Friday, July 01, 2011

I love you, Steve Spielberg, but how many times can you copy E.T.

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to defend Steven Spielberg.

Let me clarify: I'm not necessarily his biggest fan and he's not my favorite director. It's just that my favorite director, Billy Wilder, doesn't really need defending because everyone thinks he's great and there's no significant opposition otherwise. Ditto for Orson Welles, Sidney Lumet or David Lean and all the rest of the giants. Likewise, I could use this blog to declare my love for someone like Wes Anderson or Ed Zwick but that's like preaching to the choir.

But back to my main point: Spielberg is the director that it all boils down to because he has just as many people who think he's had a negative effect on cinema as he has fans, and where you stand on Spielberg as a barometer of sorts on how much of a film snob you are and the non-film-snob side of the divide is the audience I consider myself geared toward.

If you don't like Spielberg, you can't appreciate the simple joy of a well-choreographed sword fight or the emotional connection between a child and the alien who pops up in his backyard (yes, he is putting quite a lot of aliens in his films, more on that later) because you're too busy analyzing the mise-en-scene and lamenting that Spielberg isn't as influenced by the French New Wave as his contemporaries.

So, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I will now proceed to lambast Spielberg for the fact that in four of his last first films, he inserted a largely unnecessary alien subplot was inserted and relied way too much on old tricks. I'm counting Transformers and Super 8 here even though he produced and not directed those films.

In fact, the little research that I've done on "Super 8" (I want to react to the movie on the page before actually learning about it) tells me that JJ Abrams really did write it so perhaps it was Abrams inserting the ridiculously unnecessary subplot.

But honestly Steve, by recycling the plot of ET 4 times in a 5-movie span, you're making it hard to defend you.

So let's review:
E.T. is a film about a broken family and kids coping with a parent's divorce (or maybe it's just one kid or maybe it's just parents bickering and remaining married, I haven't watched this film in 20 years, I have no idea). An alien pops out of the sky. We're expected to think the alien is going to be a malicious threat to the kids, but the big twist is that the alien is very kind and indirectly fulfills the kids dream of being loved by his family.

War of the Worlds-Just like E.T, the alien(s) is/are largely irrelevant to the main dynamic. The film is really about the two kids reconnecting with their rough-around-the-edges father through this conflict of alien forces suddenly appearing on Earth.

Transformers-Transformers is about cars who turn into two warring factions of robots. In the movie version, an alien mythology is superimposed upon the original. Also, the main character is a disconnected loner who's problems are indirectly family-related (his family moves a lot, which puts him in an unenviable social position). It's through his special bond to an alien (a car alien, but still an alien) that he eventually connects to the girl of his dreams and everyone around him as well.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull-The original trilogy centered around artifacts that were supernatural/religious: The middle installment dealt with stones that protected against the evil spirits of a monotheistic religion and the first and last installments, dealt with God and Jesus, respectively. This is a very, very far cry from aliens but despite that, they crossed over into alien territory and botched the ending.

Super 8-As we were getting closer to learning what the big secret was: I was thinking please don't let it be an alien, and I was disappointed. At first, I liked the idea of centering a film around students shooting a movie, I thought it had a strong sense of place, and I thought there was some good chemistry among the kids.

On the downside, I felt absolutely smothered by the Spielberg touch yet again. Kids feeling disconnected from their parents. Parents grieving over the difficulty of being single dads. Oh yes, and aliens.

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