As an aficionado of the silver screen, Nate was not averse to spending large amounts of money on memorabilia. He could easily justify £75.00 for a signed film poster, more if it held multiple autographs. His most treasured item was a boxed Captain Kirk action figure from the release of the 1982 film Wrath of Khan, signed by William Shatner; he had happily paid over £6,000.00 for it and considered it money well spent.
It was therefore of no concern to him to bid £15.00 on a limited-edition VHS copy of Last Action Hero. Though he did not own a machine cable of player the outmoded tape, he did not purchase it to watch the film but to own a rare piece cinema paraphernalia.
When the parcel arrived, one dismal Tuesday morning, he was somewhat disappointed to see the cellophane wrapping had already been removed. To ensure the cassette inside was actually the Schwarzenegger comedy, Nate carefully prised open the case. As he did, a small cardboard rectangle fluttered to the ground.
After assuring himself the contents were legitimate, Nate scooped up the fallen item. Measuring about four inches by two, it was a replica of the ticket Danny Madigan had used to magically enter the movie world of Jack Slater. With black and red text and mystic-looking drawings, the golden ticket admitted the holder access to seat two of row ten at the Raj Palace. The only extra mark was the stamp declaring this number seven of twelve.
Nate smiled with glee at the level of detail and he wondered if this ticket had actually been used in the film. With his knowledge of the film industry, Nate knew that there would not have been just one ticket produced for the filming. With retakes and reshoots, the prop handled by actors Robert Prosky and Austin O'Brien would quickly have become tattered and dog-eared. The production team would have prepared for this by crafting fifty or more of the identical ticket. It could well be, Nate mused, that this was one of the unused props.
Allowing his imagination to run free, Nate let himself think about which film he would visit were the golden ticket truly magical. He had so many favourite movies – Nate would never compile a top ten list because he couldn’t reduce the number of films he loved that low – and he would love to visit each and every one of them.
1961 New York to eat breakfast with Audrey Hepburn. Witnessing the sword fight between Inigo and the man in black at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity. Being in the Cairo marketplace as Indy fights to protect Marion from the attacking Nazis.
All good scenes to visit but the place Nate would most like to experience first-hand would have to be Rydell High. The T-Birds and Pink Ladies. Racing a Ford De Luxe convertible – souped up with fuel injection cut offs and chrome plated rods, oh yeah – at Thunder Road.
In the blink of an eye, Nate was transported to the bottom of a set of bleachers as Danny Zuko enthralled his friends with embellished tales of his summer love life.
At first, Nate believed he was just imagining the scene. He has seen Grease more times than he could count and knew the film so well he could easily recall any moment of it in full clarity. It was only when the wooden seat he was standing on began to vibrate that Nate realised he was no longer in his home.
His jaw dropped as he stared up at the T-Birds prancing along the bleachers.
‘Well-a, well-a, well-a, huh,’ they sang. ‘Tell me more, tell me more.’
‘Did you get very far?’ Nate mouthed in time with Doody.
He was so entranced with the song that he did not care how he had arrived or if this was real. He refused to waste any time wondering about magic tickets or breaking the laws of physics; he just wanted to enjoy the moment.
‘She swam by me,’ Zuko informed them, ‘she got a cramp.’
The music stopped abruptly. As one, the T-Birds turned to look at someone behind Nate. Unsure what was happening, Nate also turned around. On the track field at the bottom of the bleachers, a hundred people were staring up at the performers. Among them, a large contraption reached up and out to the men. At its nearest point, a man was sitting behind a camera.
Nate quickly realised he hadn’t teleported into the film but to the time it was being made. While some may consider this a horrible drawback, in Nate’s mind it was even better. He could speak the to cast, get insights from the crew, maybe take the actual jacket worn by Stockard Channing.
‘What was wrong with that, George?’ John Travolta shouted down.
Nate’s brow furrowed in confusion. Geroge? Surely the person who has stopped the filming would have been the director, Randal Kleiser.
‘Nothing wrong with you guys, John,’ came the reply through a megaphone. ‘But the camera picked up the team under you.’
Curious, Nate bent over and looked through the gaps to the area beneath the bleachers. In the shadows stood more than a dozen people dressed in rags. Squinting for a clearer view, he saw the wounds on their faces and limbs, the decaying flesh. The place was teeming with motionless corpses. When one of them lifted a hand to scratch its nose, Nate stumbled back in fright, almost falling from the benches.
Stumbling backwards, he looked around for someone to make sense of this nightmare. He saw the director’s chair and recognised the man standing by it. George A. Romero, the grandfather of zombie movies.
