Hello and welcome to the second part of the 80s-tastic Mall-tacular Double Feature! Before this review begins, I’d like to remind my readers there will be spoilers for The Legend of Billie Jean. If you’re interested, you can check out the double feature’s introduction and first part at these links:
The 80s-tastic Mall-tacular Double Feature Introduction!
Take 3: Night of the Comet Review (80s-tastic Mall-tacular Double Feature Part 1)
1. How were you introduced to The Legend of Billie Jean?
Before I started watching Dan Bell’s Dead Mall series, I had heard of The Legend of Billie Jean. It wasn’t until I saw the video, ‘DEAD MALL SERIES : Tour of the SUNRISE MALL from THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN (1985)’, that my interest in the film piqued. In this 2016 video, Dan uses clips from The Legend of Billie Jean to compare how Sunrise Mall looks in the 21st century. He even discusses the history of the mall itself.
2. As of 2022, what is the state of the Sunrise Mall?
The portions of the mall that were featured in Dan’s video permanently closed in 2019. Only three tenants are still standing, which are connected to the mall’s exterior.
3. What role did the Sunrise Mall play in The Legend of Billie Jean?
In The Legend of Billie Jean, the Sunrise Mall was called ‘Ocean Park Mall’. It was the place Billie Jean agreed to meet the police in order to accept the money. Prior to this arrangement, Billie Jean’s brother, Binx, had his scooter destroyed. Billie Jean and her friends turn to the police with little success. She even tries to acquire the money to repair Binx’s scooter. One thing leads to another, causing Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends to run from the law. When Billie Jean arrives at Ocean Park Mall, she thinks she’ll finally get the money. But those plans don’t work out, with a chase scene ensuing.
4. Why do you think the Sunrise Mall was in the film for a short amount of time?
The Legend of Billie Jean is an expansive narrative, similar to Night of the Comet. As I said in answer number three, Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends go on the run. Because of this, the characters are not going to stay in the same place for an extended period of time. Around the filming and release of The Legend of Billie Jean, the Sunrise Mall was a business that relied on daily revenue and foot traffic. Therefore, the mall could only allow filming to take place within a certain time period.
5. Besides including a mall and focusing on teenage characters, do The Legend of Billie Jean and Night of the Comet share a common theme, idea, or message?
Like I mentioned in answer number three, the film’s conflict started because Binx’s scooter was destroyed. After the scooter was stolen by a neighborhood bully named Hubie, Binx’s attempt to retrieve it resulted in him getting beaten up by Hubie and his friends. This is when Billie Jean decided more needed to be done to help her brother. Billie Jean and Binx reminded me of Regina and Samantha from Night of the Comet. Both pairs of siblings are prominently featured in their respective story, with each pair trying to make the best of a complicated situation. Throughout each film, both sibling pairs appear to get along well with each other, displaying a good sense of camaraderie.
6. Is there anything about The Legend of Billie Jean you liked or didn’t like?
A pleasant surprise while watching The Legend of Billie Jean was the discovery of mixed media! Throughout the film, voice-overs from a radio station were heard. A newspaper would appear in the story from time to time. Video footage of Billie Jean also made an appearance in the story. The inclusion of mixed media led to creative and interesting ways it was used in the movie. Radio station voice-overs featured calls from listeners, sharing their support for Billie Jean and her cause. Newspaper articles shared details to progress the story forward, from the health status of Hubie’s father to the identity of Lloyd. In an effort to clear her name, Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends create a video and give copies to the police and various tv stations. Mixed media allowed the movie to receive a unique and memorable identity!
The majority of this story focused on the conflict of how Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends would obtain the money to repair Binx’s scooter. Billie Jean received the most character development, as she is the titular character. While I thought the story was interesting and while I liked Billie Jean as a character, I wish some of the other characters had received more character development. Toward the beginning of the film, one of Billie Jean’s friends, Putter, is watching a female wrestling match on tv. When she learns of Billie Jean’s plan to report Binx’s stolen scooter, Putter eagerly looks forward to this excursion to the police station. As I was watching the movie, I was curious about Putter’s interest in going to the police station and watching wrestling on television. Unfortunately, these parts of the story were not explained.
