The cheers: Spielberg’s Top 10 crowd pleasing moments

Following on from my recent blog about the most nerve shredding moments in Spielberg’s back catalogue which you can read here, I thought I would take a look at the moments that most fans of Spielberg look for in his films, moments where elation and rejoicing lead to punch the air instances, that allow the audience to give little cheers or even rapturous rounds of applause, even when you are watching it in your lounge alone.

This top 10 is a mixture of individual shots, or carefully choreographed setpieces, but each one makes you thrilled to be watching and helps build the understanding that the main purpose of any film is to entertain. Quite frankly this could have been a Top 100 list (maybe I’ll do that one day) but I have narrowed it down to the following 10. As always, there will be some of your favourites that I haven’t included, but that is why God invented the comment function on blogs. I’ve also tried to not include scenes that I have talked about in previous blogs, so no beach scene from Jaws or opening scene from Raiders here. I hope you enjoy the choices that I have picked regardless.

10. Spyder Search – Minority Report (2002)

In a previous top 10 I have praised the brilliance of the opening scene of Minority Report, but the other stand out scene in a film full of stand out scenes is the building search by the robotic Spyders that are unleashed to take retinal scans of all the occupants of the building as they search for the “on the run” John Anderton who is hidden away in the building after a rather grimy eye operation.

This scene almost sneaked into my nail shredding top 10, but what moved it to this one was because despite moving towards the edge of our seats, we marvel at the genius of the filmmaking on display. Firstly we have the robotic, futuristic spyders that scamper across the screen like a herd of genetically enhanced futuristic cousins of the supporting cast of the Spielberg produced Arachnophobia. Secondly, we can marvel at Janusz Kaminski being at the very top of his game as he glides his camera around the staircase at the entrance, to a sensational tracking shots from above the invisible roof staring down into the individual departments. The attention to detail here is staggering as Tom Cruise’s Anderton hides, from the more animalistic than robotic Spyders, submerged in an ice bath only to have his cover blown by the tiniest air bubble that leaves Anderton’s nostril and slowly almost silently impacts on the surface.

It’s Spielberg being playful, it’s Spielberg being fluid in his direction, there are no quick cuts or edits here and as an audience we sit an applaud the audacity of the scene from its simple premise to it’s peerless execution.

9. The Vote – Lincoln (2012)

The first of the genuine punch the air moments of this countdown, the vote on whether to approve the thirteenth amendment of the US constitution, that if passed would abolish slavery and involuntary servitude. In what is possibly Spielberg’s most dialogue heavy film, with lengthy but always intriguing monologue upon monologue extolling the virtues of the argument on both sides, we are left in no doubt that this is going to be tight decision.

As anyone who knows their history, will know the outcome of the vote, so similar to the conundrum facing Ron Howard with Apollo 13, or to a lesser extent James Cameron with Titanic, the challenge here is to make a widely known outcome remain in the balance. Spielberg manages this by never really letting the audience in on the running total, by painting the moral dilemma across the faces of all those who’s role it is to cast a vote. Of course the outcome is a success but the feeling of euphoria as the final count is announced is sensational, hell even Tommy Lee Jones cracks a smile.

8. Mine Cart Chase – Temple of Doom

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Bit of a marmite film in Spielberg’s filmography, over the years it appears that people really love it or really dislike it, there isn’t much middle ground. However, one thing pretty much all fans agree on is the rip-roaring mine cart chase in Pankot Palace’s rather spacious basement.

After avoiding turning to the Dark Side and rescuing Willie from a burning pit, our intrepid hero joins up with Short Round and Willie and attempts to escape the dungeon like mine that has housed all the villagers children. Indy manages to battle his way through henchman upon henchman, and manages to avoid being attacked via Voodoo and eventually overcome a big dude on the worlds slowest conveyor belt (Aldi would not be impressed).

Once that is out of the way, he swings on a conveniently placed chain, knocking more henchman off the platform towards a watery grave, and lands perfectly in the mine cart with Short Round and Willie. (Btw, that whole swinging sequence…..awesome). Choosing to ignore the good advice to take the left tunnel, Indy sets off on a ride that would have the queues backing up at Alton Towers. They are once again pursued by a bunch of foolhardy goons, who really should have known what was down the tunnel and therefore known it wasn’t going to end well.

Sure enough a handy railway sleeper in place the travelling morons are catapulted off the track and into the strangely lava filled abyss (are they in a volcano, what’s going on here?). Still our triumvirate press on, but another gang of idiots is in pursuit, and they try and steal Short Round. Another pesky trip hazard puts pay to them and all is clear, phew.

Only the problem is there’s a bit missing from the track, should have took the left tunnel Indy, and unlike Keanu driving his bomb ridden bus there is no one to put a mysterious little ramp to assist with clearing the canyon. Fortunately Indy and co are on a bit of downslope and manage to perform the perfect launch and landing you know as if it was all in a days work. Fantastic stuff, oh and then the breaks fail, and Indy teaches us all why it is so important to have a good pair of walking boots if going searching for fortune and glory. Hanging onto the out of control cart using his Karimor’s as a breaking mechanism, Indy brings the cart to a halt inches away from the crash barriers, getting some scorch burns in the process.

