of which occurred when the bodybuilder, nailed to an enormous baobab, snacks on a vulture that looks like it mistakenly wandered in from the Muppet Show. So much for the frisson of the forbidden.
That 30-year-old memory played through my mind as I sat in the theatre on Saturday, waiting for the lights to dim and Conan The Barbarian 3D to begin. In a way, it felt like I was once again tempting the fates. To call this movie “critically reviled” is an understatement — even the rejuvenated and now overly-generous Ebert gives it a mere one-and-a-half stars. Now one of the script-doctors has published an anxious post-mortem of the movie in an effort to absolve himself of blame.
I have to admit I was actually thrilled to once again consider the question: just what was I about to see?