June 9, 1989
There sure are a lot of empty seats.
That was the first thought to enter Peter’s mind as he followed his friend Alan into the auditorium and down the aisle. Finding a decent spot in which to enjoy the movie was definitely not going to be a problem.
“Wow,” Alan said, selecting an empty row and heading for its center. “Opening night, no line to get in, and look at all the seats. Not a good sign.”
From over Peter’s left shoulder, their friend George replied, “I warned you guys, but do you listen? Nooooooo.” Having selected the row behind the one Alan had chosen, he dropped his ponderous bulk into the center seat.
“I heard you, man,” Peter countered as he took his own seat, leaving open the one between him and Alan. “I just don’t care. I’ve been waiting for this movie all year. I made opening night for the first four, and there’s no way I was gonna miss this one.” He watched as the fourth member of their group, Leo, collapsed into the seat next to George, his eyes closing as he promptly fell asleep.
Ignoring Leo, George shrugged. “It’s gonna suck, trust me. And when it ends up sucking, you owe me $3.50.”
Pausing to sip from the overpriced gut-busting soda he had purchased at the theater’s concession stand, Alan said, “You know, I hate to say it, but he might be right. The early word on this one’s not that good.”
Peter frowned. “What? You read a review?”
“I never read reviews,” Alan replied, waving one hand as though to dismiss the notion. “I mean, have you heard what they’re saying about Batman? What a load of crap.”
Behind him, and as if reacting to what Alan had just said, Leo grunted and adjusted his position in his chair, but remained asleep.
Dismissing their slumbering friend, Peter instead looked at Alan, and there was no mistaking the horrified expression now clouding his friend’s face. Peter had seen it too many times not to recognize it for what it was. He watched as Alan grimaced as though bracing for pain he knew was coming.
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked.
Alan shook his head. “Oh, God.”
Leaning forward in his seat, George rested his arm atop the chair between Alan and Peter. “Hey.”
Alan closed his eyes. “Damn it.”
“I’ve got a question,” George said.
“As long as it’s not about Batman,” Alan replied, exasperation evident in his voice.
Snorting, Leo shifted in his chair, but remained asleep.
George shook his head. “It’s not about Batman.”
“Good,” Alan said,” because I’m tired of hearing about Batman.”
Peter felt his annoyance level starting to rise. What were these two idiots babbling about? “What’s with Batman?”
“It’s the only thing he’s been talking about for a week,” Alan answered.
“It’s a cool movie,” Peter said, shrugging. He had seen it and thought it was the movie of the summer, at least until after tonight.
“Just one question,” George said to Alan, ignoring Peter.
Alan hooked a thumb in George’s direction. “He’s seen it fourteen times, but he thinks it sucks.”
“Who sees a movie they hate fourteen times?” Peter asked, his expression darkening into a frown.
Waving as though trying to flag down a passing car, George asked, “Hello?”
“He does,” Alan said, indicating George with a nod, “and I’m sick of listening to him whine.” He glared at George. “So, no Batman, okay?”
George offered a dismissive shrug. “Whatever.”
Releasing a heavy sigh of relief, Alan nodded. “All right, then. What?”
As though weighing his options, George hesitated for several seconds before shrugging again. “Okay, it’s about Batman.”
Before anyone could say anything else, Leo shifted in his seat, unleashing a barrage of profanity. Peter, Alan, and George all stared at him, and Leo glared back at them for several seconds, before crumpling back into his chair and falling once more to sleep.
“Way to rile up Snooze, man,” Alan said.
George held up his hands. “Hey, it’s not my fault.”
Suffering from both narcolepsy and coprolalia, it was not uncommon for Leo to awaken from his frequent naps to curse at anyone or anything which might be in his field of view. His condition had caused more than one scene over the years he had been hanging out with Peter and the others, and Peter noted the looks they were receiving from those few other patrons occupying seats in the theater.
As though having put Leo’s latest display out of his mind, George said, “Anyway, about Batman. I mean, Mister Mom? Who made that call? He’s completely wrong for the part.”