Yes they made it. Slight issue though, you see whilst Indy and co were having fun on the ride, colossal git Molaram decided to send a dam’s worth of water down the track to flush them out. Will they escape the torrent, you bet they will.

Joking aside, what we have here is Spielberg at his frenetic best. The action is fast and furious but we are never in doubt as to where we are up to, the quick cut editing that is often in play in modern action cinema is not here, the kinetic energy is such that we as an audience are transported onto that mine cart, it’s a pure thrill ride and for me the highlight of the film.

7. The first task – Ready Player One

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There are people who claim that Spielberg doesn’t make exciting films anymore. In the past 10 years we have been treated to political grandstanding in the script heavy Lincoln, the worthy and noble War Horse and the Espionage thriller Bridge of Spies. Critics started to wonder whether this famed popcorn peddler had finally moved on, or maybe worse, even lost his touch on how to entertain the masses. His attempts at family friendly films such as The Adventures of Tintin (more on that soon) and The BFG had been technically wonderful but had struggled to find a huge audience. Some times even the best have to mine their back catalogue and so here we have it, Ready Player One, described by this very blogger as a Greatest Hits film from Spielberg.

That was my first reaction to seeing it at the cinema and like all Greatest Hits albums, you know all the tracks and you can sing along happily and it makes you think of times touched with nostalgia and warmth, but there is nothing new there.

On repeat viewings, (and Ready Player One hugely benefits from repeat viewing), it becomes clear that the film is so much more than just a glorified compilation album. This is Spielberg properly letting his hair down, you could argue he has not had as much fun since he introduced the world to DNA created dinosaurs on Isla Nublar.

This is never more demonstrated than the completion of the first task, where Spielberg throws enough pop culture references and Easter Eggs to keep even the most nostalgia cynic among the audience interested. Whether it an appearance from an old favourite, the T-Rex, to the rampaging Kong, we are treated to 5 minutes of breathtaking action, packed with thrills and spills. What’s most impressive in this sequence considering it was made at the height of MCU/DC battlegrounds, once again the editing is tight without ever being disorientating or confusing. Demonstrating a clear eye for detail their is no need to cut every half second, Spielberg once again shows that trust the audience, give them a chance to take in as much as possible and do it with enough bravado to want to watch it over and over again.

6. Trip through Bagghar – Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin

Spielberg’s first all encompassing trip into Motion Capture is the not talked about enough “The Adventures of Tintin, the Secret of the Unicorn”. Yet another Spielberg that rewards repeat viewings as the level of detail here is quite phenomenal.

A film that is often described as an animated Indiana Jones films, the comparisons are fair and should be taken as a massive compliment. The scene pictured above where Tintin and Captain Haddock pursue the evil Red Rackham is a flashback to the motorbike and side car chase from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where dad and Indy clumsily fight off the German soldiers.

The scene in question, is a chase through the town of Bagghar which culminates with a quite staggering 5 minute single shot taking into account crumbling buildings, sliding buildings, raging rivers, rascally birds of prey and the money shot to end all money shots, a ride down an telephone wire desperately holding onto the remaining front wheel of the motorbike.

There is so much going on here, but once again you are never in doubt where the action is up to and it is a perfect demonstration of how motion capture can be used to astonishing effect. In a film packed full of beautiful moments and clever imagery, we have a scene that would not have looked out of place in one of our favourite Archaeologists films.

5. The Caravan on the Cliff – Jurassic Park:The Lost World

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By the time The Lost World was released, everyone who had a passing interest in dinosaurs had probably seen Jurassic Park and marvelled at the CGI creations that still astonish today. The problem facing Spielberg on this sequel, a film that he has since admitted he made somewhat on auto-pilot, was how do you create that sense of wonder again? Unfortunately that moment never truly arrives, it’s more “oh look dinosaurs again…cool” rather than, Sam Neil’s eyes perfectly capturing the thoughts and reactions of the first film.

Before I go any further, I have to say that I actually enjoy lots of The Lost World, in particular one scene that I think is just phenomenal, namely the caravan on the cliff. Vince Vaughan and Julianne Moore are trying to fix the broken leg of an infant Tyrannosaur in the caravan before mum and dad notice that they are missing.

This scene actually starts with one of Spielberg’s funniest visual gags as Jeff Goldblum’s Dr Malcolm descends from the High Hide without gripping the rope properly.

We are then treated to an ominous overhead rustling of trees shot, as Malcolm (showing no sign of injury from his 50 foot plummet) joins Sarah and Nick in the caravan just as mum turns up………oh and she is not happy. The first indication that she is a tad vexed is a quite brilliant shot of a jeep being tossed over the side of the cliff like you would perhaps flick at annoying bug who maybe encroaching on your dinner. The parenting team of T-Rexs are suddenly there, giving a dual aspect threat on either side of the caravan, but they don’t attack. That’s because they know their infant is in there. It’s one of Spielberg’s less obvious depictions of a family dynamic, but the power is all there.

