Netflix‘s original documentary series, The Movies That Made Us created by Brian Volk-Weiss, is a spin-off to the series The Toys That Made Us. The series takes up some of the most famous Hollywood movies from the 80s and 90s and tells the story of how they were made (and almost not made).
So, let’s look at The Movies That Made Us Season 1 and see if it is worth your time.
Note: For this review, we’ll be dividing the summary and review into individual episodes.
Episode 1: Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing is a 1987 romantic dance film written by Eleanor Bergstein and directed by Emile Ardolino. The film follows ‘Baby’ who stays at a Catskills resort with her parents and falls in love with dance instructor Johnny Castle. The film is based on the real-life experiences of the film’s writer Eleanor Bergstein. Despite being a low-budget film, it was a massive box office success and is remembered even today.
I’ll admit, I have not watched this classic. I am not a big fan of dance movies and musicals, so this film never appealed to me. However, I really did enjoy this episode. Right from the introduction to the credit rolls, I was lost in the behind-the-scenes drama. Of course, the makers have taken liberties to make sure that drama exists in the narrative. It’s something that makes the experience of watching this episode amusing. I’m sure I couldn’t appreciate a lot of stuff from this episode owing to my lack of context, but as a stand-alone episode, I’d say this was pretty good. I like the creative mix of cut-out animation, archive footage, film footage, and PTCs. It was engaging and entertaining. The only complaint I had was the narrator. I found him quite annoying and almost obnoxious.
Episode 2: Home Alone
Home Alone is a 1990 comedy movie written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus. It is one of the staple Christmas-time watches and has probably been a big part of many childhoods. The film follows Kevin McCallister, who gets left Home Alone and must protect his house from two robbers. This film needs no introduction. The kind of impact that Home Alone had is evident – from launching the careers of many of the people involved, including Chris Columbus and Macaulay Culkin, to making children across the globe laugh and cry with Kevin, this film has a special place in many people’s hearts.
As someone who owned a VCD (remember those?) of Home Alone, I’ll admit this episode made me want to watch the film again. Unlike the previous episode, I could relate to each scene, each callback, and it was a nice trip down memory lane. I was pretty fascinated to learn a lot about the making since I hadn’t read much about it before. Surprisingly, the first half of the episode wasn’t as engaging as the Dirty Dancing one (surprisingly), but the drama did follow. It was nice to see a film from my childhood take shape through interviews and BTS of the people involved. This one was pretty much on the same level as Dirty Dancing.
Episode 3: Ghostbusters
Ghostbusters is a 1984 supernatural comedy film written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and directed by Ivan Reitman. Starring Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Rick Moranis, the cult following of Ghostbusters is known to all. The film follows a bunch of scientists who start their own paranormal research company called ‘Ghostbusters.’ This is another classic that needs no introduction. Just think of the line “Who you gonna call?” and the response is probably ringing in your head already.
Confession: I was not too fond of Ghostbusters. I’m not saying this is a bad film. It’s just that it wasn’t for me. I was able to identify the virtues of this film and see the formulas which helped it become the classic it is. And speaking of formulas, by the time you begin episode three, you should notice the formulae that the makers of this docu-series have used to structure every episode. To be honest, the episode was enjoyable. I loved seeing how Slimer was made, the whole Aykroyd backstory, and how they had to get this film done in time while also doing a crazy amount of special effects.
Unfortunately, each episode’s formulaic structuring keeps each on par with the rest of the series and not an iota more. All the episodes are uniformly entertaining and uniformly enjoyable, and the narrator remains uniformly annoying. This uniformity might actually be one of the complaints I have for this series so far.
Episode 4: Die Hard
Die Hard is a 1988 action film written by Jeb Stuart and Steven E de Souza, and directed by John Tiernan, starring Bruce Willis. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, this film is one of the best action films ever made that pretty much started a subgenre of action. The fact that Brooklyn Nine-Nine (a show that’s part of the zeitgeist now) constantly brings up the virtues of this classic is telling of this action flick’s legacy.
Episode 4, the last of the series, resonated the most with me, probably because I like Die Hard the best of the four films covered here. I was surprised to learn of the book’s original ending and how the crew managed to shoot all those spectacular action sequences. Yet, there isn’t anything too special here. From a reviewer’s perspective, this episode, too, was as enjoyable as the rest.
‘The Movies That Made Us’ Season 1: What Works & What Doesn’t
Season 1 covers some of the most iconic movies from the late 80s and early 90s. While the experience was undoubtedly a nostalgic one, there isn’t much to analyze here. There wasn’t any political commentary, or deep analysis, or character building. It was just what you’d expect from your run-of-the-mill Netflix docu-series or behind-the-scenes. This series isn’t going to expand your mind or broaden your perspective. It will entertain you, though.
What works best for this series is the engaging narrative of every episode. The makers have done an excellent job of keeping every episode rich enough to hold your attention. For those of you who love reading about movie trivia, you’re certainly in for a treat. Not only are the episodes stuffed with trivia, but they’re also presented entertainingly. The artwork, use of storyboards, graphics, and BTS footage is done really well. However, the overall feel of this series is very utilitarian. It’s made for entertainment and not much else.
What doesn’t work for this series is the narrator. The narrator sounds obnoxious, and some of the humor can cringe, which worsens with the narrator. I was pleased when I read that The Movies That Made Us Season 2 will have a different narrator.
This isn’t a piece of art. Neither is it a piece of trash. It’s just an average series, which you can watch on a lazy evening if you want to see the BTS of your favorite films (if any of the four from The Movies That Made Us Season 1 are your favorites).
So, if you’re into that kind of stuff, do give it a watch! I’d recommend watching it one episode at a time, and it’ll be more fun.
The Movies That Made Us is a Netflix Documentary Series created by Brian Volk-Weiss.