Arena: why old favourites should be left in the past

Anthony had always had fond memories of the 1989 movie Arena. Until he decided to watch it again...

The 80s non-classic, Arena

It’s always fun to reminisce about the things from your childhood: the films and TV you watched, the sweets you gorged upon, or the kids you used to play with. Unsurprisingly, many of us are tempted to relive these moments. Maybe we’ll watch some of those old films, or find somewhere that sells the sweets we used to eat, or even get in touch with our old friends.

However, things are rarely as good as you remember. Did those sweets always have that bitter aftertaste? Was that old friend of your always as boring as they are now? And was that film really that terrible when you watched it as a child, or it is you that’s become less tolerant and more cynical?

The reason I ask these questions is that I recently fell into this very trap myself. Based solely on vague, soft focus recollections, I decided it would be a really good idea to revisit the 1989 movie Arena.

For those that haven’t seen it (that’s just about everyone other than me, the director and the cast), it tells the tale of Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield), who enters as the sole human combatant in a fighting tournament dominated by aliens. I’d always had fond memories of it, and when I saw a VHS copy sitting among my brother-in-law’s video collection, I was overjoyed.

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Inevitably, disappointment ensued. The action-packed sci-fi adventure that I remember had somehow been replaced by a low-budget, poorly acted, crock of shit. The action sequences I so fondly remembered revealed themselves to be badly choreographed and unconvincing.

Watching Satterfield perform a rather pathetic uppercut on a big, wobbly rubber alien is a sight no man should ever have to witness. Not only did it shatter my world and make me want to cry; it brought home to me just how rubbish the 80s could be.

Fortunately, the strong script saved the day… if only. The reality is that Arena is almost completely without merit. However, I still think the concept is interesting, and could be ripe for a remake. It wouldn’t be hard to beat the existing version either – just find a leading man that doesn’t appear to have had a lobotomy, and double the original budget by asking your grandparents for cash this year instead of book tokens.

After all this disappointment, I thought it wise to find something positive in this experience; perhaps a moral? Yes, what can I learn from this whole traumatic event?

Having given it at least thirty seconds of genuine thought, I came to the conclusion: ten-year-old kids know nothing about films. No doubt, more thorough consideration would turn up rather more significant lessons than this, but as a result of Arena, the portion of my brain that dealt with that kind of thing has long since given up.