“I thought he did okay,” Peter said as he settled back into his seat. “Better than Adam West, anyway.” Even as he spoke the words, he knew it was a stupid comparison. So far as he was concerned, that old, out-of-shape guy from the 1940s movie serials had done a better job than Adam West. He knew his opinion was a minority one among his friends and fellow Batman fans, but he didn’t care.
Staring in what might pass for open-mouthed shock by anyone who actually didn’t know him, George said, “The guy was in Night Shift, for God’s sake. He’s not a superhero. And what about that Bat suit? I mean, did Burton even read the comics?” He indicated his own rather unimpressive pectoral muscles. “Plastic abs and pecs? What the hell’s with that? The only thing it was missing was little molded nipples!”
Alan released an exasperated sigh. “Enough about Batman!”
Though he understood his friend’s irritation, Peter saw no need for it to cast a cloud over the evening’s festivities. “No need to stroke out, man,” he said, looking around the theater and noting the various puzzled glances as he attempted to maintain some sense of decorum.
Apparently registering Alan’s frustration, George held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay! No more Batman,” he said before settling back into his seat and reaching for his super gut-busting sized beverage cup.
Over the sound of George slurping from his drink, Alan said, “Guess what’s on its way and should be here by the end of the week?”
Peter shook his head. “What?”
Offering a smile that indicated he was insufferably pleased with himself, Alan replied, “The Mego Bridge Set, mint in the box, and all six original figures, still in their packaging.”
Peter nodded in appreciation. “Cool. Where’d you find that?”
“A guy had an ad in the back of a fanzine I bought,” Alan said.
“That’s almost as good as those Marvel Planet of the Apes magazines I got at that convention last year,” Peter countered. “The whole run, all 29 issues bagged and backed and as pristine as the day they were printed. I got them for a steal.”
Alan eyed him with mock derision. “You’re comparing a stack of comic books with talking monkeys to one of the Holy Grails of Star Trek toys? I’ve got friends who’d happily drag you away and feed you into a wood chipper for that kind of blasphemy.”
“Yeah,” Peter replied, “but I figure since most of your friends aren’t allowed out past nine on a week night, I’m safe.”
Leaning forward again, George once more rested his arms atop the seat in front of him. “You got the bridge and the six main figures, but none of the aliens?”
Alan shook his head. “Nope, just the Klingon.”
“How much did you pay for it?” George asked, frowning.
“Two fifty,” Alan replied.
Shifting in his seat, Peter was stunned at what he was hearing. “Two hundred and fifty dollars? For that?”
“And no aliens?” George pushed. “You got ripped, man.”
As though wishing to add his own commentary to the discussion, Leo snorted and shifted position in his chair, though he remained asleep.
Peter, still taken aback by his friend’s apparent naïveté, asked, “What are you gonna do with it?”
“Nothing,” Alan replied. “Didn’t you hear me? Mint in the box. It’ll be worth twice what I paid for it in a couple of years.”
Frowning, Peter shook his head. “Yeah, but it’s a month’s rent right now. No wonder Ellen divorced you. You never learn, do you?” Alan’s inability to rein in his buying of collectible toys and other knickknacks from a fondly remembered childhood—and the financial troubles this later had caused—was one of the driving reasons behind his wife leaving him.
“Come to think of it,” George said, “how’d you swing the cash for it, anyway?”
With another self-satisfied smile, Alan replied, “Ellen got remarried two months ago. No more alimony.”
“Yeah,” Peter said, “but don’t you owe something like a grand in back rent?”
Alan paused before answering. His smile faded and he slumped in his seat. “Yeah?”
Rolling his eyes, Peter asked, “Does this mean you’re gonna get evicted again and want to move in with me?” Even as he gave voice to the question, he was certain he knew the answer.
Alan shook his head. “Nah. I’m good.”
“When you need cash to make the rent,” George said, leaning closer to Alan, “I’ll take the bridge set.”
“What?” Alan replied, bolting upright, and Peter noted the total absence of any effort to hide his disbelief as he turned to George. “I thought you just said it was a rip-off?”