7. Did you develop any thoughts and/or questions while watching this film?
While I didn’t develop any questions, I did notice some interesting coincidences. During my viewing of The Legend of Billie Jean, I learned the movie was a “modern” Joan of Arc story. After Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends break into Lloyd’s house, Lloyd introduces them to the story of Joan of Arc. Billie Jean is so inspired by what Lloyd told her, she decides to cut her hair short to reflect Joan’s appearance. There’s even a parallel between Joan of Arc getting burned at the stake and a statue of Billie Jean getting burned in a fire toward the end of the movie. Now here’s where the interesting coincidences come in. Last year, I reviewed the Touched by an Angel episode, “The Spirit of Liberty Moon”. That episode was not only a “modern” Joan of Arc story, Bai Ling’s character was named Jean. Yes, I know the name, Jean, is Billie’s middle name. But according to Jean’s friend in “The Spirit of Liberty Moon”, Jean is the French version of Joan. Plus, I reviewed both the Touched by an Angel episode and The Legend of Billie Jean in October.
8. In your double feature for Rich Kids and Over the Edge, you discussed certain events from the ‘70s that likely influenced the creation of those films. Is there anything from the ‘80s that you think either affected The Legend of Billie Jean or teenagers from that time?
Imagine, once again, you’re a teenager in the 1980s. You have so much to be thankful for, from a family that loves and supports you to that new set of wheels you just got as a gift. But, sometimes, you think life can be a little unfair. On your way home from school, you see a homeless person on a street corner, asking for money or even a sandwich. A flyer appears in your family’s mailbox from time to time, asking for food bank donations. No matter how respectful you are to the homeless person on the street corner or how many donations you take to the food bank, you wonder if your efforts are enough to truly make a long-lasting impact. Then, you hear about an event called Hands Across America. Everyone is talking about it, from your next-door neighbor to the cashier at your local grocery store. There’s even an assembly at your school about the event. The more you think about Hands Across America, the more you realize there are other people that have the same thought as you do: try to make the world a better place than how you found it.
Hands Across America was not mentioned in The Legend of Billie Jean. In fact, the event took place a year after the film was released. But there was one scene that reminded me of this piece of ‘80s history. While Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends are on the run, a group of children ask for Billie Jean’s help. They lead her to a house where one of their friends is being physically abused by his father. The small group grows larger as Billie Jean makes her way to the house. Binx and Billie Jean’s friends eventually join the group, adding their support for Billie Jean’s mission. Now you’re probably wondering, “What does this scene have to do with Hands Across America”? Well, it’s the idea of people from all walks of life coming together to support a common goal. In the case of The Legend of Billie Jean, those children, plus Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends, shared the same idea: save the young boy from his abusive dad. Before Billie Jean succeeded in her rescue effort, the large group of children circled around the boy’s house, intimidating the boy’s father. The film itself, as well as Hands Across America, showed teenagers at that time there were other teens who shared their same goals and dreams.
9. A lot has changed since the release of The Legend of Billie Jean. Have you come across any recent pieces of media that prominently feature a mall?
After breaking into Lloyd’s house, Billie Jean discovers a room upstairs. In this room, there are Halloween masks, security monitors, even video equipment. The room itself could make any Halloween costume store jealous, with dim lighting, candles, and cobwebs adding to the room’s eerie atmosphere. Even the build-up to the room’s discovery was straight out of a horror movie, as a costumed Lloyd follows Billie Jean. Later in the film, it is discovered Lloyd is a member of his school’s drama club, explaining why the aforementioned room contained so many costumes.
The scene I just described reminded me of a Hallmark film titled hoops&yoyo’s Haunted Halloween. In this animated film, the protagonists, Hoops and Yoyo, along with their friend, Piddles, go Halloween costume shopping at their local mall. During their trip, they become locked inside the mall after hours. I’ve only seen pieces of this 2012 movie. But based on what I have seen, the film is more spooky than scary. However, I do think it’s an interesting coincidence how both hoops&yoyo’s Haunted Halloween and The Legend of Billie Jean feature a mall in their respective story.
10. After watching this movie, is there anything you can take away from your movie viewing experience?
Calling The Legend of Billie Jean a “mall movie” is, in my opinion, a bit of a stretch. Similar to Night of the Comet, the Sunrise Mall was featured in only a few scenes. If anything, The Legend of Billie Jean is a “coming of age” story, as Billie Jean, Binx, and her friends experience personal growth over the course of the film. I liked The Legend of Billie Jean more than Night of the Comet. The story in the 1985 movie was pretty straight forward, making the film easier to follow. It was also interesting how mixed media was incorporated into the story. The Legend of Billie Jean is a fine, competently made film, complete with its own merits and flaws. The film’s message of how “fair is fair” is just as relevant now as it was in 1985, allowing the movie to be a more timeless title.
Have fun at the mall!