Gen Z Stars React to Classic ’80s Sci-Fi Movies

If you were a movie buff in the 1980s, you were constantly presented with imaginative questions that seemed mundane and existential. Would humanity ever resolve its differences here on earth and learn to travel the stars as a unified species? Or were we destined for a dystopian future with little to see but smog and giant billboards? Has our advancing technology had the ability to literally absorb us or completely replace us? Might we someday encounter alien life that was intelligent and benevolent? Surely some of these questions will be answered by the far future year 2000.

“Blade Runner,” “ET the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Tron” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” all released 40 years ago in the summer of ’82, have become seminal works, shaping the many decades of fantastic franchises to come. But what if this wasn’t the sci-fi cinema you grew up with? What if you came of age in a later generation and knew these films only as famous if somewhat distant influences? Would they still look exciting, innovative and thought-provoking? Or — to face another scary speculative scenario — would they just look flawless?

To find out for ourselves, we enlisted four stars of today — all born in the 21st century — and asked each to watch one of these great sci-fi movies. They shared their reactions and concerns, didn’t judge the special effects too harshly, and still teared up when they thought E.T. passed away. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.

I knew Khan was Captain Kirk’s most famous adversary and found both of their performances [William Shatner as Kirk and Ricardo Montalbán as Khan] really attractive. Khan is very dictatorial in the way he commands his crew, and Kirk is—I use the word very carefully—a diplomat who further considers his crew. Their back and forth and banter is very frequent. They’re two confident men just trying to beat each other up, and Kirk knows how to get under Han’s skin, like when he says, “I laugh at the superior intellect.” It’s a really great reflection of how well they know each other and how deeply they hate each other. That the machismo of those in charge hasn’t changed in the future, I wouldn’t say it’s funny, but I find it very interesting. Like, yeah, these are still two guys trying to see whose ship is bigger.

I don’t know how I got this far without knowing that Spock dies at the end. I feel like an awesome member of the franchise. Even when I saw the title [of “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”]there was no world in my mind where Spock died [in “The Wrath of Khan”]. I was like, oh, he got lost in some space grocery store. At first, I thought they would find a way to save him. And then, cut to: Kirk gives his eulogy and Scotty plays the bagpipes and I cry. When people think of the best sci-fi brothers, they think of Kirk and Spock, and it’s heartbreaking to see that love cut short in some way. It was heartbreaking but beautiful, and I hope one day to be loved the way Kirk loves Spock.

Jacob Bertrand

The old movie “Tron” is one of my dad’s favorites. I went and saw “Tron: Legacy” [the sequel, from 2010] to the cinemas with him. I remember we came out at the end and he was so disappointed. And I thought it was the best thing ever. For months after that, my brother and I would play this phone app that looked like the light bikes in “Tron” and race against each other and try to cut each other off. I still like “Tron: Legacy” but I definitely think the first “Tron” is better – I feel like the new one doesn’t hold a candle to the old one.

When I was very young, my dad still had his old Atari and I grew up playing that. My brother and I played Pong together, a lot of Pac-Man. My mom used to kick me on Donkey Kong. So I was very used to that era of games and that aesthetic. I was laughing the whole time [“Tron”] in some of the effects that definitely look bigger. But I was really impressed – I was trying to think of how they could do this with the technology at the time, and all I could think of sounded like a lot of work. I thought, man, how do they pull this off then? Holy cow, these people were dedicated.

The young Jeff Bridges looks so different from the Jeff Bridges I know. I was really shocked. I was amazed at how charismatic he was. I thought of him in “True Grit” [2010] — this is so different. He was the hotshot coder at this huge gaming company, and it would have been easy to play him a little nerdy, to make him more flexible. Back then, many coders were stigmatized as weirdos. But he played it straight all the time. He was overconfident. I thought it was pretty cool.

Iman Vellani

I feel like it hit the mark. It’s strange, because it takes place in 2019 and now it’s not the future anymore but the past. But the film has finally come to fruition. It gives you a good look at where humanity is, compared to how people in the 80s imagined the future. Forget flying cars, electronics, and technology — I feel like everyone in my generation is always looking for some higher purpose or trying to prove that they’re worthy enough or special enough for the spotlight or just worthy of more life. I find myself empathizing with the replicants a lot more, after the replay, in a way I didn’t expect.

I’ve always seen Harrison Ford as this cool, loner guy with Han, but I’d never really looked into his performance until now. Seeing his face when he was drinking at the bar after killing the snake lady [Zhora, played by Joanna Cassidy] — Oh, God, the vulnerability. Roy [Batty, played by Rutger Hauer], especially, is just a standout character for me. He is clearly meant to be the nemesis or villain. But the way he delivers his final speech—the awe on his face—is one of the only characters to truly realize how beautiful humanity and life are.

I felt hyper-existential after watching this movie. I thought, what does it mean to be human? What is the meaning of life; The usual sober Friday afternoon thoughts. It’s crazy to think that it didn’t get the attention it deserved when it came out in the first place. Honestly, I tried to get people to see this movie. It’s a project. I don’t know if today’s casual moviegoers would invest in a movie like this. It takes a lot of patience. I feel that you have to submit yourself completely, emotionally and psychologically, to love it. And once you do, it’s amazing.

This was one of my big childhood movies. I had an anniversary DVD that I watched until it was scratched [expletive]. Then it went away for a long time, and then I saw it on 35mm in a theater in Atlanta while I was filming Stranger Things. Seeing him as a more established person, I saw things very differently. To me, it was a lot of stupid stuff. That opening scene, where the kids are playing Dungeons & Dragons, the way it’s lit — the whole room is basically dark except for the middle of the room, where they’re at the table, and there’s this super bright light that illuminates the table and the kids. I was like this movie is so well shot. But it’s Spielberg. She’s not hot at all.

This movie also completely traumatized me. [E.T.’s apparent death] it’s a real punch in the face. But it is so earned. It’s such a chaotic scene and it turns into a different movie. It’s turning into this really serious business. Ah, we may never see these characters again. These two are in real danger. You’re watching a movie that’s a totally fun adventure, and then something happens where you realize that life is precious and things can die. But it is by no means a cynical film. It’s really incredibly sweet. I was talking to my dad about this the other day and I was telling him that I’d love to make a movie that’s for kids, but I want a moment in there that scares them [expletive] out of them forever. It’s fun and they remember it and it shapes who you are and what you fear and what your sensitivities are.

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