George nodded. “I did. I’ll give you a hundred for it.”
Irritation flashed across Alan’s features. “I haven’t even gotten the damned thing yet, and already you’re trying to grab it on the cheap?”
Leaning back in his seat, George crossed his arms and smiled. “Go ahead. Play hard to get. I’ll be here when your landlord comes knocking.”
“We should’ve had you put to sleep when we had the chance,” Alan said, shaking his head.
Peter reclined in his own seat, sipping from his drink as he considered the offer George had just made. After a moment, he turned back to Alan. “I’ll give you one fifty.”
“You both suck, you know that?” Alan scowled, turning away from them.
Next to George, Leo snorted and shifted position in his seat, but remained asleep.
Nothing was said for a few moments as Peter and the others watched a few other patrons—precious few, in fact—enter the theater and select seats.
“Look at this place,” Alan said, breaking the silence. “You think there’d be more people here, by now. This is pathetic for opening night.”
George replied, “They’re next door, where the good movie is.”
Puzzled, Peter tried to remember what else was playing in the theater’s other auditoriums. “What, you mean DeepStar Six?”
Alan winced. “Damn it.”
“Come on!” George said, rolling his eyes. “Have you even seen that movie?”
Once more, as if in response to the conversation taking place around him, Leo snorted and shifted position in his chair, but remained asleep.
The man’s a regular barometer for things going bad, isn’t he? The question taunted Peter as he realized that he’d once again placed his head in the proverbial lion’s mouth. “I didn’t think it was all that bad.”
“You want to know what’s wrong with it?” George asked. Before anyone could respond that they were uninterested in such dissertations, he said, “It’s like this: If I want to experience long, interminable stretches of boredom while underwater, I’ll do the Nautilus ride at Disney World, or else I’ll go snorkeling in your mom’s bathtub, all right? Gimme a break!”
Perhaps hoping to keep the discussion from spiraling completely out of control, Alan said, “If you wanna talk about underwater movies, did you see the preview for The Abyss? That one looks like it might be pretty good.”
Peter nodded. He’d heard of this one, and was looking forward to seeing it despite some of the initial criticisms he’d come across. “I think I read in Starlog or someplace that Cameron cut like a half hour from it. There’s supposed to be this whole subplot that explains why the aliens or whatever they are get so pissed off.”
“Sounds like a great thing to cut, huh?” George asked, though Peter was doubtful that he really was interested in hearing an answer. “Let’s take out the one piece of the flick which might give the whole thing a chance at making sense. Instead, we’ll leave in thirty minutes of this guy standing around in an overgrown beer can, a mile underwater, arguing with his witch of an ex-wife who looks to be nothing more than a prime example of why hit and run dating or—better yet, prostitution—should be legalized and embraced by the Church.” Now gesturing wildly, he was punctuating his rant with a variety of odd gestures which to Peter resembled a manic cross between sign language, gang symbols, and an epileptic seizure. His motions and his volume were attracting the attention of the dozen or so other patrons scattered around the theater, and after noting a few annoyed glances Peter gestured for George.
“Rein it in a little, would you? I don’t want to get kicked out of here before the movie even starts.”
Leo’s only reaction was to snort and shift position in his chair before taking a sip from his overpriced soft drink, all presumably while remaining asleep.
“Got a few hang-ups with women, doesn’t he?” Peter asked, after George had paused in his ranting to take a long pull from his drink.
Alan shrugged. “Please. The only woman he’s ever seen naked is his mother, two seconds before the doctor cut the umbilical cord.”
Nodding, Peter replied, “This is what I’m saying.”
Apparently oblivious to the sidebar conversation taking place before him, George barreled ahead. “From what I’ve seen already, the best any of us can hope for is that Cameron never again decides to make another movie set in, on, or under the water, from now until the end of time.”
“Really got it in for Cameron, huh?” Alan asked.
George sighed in obvious exasperation. “The man has no sense of good storytelling.”
