Seeing as how we live in a time in which absolutely anything
can be brought to the silver screen, it’s no surprise that we occasionally
forget the simpler, more magical, days of cinema.
During the holidays I came across Harry and the
Hendersons, one of the many films that I watched for days on end as a
child. Over time, it sort of slipped out
of my “To Watch” list and (I even hate to admit this) I eventually forgot about
it all together. It’s a horrible fact,
but this happens to all of us from time to time for a number of reasons; the
most common being the fact that there is a fear that the film may not live up
to the nostalgic memories we have of it.
Sometimes it’s better to remember the film as you did when you were a
child, as opposed to looking at it through a cynical pair of eyes.
With Harry and the Hendersons, though, it was
different. I wasn’t afraid to watch it
again; on the contrary, I was ecstatic when I discovered it on television. And to my surprise, I enjoyed the film just
as much as I did when I was younger, but for a number of different
The film is a gentle story about acceptance and love… with
Big Foot as our guide. On paper, it
sounds odd and probably a little goofy, but on screen it works
beautifully. While John Lithgow and
Melinda Dillon are wonderful as George and Nancy Henderson respectively, I’ve
always had an affinity for Harry; the character impeccably embodies childlike
wonder and goofiness mixed with the behavior of a savage animal.
On my most recent viewing, I noticed something I’ve never
noticed before and it all starts with Rick Baker’s exceptional make-up
effects. This is the magic of cinema I
was talking about earlier. Here is,
essentially, a grown man wearing pounds of (beautifully) applied make-up,
grunting and acting like a beast and whining like an immature child in equal
measure. At least, that’s what you see
on the surface. But look at Harry’s
eyes. More importantly, look at Kevin
Peter Hall’s eyes, the 7’ 2 ½” actor portraying Harry. I never thought I’d say this, but Hall’s
performance is one of the best displays of the art of mimicry that I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely the kind of performance that
would have impressed Lon Chaney. The
amount of anger, fear, happiness, sadness and joy that Hall displays through his
eyes (sometimes all at once) is nothing short of awe inspiring. It truly elevates the film beyond its
reputation as a simple family film. To
me, it’s much more than that.
That is what I mean when I talk about the simpler days of
cinema. We rely too heavily on easily
accessible ways to express emotion on film through the use of highly advanced
computer technology. Of course, there
are instances in which practical effects and visual effects create something
unique; for example, Gollum from Lord of the Rings. But as a whole, we sometimes forget just how
beautiful true human emotion can be when looking at deceptively simple day to
day actions, like a smile or a tear filled wave goodbye.