The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension! dir. W. D. Richter (1984) Very 1980s and very much of B-movie stock, blending music-video vibes (without much actual music), some truly appalling acting and an utterly batshit-crazy SF plot. The sets and props are praiseworthy, as is the attention given to incidental detail and throwaway incongruities.
The Terminator dir. James Cameron (1984) Though irrevocably lodged in the 1980s, the original Terminator nevertheless stands up well as a nightmarish SF thriller. The final effects are a bit ropey but Hamilton, Biehn and Schwarzenegger nail their roles, allowing James Cameron’s straightforward plot to carry the day.
The Land Before Avocado: Journeys in a Lost Australia by Richard Glover (ABC Books, 2018); audiobook read by the author (Bolinda, 2018) Part personal recollection, part assiduous research, Glover delivers a time capsule of Australian social history for the years 1975-1985. Though the material itself is fascinating, and tragicomic in a ‘truth as satire’ way, the delivery suffers whenever Glover…
Des dir. Lewis Arnold (ITV, 2020) A three-part miniseries about 1980s serial killer Dennis Nilsen, played by David Tennant. The production remains true to life and derives its impact from Nilsen’s acute emotional remove—an unsettling detachment rendered darker still by his harangues in favour of due process.
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton (4th Estate, 2018); audiobook read by Stig Wemyss (Bolinda, 2018) Dalton paints a detailed, unromanticised picture of Brisbane in the 1980s. The story is a slowly unfolding epic, neatly plotted, with great attention to character, yet the writing’s unremitting descriptive slather evokes in its consumption the cloying regret of eating cheesecake nonstop.
The Nylon Curtain by Billy Joel (Columbia, 1982) No sooner had Joel embraced the 1980s than he abandoned them. Side A is a top-notch 70s-era EP. Side B reaches for the same (mostly failed) experimental indulgence as The Beatles’ White Album. The imbalance now serves as an elegy for vinyl.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin, 2020); audiobook read by Marisa Calin (Bolinda, 2020) The fantasy setting is instantly appealing—London in 1983, home to a hidden world of old gods and lesser creatures of legend, policed by an extended family of booksellers. The characters are well drawn but Nix’s storytelling is nothing more than workmanlike.…
One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence (47North, 2019) audiobook read by Matthew Frow (Brilliance, 2019) Lawrence makes good use of the 1980s setting and constructs a well-paced, not-too-unbelievable plot around the speculative element (time travel). The book’s main appeal, though, is its quintet of idiosyncratic but down-to-earth characters. These are particularly well-served by Matthew Frow’s audiobook reading.
Ladyhawke dir. Richard Donner (1985) An improbably successful embodiment of the 1980s filmmaking zeitgeist. Beautiful cinematography is given a progressive rock score. Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer enact a tragic love fairy tale while Matthew Broderick witters amiably and the action turns to consciously b-grade physical comedy.
Transformers: The Movie dir. Nelson Shin (1986) A truly execrable piece of stream-of-consciousness filmmaking, taking the very worst aspects of television cartoons, action movies, Japanese SF, the 1980s (in general) and synth-metal fusion soundtracks (in gruelling particular) and throwing them together with disastrous effect. No wonder Orson Welles died.