Once more annoyed at such blanket statements, particularly in the face of compelling contradictory evidence, Peter asked, “What about Terminator and Aliens? Both of those were great!”
Rolling his eyes, George replied, “Terminator was okay, but only because he got the best stuff from Ellison, and Aliens was decent, but the first one was better.”
“The first ones are always better,” Alan said, nodding with conviction.
Peter couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You’re kidding, right? Empire Strikes Back? Remember?”
“No way that was better than Star Wars,” Alan countered.
Leo, offering his usual contribution to the debate, snorted and shifted position in his chair, but remained asleep.
“You’re drinking Drano, man,” Peter said, shaking his head. Then he suddenly paused, struck by a discomforting revelation. “Wait. Now I’m starting to sound like George.”
Nodding, Alan offered a suspicious frown. “No kidding. What do you say to keeping that on a leash, huh?”
As if in agreement, Leo stirred long enough to adjust his position in his chair and issue another indecipherable string of profanity before dropping back to sleep.
Alan gestured toward their slumbering friend. “Yeah, what he said.” Turning his attention back to Peter, he asked, “Anyway, do I need to list off the names of sequels that suck? Temple of Doom blew chunks all over the screen, for instance.”
“Yeah,” Peter replied, conceding the point, “but Last Crusade is better. It’s as good as the first one.” He looked over his shoulder at the sound of George emitting a snort.
“Get outta town.”
“What about Rambo?” Alan asked. “It was a mess compared to the first one, and the third one was even worse. Ghostbusters II is coming next week and I hear they’re handing out barf bags at the door. And don’t even get me started on something like Critters 2.”
Frowning in confusion, Peter couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Hold on. You saw Critters 2?” No sooner did he ask the question than he waved it away. “Forget that. You saw Critters 1?”
In response to the accusation, Alan slumped his shoulders in good-natured, mock shame. “A moment of weakness, I grant you, but as big a steaming cow pie as that one was, the sequel was worse.”
Peter grinned, relishing his momentary victory. “Still, sequels aren’t always bad. There’s Star Trek II, of course, and Superman II, and what about Lethal Weapon 2? I just saw the trailer for that one and it looks like it’s gonna be awesome.”
His interest piqued yet again, George leaned forward in his seat so that his arms rested across the back of the chair between Peter and Alan. “Wait, you think Lethal Weapon 2 is gonna be better than the first one?”
Peter felt a knot form in his gut. This again?
Closing his eyes, Alan grimaced. “Damn it.”
Now hesitant to confront this latest fork in the road of conversation, Peter swallowed the new lump in his throat as he regarded George. “Yeah, maybe.”
“It’s gonna suck,” George replied, shaking his head. “I mean, Riggs pulling a house down with his truck? Come on. Oh, and not for nothing, but I want to beat that little fidgety guy with a baseball bat.”
Exhaling in exasperation, Peter shifted in his seat until he faced George. Enough was enough, damn it. “Well, at least you’re warning me ahead of time for once,” he said, making no effort to hide any trace of sarcasm. “How come you always know the movies that I want to see are gonna suck, but you never say anything until after I’ve spent my time and money to see them?”
Leo chose that moment to once more weigh in on the debate, snorting and shifting position in his chair. Despite that, he remained asleep.
Unperturbed by Peter’s outburst, George shrugged. “Not my fault you have no taste in movies. I mean, look where we are.”
Peter could not help but take another look around them at the paltry audience.
“You know,” Alan said, his brow furrowing in confusion, “come to think of it, you do that with books and comics, too. What the hell is with that?”
“It’s not like you listen to me, right?” George replied. “Even when something’s good? Did you listen when I told you to buy The Dark Knight Returns? No. Did you buy Watchmen when I told you to? Huh-uh. You dinked around both times, and what happened? You got stuck with reprints. Some collector.”
His lips now pressed tightly together, Alan turned until he once more faced toward the front of the theater. “I buy comics for the stories, man, not because I think they’ll be worth something some day.”