A few threatening nudges of the caravan that spells out the consequences if their young is not returned make the human trio see sense and attempt to return the offspring to the parents, once this has been done, the T-Rex’s retreat, but only to shelter their traumatised youngster. They are not going to let this kidnapping go unpunished.

“HANG ON TO SOMETHING!!” yell Nick and Ian in unison, well that is the understatement of the year as mum and dad open a giant can of dino whoopass on the caravan and push it gradually towards the cliff edge. Now this is double trailer so the delays and red herrings here are spectacular, as the first half of the caravan heads for the abyss it is caught by the heavier end, however Sarah can’t hold on and plummets presumably to a watery death, but she is stopped by the safety glass of the caravan………………which slowly but surely begins to crack under her weight.

Just in time, Ian catches Sarah just as falling equipment smashes the window. Left dangling in mid-air the T-Rex’s nip off, presumably for a coffee and hob-nob, and our trio have Eddie (the always great Richard Schiff) turn up to help them out of the stricken caravan. He manages to tie a rope around a tree (very Nedry-esq) and lower it for the trio to clamber onto. Realising the top half is now starting to slide on the mud towards the cliff top, Eddie attaches the caravan to the tow-cable on the front of his jeep and puts all power into the rear wheel drive and begins slowly but surely to pull the caravans back onto the cliff top.

Problem is coffee break is now over and mum and dad come back to complete their work, which is bad news for everyone, in particular Eddie, who despite the hob nobs is made short work of by Mr and Mrs Rex. Of course with Eddie out of the way there is no-one to control the Jeep which means the Jeep is now going to also make a swift exit in the only direction that it can, towards the cliff top taking the caravans with it with one of Spielberg’s most exhilarating shots.

It’s a shame in many ways that the film never really matches up to that 10 minutes, but when a film has such an outstanding scenes that appears to be several leagues higher than the rest of it, there is a tendency to dismiss everything that came before or after it, which actually does The Lost World a disservice as there is lots to enjoy throughout. However as stated at the start of this entry, despite this thrilling breathtaking scene, it misses that one breathtaking moment, which brings me sneakily onto the next entry.

4. The Brachiosaur reveal – Jurassic Park

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom's Lack of Wonder is Deliberate and Important  | by Edward Punales | Medium

The secret of a truly great cinematic moment is when it can still make you gasp in wonder, maybe get a lump in your throat or punch the air in sheer delight no matter how many times you have seen that moment. Think about the first time you saw the Death Star Destroyer streak across the starry sky, at the start of Star Wars, or Josh Baskin dancing on the floor piano in Big, or George laying out Biff in Back to the Future in one punch. These are moments that made us all fall in love with cinema and why we come back for more constantly, and also lead the passion for repeat viewings.

If people reading this can think back to the very first time they saw Jurassic Park, especially if you watched it on its original cinematic release, you will no doubt remember the gasp, and definitely in the screening I was in back in 1993, the cries of “woah” and believe it or not the small ripple of applause as we suddenly knew what Alan Grant had gone all wide eyed about as the beautiful, majestic Brachiosaur strode gracefully across the meadows of Jurassic Park.

I’m just going to pause slightly now, for dramatic effect. Seriously just think of that moment when you first saw that. In a film of outstanding set pieces, this moment of tranquility is the stand out moment for me. It makes me want to weep thinking about it, it makes me want to grab my kids and sit them in front of it and say “Watch this!!!” (they’ve all been made to sit through before of course). . I want to thank John Williams for having the good sense to drop the score completely from the approaching Jeep to the first site of the dinosaur. I want to thank Dennis Muren and his team for producing such a moment and Gary Rydstrom for having the beautiful sound configuration. But most of all It makes me want to say thank you to Steven Spielberg for believing and realising such a vision from the pages of Michael Crichton’s book. It is moments like this why we return to films over and over and put our faith in the power of Cinema to thrill and excite people, and at times like this it is more vital than ever for people to enjoy such perfection.

3. The Truck Chase – Raiders

Raider's of the Lost Ark: The Truck Chase | Cappa Toons!

In a film that was prepared and storyboarded down to the last spec of dust there is sensational set piece after sensational set piece. In a previous top 10 I ranked the iconic opening scene as Spielberg’s number 1 movie opening, here in the top 10 crowd pleasing moments I pick my favourite scene from Raiders for number 3, but rest assured this could have been higher if written on another day.

A scene perfectly choreographed, a scene that demonstrates practical stunt work of the highest standards that looks as fresh today as it did almost 40 years ago when made. It’s also an endearing scene for the characterisation of Indy, proof if proof were needed that this was no superhero, this was once again an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation, (yes I appreciate he was only there because he wanted to be but still you get the point). From the moment that the trucks icon begins to bend under the weight of Indy we know that he is going to have to improvise to get out of this mess.

