Monday, June 05, 2017

Bigfoot in the House

"Nancy, I'm not a doctor, but it's got no pulse, it's not breathing, and it's cold as a Popsicle. Believe me, honey, whatever he is, he's definitely dead!"

George (John Lithgow)

As I have mentioned here before, I usually like to look for the lesson or moral of a movie or TV show I write about.

But sometimes you don't want to watch something with a lesson or a moral. Sometimes you just want to escape. Know what I mean?

And if anyone in the movie industry knows about escapism, it's Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg didn't direct "Harry and the Hendersons," which made its debut on this date in 1987, but the production company he founded — Amblin Entertainment — produced it. And, unless you happen to believe in Bigfoot, it was pure escapism — reminiscent of "E.T." in many ways.

(In fact, I know people who think "Harry and the Hendersons" was better than "E.T." Personally, I don't, but that's just me.)

Actually, there was a lesson or two — kinda — at the end, but I'll get back to that.

When the movie began, the Henderson family (John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon and their children, played by Margaret Langrick and Joshua Rudoy) had been on a hunting/camping trip in the Pacific Northwest and were on their way to their home in Seattle when their car struck a large figure whose details were obscured by glare.

At first it appeared to be a bear but, upon closer inspection, the Hendersons concluded it must be Bigfoot. They also concluded it was dead and decided to bring it back with them, figuring it would be worth a lot of money to them.

But the creature (played by 7–foot actor Kevin Peter Hall) was not dead and, after learning rather belatedly that the world at large was not ready to accept the notion of Bigfoot's existence, they decided to make him a member of the family.

That was quite a challenge by itself. "Harry" (in the movie, it was suggested that his name originated from his appearance — but, in fact, it was an homage to Harry Nilsson. Bill Martin, who wrote the screenplay for the movie, also wrote some songs for Nilsson's "Harry" album) was not exactly domesticated and caused considerable damage to the house and the car.

And he was shocked to see Lithgow's hunting trophies on the wall. After all, some of them could have been Harry's friends.

But he was a gentle giant. His destructive behavior wasn't deliberate. It was mostly a matter of not knowing how his bulk and strength could affect his new environment — but you sure didn't want to make him mad.

He was remarkably intelligent. After only a short time with the Hendersons, he seemed to understand what they said to him. He even managed to speak one word of English before the end of the movie. Even in a situation in which observers really had to suspend their disbelief, that was tough to swallow.

It is safe to say that everyone had adjustments to make.

And while they were making those adjustments, there were other characters from outside the family circle who became involved in the story — notably a Bigfoot researcher (Don Ameche) and a Bigfoot–obsessed hunter (David Suchet).

Their contributions to the plausibility of the story were significant, and I'll leave it to you to discover how — if you're so inclined.

But as for the lessons of the story, which I mentioned briefly earlier ...

"Harry and the Hendersons" essentially told viewers not to judge a book by its cover. In this story some humans could — and did — behave in more beastly manners than the beast. Harry's compassion was genuine, but you had to look past his intimidating exterior to see it.

For those with more saintly dispositions, there was a lesson in the story that went like this: Forgiveness is a powerful thing. Do it whenever you can.

And another theme that was a little ahead of its time — but would be embraced by many today — is the suggestion that we should play an active role in protecting our environment.

It was more entertaining than I expected, and it was definitely a family friendly movie in the sense that objectionable language was kept to a minimum.