George leaned back in his seat, and Peter noted that he seemed to adopt an almost wistful air. When he spoke again, it was in a more than passable imitation of Yoda’s voice.
“That…is why you fail.”
To punctuate his point, George then took a sip from his overpriced soft drink.
Giggling in his sleep, Leo snorted and shifted position his chair, all without waking up.
Holding up a hand as though to warn Alan, Peter said, “Wait your turn,” before turning back to George. “We’re here, in spite of the fact that you think the movie’s gonna suck even though you haven’t seen it yet.”
“It’s gonna suck,” George replied, shrugging again.
Now feeling himself struggling against his own rising ire, Peter snapped, “But how do you know that?”
Making a show of examining his fingernails, George did not look up as he answered, “I read the book.”
“Huh?” Peter asked, confused once again. “What book?”
George drank from his soda before replying, “The novelization.”
As though uncertain of what he had just heard, Alan frowned. “Waitaminute. You read a Star Trek book? Who does that?”
The three of them were gripped by stunned silence as they regarded one another, with none of them seemingly willing to fess up to the accusation Alan had just leveled. Only Leo had any kind of comment, snorting and shifting position in his chair while remaining asleep.
George grunted in obvious disdain. George said, “Five movies, and already they’re running out of ideas. You could see it with the last one. I mean, save the whales? The only way that one got made was because Greenpeace has pictures of Nimoy and Shatner pouring sugar in Takei’s gas tank.” He paused as though mulling over what he had just said. “Come to think of it, that probably explains why Shatner got to direct this one.”
Alan stroked his chin, affecting the air of being lost in thought. “Maybe they’re spreading themselves too thin, you know, with Next Generation.”
“Gimme a break,” George said, punctuating the terse reply with a derisive snort.
“What?” Alan asked.
George straightened in his seat. “Look, I can get past those goofy spandex uniforms and the hokey planet sets that would’ve looked fake in the 60s. I can even deal with the boy-genius MacGyver wannabe. But come on, NextGen is only two years old and already they pulled out a clip show. How sad is that? Not that I care. There’s only one Star Trek, so far as I’m concerned.”
“But you watch the new show, don’t you?” Peter asked.
“Every week,” George replied, offering a proud nod. “Never miss an episode.”
Snorting, Leo shifted position in his chair, but remained asleep.
For the first time since entering the theater, Peter felt himself losing his grip on his temper. “You watch TV shows you don’t like. You go to movies you think suck and see them over and over. You decide before you see a movie that it’s going to suck, and you’re here anyway. Why?”
“I’m here to offer my unique brand of glib, insightful yet entertaining commentary.” Obviously pleased with himself, George opened the box of candy he’d purchased at the concession stand, and upended it toward his mouth.
“Lucky us,” Alan replied, rolling his eyes.
Undeterred, Peter turned in his seat until he was all but kneeling on it, facing George and jabbed a finger toward him. “You know what? I don’t care. I’ve been waiting three years for this movie, and you’re not gonna spoil it for me.”
With that, he settled back into his seat, adamant that he would not say another word on the subject until after the movie was over. Then, thankfully, the house lights began to dim.
Finally, Peter thought, allowing himself to relax for the first time since entering the theater. At least now, he could sit back and watch this long-awaited movie without worry of additional commentary from George. That would surely come afterward, but for now, Peter was assured of nearly two hours of relative peace.
Assuming the movie was good, of course.
“Man,” he said in a near-whisper, “I hope this doesn’t suck.”
Beside him, he heard Alan mutter, “Me, too.”
George heard them, anyway.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
The lights faded, but silence of the darkened theater was shattered as Leo bolted upright in his chair with such force that his drink cup tumbled to the floor, soda and ice splattering all over the floor. Peter looked over his shoulder to see that his friend was now wide awake, clapping his hands once before rubbing them together. There was no doubt that he was keyed up
“Here we go!” Leo shouted. “This movie’s gonna fucking kick ass!”
Copyright © 2014 by Dayton Ward. All Rights Reserved.
So, um…hey! Happy 25th Anniversary, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.