Of course, somebody like Tony Stark would have a built in gadget or some on the way from a distant A.I but Indy just has his strength and his whip, oh and his hat which remarkably he keeps hold of, even when making the perilous journey under the truck and then being dragged behind it holding onto the trusty whip, I suppose when a hat fits, a hat fits.

Similar to the Mine Cart chase from Temple of Doom, or even the chase through Bagghar in Tintin, we have a clear idea of who is where and what is happening. A lot of the credit must go to Michael Kahn and his editing team for keeping such a tight reign on proceedings.

It’s also a scene that helps demonstrates that the villains of the piece are not over the top demonic beasts, they to are fallible humans who have no answer to Indy’s attempts to ram them off the road.

In a scene packed with swing and counter swing I think my favourite part is when Indy is dragged behind the truck, it’s a moment that I still cheer enthusiastically today as if I’m watching Liverpool come from 3-0 down to beat Barcelona in the Champions League Semi-Final (if people don’t know what I’m talking about well take a look at this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HldRlTZj_g)

Indy may not have completely won the day with this scene, but the reason it is such a crowd pleaser is that it is a scene not only of excitement but one of hope, we all love to see the bad guys get a bit of beating and if nothing else this scene helps reassure that perhaps everything is going to be ok……as long as whatever we do, we don’t look at it.

2. E.T and Elliot take flight

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One of the most iconic images of Cinema for that there is absolutely no doubt, but it is the moment 35 seconds prior to this that is the true moment of unadulterated joy. Elliot with E.T as his passenger rides through the woods and comes to what he believes to be a dead-end. Not so as E.T uses his kinetic powers to take control and speeds off into the mist heading straight for the cliff edge (more cliff edges), and then it happens……just as they are about to plunge into the chasm they take off, with John Williams’s iconic Flying theme hitting the perfect musical cue for company.

Away they soar above the trees, the glorious, luscious trees, with their bustling wildlife and the endless possibilities of uninhibited adventure, this is every childs dream and Steven Spielberg captured it perfectly. It is best summed up, when moments after the iconic trip in front of the moon, Elliot lets out a triumphant cheer, yes Elliot we are with you all the way, this is just wonderful.

There really isn’t an awful lot more I can say about this scene, that hasn’t been said numerous times before, but once again it is an absolute gift of a scene and one that it is very difficult to imagine modern cinema without it.

1. The Mothership lands – CE3K

SYFY - Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Joe Alves interview | Close  Encounters of the Third Kind was supposed to have flying aliens and other  design secrets

Whenever I have been asked in the past, what is about Spielberg that makes you such a fan, the first thing I mention is the last 30 minutes of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I feel if there is anyone who wishes to know what Spielberg has to offer the world I would show them this.

I don’t think Close Encounters is Spielberg’s best made film but I have made no secret over the years that it is my personal favourite (and we all know there is some insanely good competition). I also think thematically it is the quintessential Spielberg film. It’s all here, ordinary man in extraordinary situation, a difficult and testing family lives, including the ubiquitous absent parenting. There is also the child eyes looking with wonder at what is often a scary world for adults. There is the music, perfectly put together by the maestro, and then there is the magic and wonder, the light show, the star lit skies, the shooting stars, it is all there, it is Spielberg summed up in 2 and a bit hours.

However, nothing comes close to the last 30 minutes. Almost balletic in its execution, dialogue is at an absolute minimum as humans and aliens communicate through light and music. We watch events unfold, like Roy (played with childlike enthusiasm by Richard Dreyfuss) with a huge grins on our faces, praying that this is actually happening. We are treated to a visit from 3 sentry spaceships sent on ahead, who perform a dance like joust above the humans before retreating from whence they came.

This is just the appetiser to the main course, which arrives in a cacophony of rumble and yet more dazzling light shows as the mother-ship, with the size and look of a small city arrives and descends onto the landing strip. There then follows the music and light spectacular, which if real would have been one of the finest classical music concerts ever. It is truly breathtaking and I absolutely love it.

What makes it interesting now is that it has been described by some as quite a dour ending, with Roy abandoning his family to follow his dreams, in fact Spielberg has been quoted as saying he would struggle to make such an ending if he made it today. Due to studio pressure, Spielberg went back to Close Encounters in 1980 and added extra scenes including the interior of the mother-ship, which isn’t as bad as people claim it is, it just doesn’t really add anything.

I was recently asked to list my film choices for a film version of Desert Island Discs and it will be no surprise to any of you who have read this far that Close Encounters was the number one pick. The brilliance of Spielberg is that is left with any one of his films, I would be kept entertained during my time there, but Close Encounters will always be my go to.

Thanks for reading

What’s for Dinner? Spielberg’s Top 10 Dining table scenes.

