Review: 5-25-77 (Fantasia 2013)
PLOT: Growing up in rural Illinois in the mid-seventies, teenaged Pat Johnson (John Francis Daley) dreams of being a filmmaker like his idols Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, and Douglas Trumbull. But will Pat be able to escape his small town, and take the gamble of pursuing his dreams no matter where they take him?
REVIEW: Iíd wager the vast majority of you that have clicked on this review are fully aware of the significance of the title 5-25-77. Of course, May 25th, 1977 was the day the original STAR WARS exploded into theaters all over North America, and launched a breed of sci-fi fan thatís still going strong thirty-six (!) years later. Patrick Read Johnson, the writer-director of 5-25-77, was fan number one. How so? Several months before STAR WARS hit theaters, Johnson went on a trip to L.A, where he visited a new company called ILM. There, he was given a sneak peak at an unfinished version of STAR WARS, minus special FX, music, or much else. And he loved it. This is his story.
To me, 5-25-77 is like a fan boy version of ALMOST FAMOUS. While itís a film about STAR WARS, all that is peripheral, as just like Cameron Croweís film, this is an autobiographical coming-of-age tale more than anything else. Taking place over the year leading up to that fateful day in fandom, 5-25-77 tells a story of a time when chasing your dreams perhaps took more courage than it does these days. The internet has made everything pretty accessible, and tools like DV cams, and Final Cut Pro have made making films on your own a feasible thing. Back in the seventies it was not even close to that, and this movie examines how hard it can be to make the decision to leave your friends and family behind to pursue a dream that has a real likelihood of never coming true.
To me, Johnsonís movie is an extremely heartfelt piece of work, and the first really great film Iíve ever seen thatís been made about this kind of fandom. John Francis Daley- of FREAKS & GEEKS- plays the young Pat Johnson is a very relatable, affecting way. Itís not hard to see a lot of yourself in the character. A year in the life of a teenager can seem like an eternity, and Johnsonís film does a good job showing just how much someone that age can change over the course of a year, through which Johnson falls in love for the first time (with the cute and very likable Emmi Chen), and also gets to see first-hand what the kind of life he aspires to live is really like.
The movieís centerpiece is Johnsonís trip to L.A, where heís taken under the wing of real-life American Cinematographer editor Herb Lightman (a great performance by Austin Pendleton), and not only sees STAR WARS, but also meets Steven Spielberg, and Douglas Trumbull. It all sounds hard-to-believe, but this all actually happened to Johnson as a seventeen-year-old, and it makes for a really great, inspiring film.
Now, if any of you are familiar with 5-25-77ís production history, you know that the film was shot back in 2004, and as of now, is unfinished. The story behind 5-25-77ís production history is a fascinating one (which is being documented in a film of its own- the upcoming HEARTS OF DORKNESS), and Johnsonís been showing various cuts of the film. The cut that I saw ran a lean two hours, but by Johnsonís own admission needs a lot of work to be finished. As it exists now, the FX work is unfinished, and the music rights (the film is loaded with seventies hits, and a great score by Alan Parsons (THE Alan Parsons) and David Russo) need to be cleared. Itís going to take some money. I for one hope he gets it.
The prospect of the film never really seeing the light of day is unfathomable to me, and if that happened, it would be a real tragedy. 5-25-77 is extremely ambitious, and needs to be finished in a way that allows it to be all it can be (itís so ambitious that Johnson revisits a technique used by his mentor Trumbull in BRAINSTORM where the aspect ratio of the film shifts several times). Usually, I would never grade a work-in-progress, but considering the enjoyment I got out of the film, I can confidently give this the high score it deserves. My only hope is that Johnsonís allowed to finish it in a way where it can live up to, or even exceed this early cut. Now itís an 8, but it could easily be even better. It just needs to be finished.