Sometimes the circumstances around seeing a movie far outweigh the experience of the film itself. Such was the case for me on a rare weeknight trip to the movies in 1985 to see the world’s first 3D Animated feature, Starchaser: The Legend of Orin.
In late 1985, I saw an ad in the paper for Starchaser in 3D, but I noticed that it was only playing at one theater and that it was only listed for two more nights. I had seen a commercial for the movie that left me drooling, but I had no idea that it was already in and almost out of theaters. I couldn’t miss it. I’d never seen a movie in 3D, and this was a sci fi cartoon, heavily-indebted to Star Wars, where the young hero wielded an energy sword and fought off evil robots. To my 10-year old brain, no high-powered focus group could have concocted a more perfect pitch for a film than that!
Starchaser had a short theatrical run of 17 days and it managed to pull in a little over 3 million dollars at the box office but it’s not a movie that I ever hear anyone talk about these days. This was the first animated 3D feature film, and one that appears to have mixed hand-drawn animation for characters with CG animation for spaceships and no one remembers it.
Well, I can’t tell you much about the film from memory either. I know that we had to wear flimsy 3D glasses and that the 3D was novel if a little unspectacular. I assume that Orin went on to defeat the robots and win the heart of the princess with his energy sword and his futuristic horse, but I don’t remember any of that and the trailer is almost nothing but shots of spaceships flying around. Still, Starchaser sticks in my mind as one of the most memorable movie experiences of my childhood because I saw it on a Thursday night.
My dad wasn’t a mean tyrant when we were growing up, but he was (and will always be) a military man. He was used to a certain amount of order in his daily routine and it was only natural that some of that structure extended to our home. No sugary cereals ever made it to our table. We didn’t watch R-Rated movies. We didn’t dare talk back to mom. When my dad’s answer to a question was “No”, I might coyly plead for him to change his mind but that rarely worked. It wasn’t a tough childhood by any means, but it wasn’t the kind of upbringing where we might jaunt out to see a movie on a schoolnight. All of that made my viewing of Starchaser pretty extraordinary, even if the film itself was not.
I’m sure that I was pretty fired up about seeing Starchaser and that my argument involved something about the spectacular 3D experience that was going to be a one-of-a-kind, but I still have no idea why my dad agreed to take me to see it. There were things I begged for in my childhood–an AT-AT, a VHS copy of Conan the Barbarian, an Ice Cream Sundae not on my birthday–but those pleas were always met with firm refusal. Maybe my dad was curious about the 3D himself. Maybe he just wanted to get out of the house that Thursday evening. Maybe for a brief moment he let down his usually solid guard and just gave in to the idea of something spontaneous and fun. No matter why, we rounded up my best friend Paul and we headed off to the theater for an 8 o’clock movie on a school night and it was grand.
My dad is full of an impressive number of facts about the world (some real, some imagined) that he is capable of spitting out at any moment, but he doesn’t remember stuff like this. He calls the Narnia movies “Nadia” even though he bought me those books, so he’s certainly not going to remember Starchaser: The Legend of Orin. Hell, I’ve wanted to call it “Starcrasher” or half a dozen other things over the course of writing this because it’s not a movie that really stuck with me in any meaningful way except one.
But Starchaser is the perfect illustration of a movie experience being more than just the images and sounds in the theater. I love VOD and DVD rentals and I have enjoyed the heck out of my BluRay player, but for all of the annoyances of the modern theatrical experience, I don’t ever want those things to replace a trip to the movies. That Thursday night screening of a forgettable 3D cartoon feature turned out to be one of the essential push pins in the map of my memories of my father. It was a rare instance of my dad just loosening up and being cool, and somehow I don’t think that popping a disc in the DVD player while we all check text messages or fill out crosswords is ever going to add up.