The latest in my Spielberg top 10s is a closer look at the times that Spielberg has utilised the most practical of all props, the humble dining table. Sometimes these can be small, intimate scenes such as the mimicry between a father and son at the breakfast table or much grander settings, such as the “feast of beasts” at Pankot Palace. Spielberg uses this familiar setting to bring comedy, revulsion and sometimes just some exposition but the scenes below are all performed beautifully by the cast and are often the more underrated parts of his films. Please let me know if I’ve missed any of your favourites.

10. The make believe feast – Hook (1991)

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Where better for Spielberg to explore the idea of lost innocence and memories of childhood than the Dining table. Hook has often been accused of being too loud, too over the top, I once heard someone inexplicably describe it as too much fun. I think this scene captures the point perfectly. As the Lost Boys sit down for their dinner of what appears to be empty pots and pans, Peter looks on bewildered commenting “eat what? There’s nothing here, even Gandhi ate more than this”. Stuffy adults the World over are in agreement with it’s ridiculousness. There then follows a perfectly played trading of insults between Peter and self-appointed Lost Boy leader Rufio “Substitute Chemistry Teacher” is an insult I still throw out there to this day.

Egged on by the Lost Boys who want nothing more than the cranky, old Peter to rediscover his former glories, Peter starts to get into it, launching a brutal tirade on the stunned Rufio culminating in the poetic “hey Rufio, why don’t you go suck on a dead dogs nose” and flicks his spoon with imaginery icing to land perfectly with a splat on Rufio’s face. Peter was starting to let himself go, to stop himself being so uptight, to enjoy himself. There is the lesson right there.

9. A loving game of copycat – Jaws (1975)

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Where better for Spielberg to showcase the loving bond between father and son, than you guessed it the dining table. In a film dominated with scenes of terror and carnage, this quiet unassuming scene at breakfast showing the bond between father and son is 90 seconds of pure beauty. It is a scene that shows despite the chaos going on in Brody’s professional life that the people that matter most are still there for him.

It’s also poignant during these unusual times that young Sean is oblivious to the challenges that his dad and the adult world that surrounds him are going through. He is not interested in the political point scoring that his dad is having to deal with, he just loves spending time with his dad. It also demonstrates to Martin that when all the frustrations consume him, he need not look any further than his biggest supporters, his family “Give us a kiss”, “Why?” “because I need it”.

Worth noting that Spielberg goes someway to recreate this scene in E.T when Elliot first brings E.T into the house to demonstrate the bond that it already forming between the two.

8. The paranoia scene in Chuck’s cafe – Duel (1972)

The Frights of Mann: Duel's Paranoid Scene at Chuck's Cafe | From ...

Where better for Spielberg to show a man wracked with paranoia clumsily order a sandwich? That’s right, a dining table.

The centrepiece of Duel and possibly it’s stand out scene isn’t on the open road and doesn’t involve a car or a truck (although the latter is glimpsed out the window). Instead taking momentary refuge in Chuck’s roadside cafe, David Mann (that’s M.A.N.N) takes a quick trip to the bathroom to freshen up and returns to see his chief tormentor nonchalantly parked up outside. Mann immediately jumps to the same conclusion as us, namely the driver is in the cafe.

What follows is almost 15 minutes of carefully constructed Hitchcockian suspense as Mann eyes up the several redneck truck driving patrons of the cafe. An intrusive voice over is an unnecessary addition but the tension is palpable, and the numerous red herrings are sumptuously served along with a Swiss Cheese on RYE, ooh and an aspirin.

This is Spielberg at his most showy, a young director trying to demonstrate that he can bring something different to a bog standard thriller, and this scene showcases a lot of the visual bravado that would be shown over the next 5 decades.

7. Scrumdiddlyumptious breakfast with the Queen – The BFG (2016)

Are you ready for THE BFG's scrumdiddlyumptious breakfast at ...

Where else would Spielberg put a giant having breakfast with a Queen? Of course, the dining table (albeit a bloody big one).

Growing up The BFG was my favourite book, as someone who had to be forced to read anything as a kid (reading just wasn’t as exciting as Star Wars), The BFG managed to break through my self imposed barrier and even managed repeat reading. Imagine my delight, therefore, when my favourite director announced he was going to make a film of it. The finished film didn’t quite meet my expectations, a few too many of the grizzly moments were left out for it to be a truly satisfying adaptation however, there was still loads to enjoy, none more so this note perfect, hilarious breakfast scene.

A scene that is packed full of slapstick and toilet humour, it’s possible Spielberg hasn’t had this much juvenile fun since the scene at number 10 in this list. From the chandelier smashing entrance to farting corgis and wind breaking monarchs this classic comedy trope of fish out of water is just an absolute delight, and my word, that breakfast looks good, and thats before the Frobscottle makes an appearance.

6. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – A.I (2001)

AI: Artificial Intelligence: Does Not Eat

Where better for Spielberg to showcase just how creepy a married couple’s new robotic child actually is? Oh yes, the dining table.