Whatever twisted world Nate had landed in, this feel-good musical was being made as a horror flick: Summer Nights of the Living Dead.
The combining of two radically opposed movie genres was too much for Nate. He needed to get away. He felt like Dorothy as she stepped out of her black-and-white farmhouse into the marvellous technicolour land of Oz.
And just like that he was standing in Munchkinland as a troop of tiny inhabitants paraded around a young Judy Garland. The whole town resounded with joyful la-la-las, celebrating the recent death of a witch.
Nate knew what was coming next.
A pall of red smoke bloomed into life, sending the Munchkins scurrying away in terror. Dorothy looked on in shock.
From the smoke strode a black-clad figure, wearing a pointy hat and clutching a broomstick. Every inch of skin was coloured a sickly green, even the facial hair. But the voice was unmistakable.
‘Who killed my motherf---ing sister? Who killed the motherf---ing Witch of the East? Was it you?’ Samuel Jackson asked.
Before Nate could react to the foul language, the Lollipop Guild sprang from cover and, an Uzi in each hand, opened fire on the witch. Using her dark magic, the Wicked Witch of the West protected herself from their onslaught and turned the bullets on them. As they lay in bloody tatters, the Lullaby League danced forward and began striking out in dizzyingly complex martial arts moves.
Nate could only think of one cause for this over-the-top violence and cursing. Spinning around and peering at the film crew, he spotted the man he had instinctively known was there. Quentin Tarantino was somehow at the helm of the timeless fantasy.
This was wrong, Nate thought. Although Tarantino’s films were great in their own right, he did not want to lose a childhood masterpiece. But he resisted from jumping wildly into another movie. If each film he visited was granted a new director with his arrival, he could risk ruining more classics unless he chose wisely.
He knew he had to select a film that was so good, so pure, that no change of leadership could alter its fate. And he knew only one movie which would shine out no matter who directed it.
The Measure of a Man.
Penned by Neil Simon, executively produced by Steven Spielberg and directed Ivan Reitman, the film was the world’s best known romcom. As well as being delightfully charming, wonderfully heart-warming and hysterical and sentimental in equal measures, it had gone down in history as winning the most Oscars® ever. It surpassed the 1959 version of Ben-Hur, the previous record holder, by four awards and no film since had come close.
Nate reasoned that, even if Reitman were replaced by a lesser-skilled director, the innate quality of Simon’s words would win through and the film would still receive a large number of Academy Awards.
So he stepped from war-torn Oz into Jim Kodak’s talent office.
In the corner of the garish workspace, Tom Hanks was talking quietly with Meg Ryan.
‘Look, I know he’s difficult to work with, but I don’t want to lose you from this project.’
‘I can’t do it, Tom,’ Meg whispered through gritted teeth. ‘The man’s a monster. You’ve seen today’s shooting script. Why the hell has he introduced a UFO?’
‘Something to do with referencing his earlier work, Plan 9-’
‘I don’t care,’ Meg grunted, cutting her co-star off. ‘It makes no sense in this film.’
Nate winced at the sound of their distress. What had he done?
‘We should have stuck with Ivan,’ Meg continued, ‘not this washed-up nobody.’
Tom flashed her an unspoken warning and together they turned as a man approached them.
‘Now, if you’ve done with your little tantrum, my dear,’ the director said, ‘perhaps we can get back to making movies?’
Nate recognised him. He felt his stomach fall.
The man was responsible for the worst film in the history of cinematography, Plan 9 From Outer Space. If there was one person who could ruin the film most loved by both The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science and viewers the world over, it was Ed Wood.
‘No,’ Meg spat at him. ‘You don’t get to speak to me like that. I quit,’ she added as she marched away from the set.
Feeling ill, Nate willed himself back home. He grabbed his mobile and searched IMDB – The Measure of a Man had no entry. A Google search explained why: in 1988, a fall out between director and actors halted the film’s production. No other actor wanted to step in to replace Meg Ryan and the film was benched. It is now known the most unlucky film to be associated with, being to cinema what Macbeth is to the stage.
Nate fell to his knees. The Measure of a Man was, without doubt, the greatest film in the world and his appearance had altered it. For a lover of the celluloid artform, this was the greatest sin imaginable.
Glaring at the golden ticket, the vile cursed item, Nate’s eye was again drawn to the stamp mark. Limited Edition: 7 of 12.
There were eleven other tickets in the world. Eleven other people with the potential for destroying classic films. Nate could not live in a world without good fiction. He knew that he could not risk another person accidentally removing a beloved film from history.
Opening all the auction sites he knew, Nate began the search to track down the other eleven golden tickets.