It’s truly one of the most underrated films ever made, and should be seen by anyone who grew up in this era and has an affinity for the times, the films, and the generation who were raised on the ways of American greatness, circa ’70s and ’80s.
A kid in high school’s life changes forever as a burgeoning filmmaker when he gets to see Star Wars months before anyone else does.
Pat Johnson (John Francis Daley) may seem like a familiar sort to some: In the mid-’70s, he’s a dorky high schooler who’s been driving his mom (Colleen Camp) and siblings bonkers as he’s endeavored to make dozens of short films with his super 8 camera. He tried making a Planet of the Apes movie, a sequel to Jaws, and various other ambitious guts and glory epics with his buddies, using every tool, prop, piece of furniture, and moving vehicle readily available to him, stopping at nothing – including turning his pool into a prop shark’s bloody body of water – to make his dreams come true. It was Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that planted the seed within his heart and soul, and like a friend tells him on a fateful night his senior year, “For everybody else, movies are something to do when you’re tired of real life. For you, real life is something to do when you’re tired of watching movies.” It’s true for the chosen few in this world that movies are much more than entertainment or for relaxation, and that they take on so much more, and in fact become all consuming. Pat lives in a go-nowhere town in Illinois, and he’s surrounded by people who go out of their way to support his dreams, but nobody he knows is going anywhere beyond the town’s zip code with their lives, and when he gets a shot to travel to Hollywood to meet his idol Douglas Trumbull, the special effects wizard who worked on 2001 and Silent Running, he goes and makes an unlikely friend in the editor of American Cinematographer magazine (masterfully played by Austin Pendleton) who gets him in the door of Trumbull’s studio, but the event ends up being a whole lot more for Pat, who gets an audience with a young Steven Spielberg (also smartly played by Kevin J. Stephens) who is working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The visit also yields its ultimate boon: A walk-through of the brand new company Industrial Light and Magic, which is wrapping up post-production on a new movie that will change the world forever … Star Wars! Pat gets to see the movie before anyone else, and it transforms his entire mindset as a would-be filmmaker, and when he returns home to his family and small town, he does his best to convince everyone how Star Wars is going to alter the landscape of movies forever after, but as the release date for the film (5-25-77, the film’s title) approaches, Pat’s coming-of-age experience explodes as he struggles to adapt to normalcy with his friends and his girlfriend (played by Emmi Chen), who all come to realize that Pat is bound for bigger and greater things in life, which is both wonderful and sad, as nobody else in town is willing to join him on his adventure beyond …
Shot over a period of at least three years and stuck in post-production limbo for close to a decade or more due to some rights issues of music and footage relating to Star Wars and other projects featured in the film, 5-25-77 is a delightful, if very busy and overlong coming of age nostalgia trip for the serious movie fan and aspiring filmmaker in all of us. It completely understands and grasps the unattainability of love, accomplishing impossible dreams, and the utter frustration all of that leads to, but it’s also very captivating in how it shows that nothing is impossible, and because it’s based on the life and true experiences of filmmaker Patrick Read Johnson (who would go on to make Spaced Invaders and Baby’s Day Out, and wrote the story for Dragonheart), the film has a real air of authentic and insider knowledge that others of its ilk simply don’t have. I saw an early cut of this film at least a decade before it was finally released, and it made me feel elated and understood. It far exceeds the much more lauded and praised film (and strikingly similar) The Fabelmans from Steven Spielberg in every single way, shape and form, most likely because it avoids being too precious and keeps the nostalgia factor always centered on events and situations rather than on characters and heart tugging. It’s truly one of the most underrated films ever made, and should be seen by anyone who grew up in this era and has an affinity for the times, the films, and the generation who were raised on the ways of American greatness, circa ’70s and ’80s.
MVD Visual recently released (THANK YOU!) 5-25-77 onto Blu-ray and DVD, and the disc comes with some choice special features, including an audio commentary by Johnson, an hour-long Q & A from an early screening of the film, a trailer gallery, and a photo gallery. Pick this one up ASAP and add it to your collection.