Opening the scene with David perfectly captured in the halo esq light fitting, the family embark on their evening meal in an atmosphere of awkwardness. David silently observes Henry and Monica eat their food and drink their drink, replicating their actions with his own empty glass and plate, whilst both Henry and Monica look on with a growing sense of unease. The deafening silence is alarmingly shattered as Monica struggles to get all of her noodles into her mouth by a terrifying cackle from David.

For me it is one of Spielberg’s finest jump scares, completely unexpected and out of context with the scene. Monica and Henry’s momentary shock is quickly replaced by nervous laughter as David continues to laugh maniacally. The darkness in this scene is very much in keeping with the mood of the first hour of A.I as Spielberg paints an uneasy utopia and shows humans barely able to understand on how best to cope with their new family member. The fact that David doesn’t understand why he laughs at Monica’s gastronomic short comings adds to the sinister feel. The start of the scene has David bathed in angelic light, by the scenes conclusion we are plunged further into a creepy, nerve jangling thriller.

5. Celie’s triumph – The Color Purple (1985)

Been On My Mind… | blah blah birds

Where better for Spielberg to stage a grand standing moment that puts a true coward in their place? Of course, the dining table.

Everyone loves it when a bully gets their comeuppance, think about George McFly flattening Biff in Back to the Future and tell me there isn’t a little smile forming on your face.

For the first two hours of The Color Purple, Celie (a quite stunning Whoopi Goldberg)is bullied, humiliated and abused by Mister (a monstrously buffoonish Danny Glover). Celie submits to everyone one of Mister’s demands and the people around her accept that is just the way things are. However the introduction into Celie’s life of the electrifying Shug helps Celie realise that perhaps she doesn’t need to lead a life of suffering and hardship. After discovering that Mister has been hiding letters from Celie’s sister Nettie for years, Celie finally finds the courage to confront Mister. This time Celie gives Mister both barrels in front of the whole family to tell him what a weak man he is and how unafraid of him she now is.

“Nettie and my kids be comin’ home soon, and when they get here we gonna’ set around and whip your ass” Nettie says with a quiet determination. It is a genuine punch the air moment, leaving a bewildered Mister speechless. It’s the finest moment in a film that has plenty of glorious moments but can on occasions descend into Sunday afternoon melodrama.

4. Maybe it was an iguana – E.T (1982)

Top 10 Times A Table Became An Additional Character In A Steven ...

Where better for Spielberg to demonstrate the after effects of a failed marriage? That’s right….the dining table.

Among all the magic and wonder in E.T there are scenes and story themes of sadness, loss and loneliness.

This scene towards the start of the film perfectly captures the new family dynamic, as departed father now leaves mum and older brother to act as surrogate parents to Elliot and Gertie. From the moment we meet Elliot we feel his isolation, he is on the outside looking in, and like any kid he wants people to respect him, he wants them to listen to him when he has something important to say, instead he just gets teased by his older brother. Older brothers are meant to do that, it’s in their job description.

Here we see Elliot’s frustration grow to the point where he announces that his brother may not have the most fragrant aural scent. The shock of that moment (which Spielberg refused to let the BBC edit out for it’s Christmas Day premiere in 1990) is followed by a pause before Elliot delivers an even greater sucker punch by telling the occupants of the dining table that his absent father would believe him.

From light hearted teasing to awkward atmosphere with one line of spiteful dialogue. Elliot has gone to far but doesn’t appear to care, not even by a clearly upset mother, a fuming big brother and a confused little sister.

It’s a beautifully played scene that is in stark contrast to the loud, dancing, pizza scoffing, game of dungeons and dragons from the previous evening. It perfectly encapsulates the challenges that a family faces as they try to adjust to their change of circumstance, meaning things such as simple disagreements over who’s turn it is to clear the plates off the table gets blown hugely out of proportion.

3. Feast of the beasts – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Happyotter: INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984)

Where better for Spielberg to exploit the Gastro fears of the characters and quite frankly the audience, that’s right the dining table.

Perhaps the most controversial entry into this top 10, a scene that hasn’t particularly aged well. On release Temple of Doom was criticised for high levels of violence, now it comes across as film veiled in thinly guarded racial stereotypes. The feast at Pankot Palace is played for laughs as repulsive course is replaced by repulsive course, whilst playing in the background we have Indy grilling the sinister Prime Minister Chatter Lal about the disturbing history of the Palace and its association with the Thugee cult.

What is great about this scene is the impeccable comic timing from Kate Capshaw. In a role often derided as a screechy, annoying damsel in distress, Capshaw realises that she is the comic relief in one of Spielberg’s darker films. Ignoring the glaring plot hole of Indy appearing to being totally oblivious to a giant snake being on the table, which when cut into has 100s of little snakes pour out of it, Capshaw’s reaction is pure slapstick gold. Follow this up with a main course of grilled beetle, a steaming bowl of eyeball soup and of course the crowning glory, for dessert, chilled monkey brains, we are witnessing a Spielberg scene that would never be made today and possibly shouldn’t have been made then but it is tremendous fun.

2. I guess you’ve noticed something a little strange with DadClose Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

A Close Encounter with the Devils Tower – Deano In America

Where better for Spielberg to portray a suspected mental breakdown than at the family dining table.

After having a Close Encounter with a UFO, Roy Neary starts to have strange visions of a mountain in every day objects. He becomes obsessed with this image, seeing it in every day objects including in the foam that he is about to use in his morning shave. As Roy’s obsession grows, his behaviour becomes odder, resulting in the alienation of himself from his family.

As Roy daydreams he’s handed a bowl of mashed potato to which he casually starts spooning onto his plate. A moment later and Roy sees the shape in the mashed potato and starts to ladel the potato onto the plate, using his fork to shape it into the mountain. Roy only stops when he notices the family are staring. They are not just staring, the eldest son weeps as he watches his dad emotionally fall to pieces in front of their eyes. The rest of the family watch on aghast at these strange events

It’s a tragic moment of realisation for Roy that perhaps everything isn’t quite right, a realisation that his family don’t recognise him anymore and the first real indication that they are no longer Roy’s number one priority.

1. Spared no expense – Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park – food & a film

Where better to knock an eccentric businessman down a peg or two….that’s right the dining table.

Once the dust has settled on the ooos and ahhs of the first glimpses of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, a dose of sober reality is laid out to Billionaire fantasist John Hammond by the very scientists that he had hoped would endorse his magnificent theme park. However, what Hammond encounters is a barrage of criticism from all three, who raise the practical fears of this new Eco system that has been developed in a lab without any caution given to the environmental and ecological ramifications of such a place.

Serving West Chilean seabass that has spared no expense, Malcolm, Sattler and Grant express their gravest concerns with some of the finest and most quotable dialogue in a Spielberg film. Hammond realises he only has the blood sucking lawyer on his side who eyes are wide with dollar signs. The lack of discipline in the attainment of Scientific knowledge is Malcolm’s main concern delivering the classic denouement,

“yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”

For an audience who still have their heads spinning from the wonders of the brief glimpse of the dinosaurs, it’s a real bump back down to Earth moment.

About me

My name is Dominic Holder and I like to promote the beauty and wonder of Cinema in my writing. I spend a lot of time promoting the power of Cinema as a tool of wellbeing to anyone and everyone. I love all kinds of films but in particular I am a devoted fan of Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, John Williams, Star Wars, Disney and Marvel. My love of Cinema stems from a trip as a 4 year old to local cinema in Bolton to watch a Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back double bill, it was the first in a series of life changing moments, I knew from the moment the Imperial Star Destroyer engulfed the screen at the start of  A New Hope I was hooked. Thankfully nearly 40 years later I still get excited and still find escapism and happiness within this wonderful medium.

You can follow me on Twitter @DomHolder and read some of my reviews on Letterboxd at letterboxd.com/DomH

You can read more of my blogs on Film at www.dominicholder.wordpress.com

The Maestro

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If I was to ask anyone reading this to sing or hum the first film theme that comes into their head, the chances are that they will perform one written by John Williams. It is quite possible that you do not realise that the tune you croon is by John Williams, it is also not entirely inconceivable that you may claim to have never heard of John Williams. I can guarantee however that if the name isn’t overly familiar then the work definitely will be. He is the foremost film composer in Cinematic history, whose work has transcended Cinemas, to firmly embed itself into popular culture. Nominated 51 times for an Academy Award, winning on 5 occasions, when it comes to scores for films, his is the greatest of all Greatest Hits compilations.

There is not a beach open to the public on Planet Earth that hasn’t had a person, at one time or another, stand looking at the sea/ocean going “Dur-dum” in honour of John Williams famous two-note characterisation of a terrifying ocean dwelling monster. This also applies to all swimming pools and lakes across the globe. Even those who have never seen Jaws instantly get the reference of some guy (it’s always a guy) who considers himself a bit of a character who stands on the edge of a lake going “Dur dum”. A loud, annoying laugh usually follows this as the “bit of a character” convinces himself that in the 43 years since Jaws’s release he is the first person to do this.

Dismissed initially by Spielberg who thought it was a joke, the two note masterpiece would quickly help turn Jaws from a disaster that nearly ended Spielberg’s career to becoming one of the most successful films of all time. A temperamental shark meant that Spielberg had barely enough usable footage to keep the audience on their seats, never mind on the edge of them. Enter Williams’s “Dur dum” and the stuff of seafaring nightmares is changed forever, by showing very little, Williams’s score becomes a member of the supporting cast, and a relationship with Spielberg was firmly established.

Spielberg

I am not going to write for too long on the actual Spielberg films themselves as I have covered them in great detail in my previous Spielberg through the decades blogs, instead, I will focus more on what John Williams scores have brought to those films.  Spielberg’s first feature-length cinematic release in 1974, The Sugarland Express, was a small-scale,  road movie that whilst demonstrating a capable filmmaker only gave slight hints as to the wonders that lay ahead. Williams produced an unassuming, relaxed, harmonica based score, that whilst perfectly complimenting the journey through the scorched, bare Texan landscapes, gave a little indication of the multitude of entries into popular culture that was to come, a bit like the film itself for its youthful director. The simplicity of the Sugarland score would be followed by the instantly recognisable and iconic two-note motif of Jaws and the five-note alien communication employed in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

This was the start of over 40 years of collaboration that has produced not only some of the most successful films of that time period but some of the most memorable musical scores of any time period. From the  the action-packed, adventure thrill ride of his scores for the Indiana Jones films to the childlike wonder of watching E.T and Elliot cycle past the moon, (Imagine that scene if you will without Williams’s score) to the mournful, desperation of a single violin on Schindlers List or the respectful brass led orchestrations encapsulated in Saving Private Ryan, Williams’s scores not only captured perfectly the time and mood of each piece but added a different dimension to the stories being told that is often, in lesser hands, taken for granted in movies.

It could be argued that Williams’ scores have lifted even some of the more mundane, or less appreciated Spielberg films above the ordinary. Films such as Hook divided audiences but Williams’s score perfectly captured the pantomime feel of the film, whilst throwing in plenty of soaring orchestral moves to add to the magic of what is, in essence, a fairytale aimed at children. The 2000s, in particular, saw Williams demonstrate a variance in styles to suit the feel of the picture, from the jazz-based score for caper Catch Me If You Can, the jaunty clarinet led score for whimsical romcom The Terminal, to perfectly capturing the terrifying claustrophobia  for the dour and brutal War of the Worlds and Munich.

In the last decade, we have been treated to a number of styles that illustrate his mastery of genre score composition.  The Indiana Jones-inspired score to the Adventures of Tintin, the sprawling historical epicness of both War Horse and Lincoln to the playful jollity of The BFG and tension building configuration that accompanies The Post. It is clear that Spielberg and Williams understand each other, as masterful as I consider Spielberg to be, I do believe without John Williams his films would not have had the emotional and cultural impact that they had and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come, and if you don’t believe me, go stand on a beach next to the Ocean and see what tune comes into your head.

My Top 5 Spielberg related Williams pieces

Some of these are known the world over, some are just smaller pieces embedded in certain films that have always had an emotional resonance with me. The Truth is I could have quite easily picked a different 5 or even a different 500 tracks but the below 5 instantly sprung to mind.

5. Father’s Study – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The swirling central oboe piece makes way for the haunting brass section mixed with Eastern Promise in this short but vital scene close to the start of the Last Crusade. This is the scene that first questions Indy’s belief system. He questions Marcus as to whether he believes the Grail to be real, the glance of the Religious iconographic artwork in Henry’s home coupled with Marcus prophetic response about the perils that potentially lie ahead add to the mystique. For me, the score for the Last Crusade is the strongest of the Indiana Jones films, mixing just the correct amount of sentimentality with rip-roaring adventure.

4. New Beginning – Minority Report

This uplifting piece played at the redemptive finale of one of Spielberg’s more melancholic, yet thrilling movies that graced the start of the 21st Century. 90% performed by the string section, Williams dreamy opening builds up to an ending of optimism and hope that was a refreshing face wipe after a dour and dank film

3. The Face of Pan – Hook

In a film that struggles at times under the sheer weight of its sentimentality, slap bang in the middle of all the chaotic raucousness of the Lost Boys teasing the now adult Pan, there is this brief respite, of quiet reflective exploration that is as moving as this film should have been allowed to get “Oh there you are Peter”.

2. Journey to the Island – Jurassic Park

From its perky, effervescent start that buzzes with adventure and excitement, to its familiar reprise of the now famous Jurassic Park main theme, to its playful interior moments that accompany Dr. Grant’s struggle to fasten a seatbelt, Williams is throwing everything at this almost 9-minute opus. Along with the thrills and spills, there is enough lower tone brass to ensure that we don’t get too comfy and that there is a need to approach carefully. It all culminates in one of the most breathtaking shots in Cinematic history, the introduction of the Brachiosaurus to Drs’ Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm. The music perfectly matches the moment of sheer exhilaration that the audience is feeling and the bewilderment experienced by the characters. The track once again continues as the troop of explorers heads back to the visitor centre, and there is a brief reminder from Williams, that no matter how excited we are feeling about seeing these dinosaurs, assisted by a ferocious looking T-Rex skeleton in the Centre, we must as an audience exercise caution.

1. Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye – E.T

Spielberg recently said, “without John Williams, E.T wouldn’t have been able to fly”. This piece of music is pure childhood. I’ve already talked about exhilaration and adventure in this blog, how can you not when writing about John Williams, but here we have the ultimate musical accessory. Split into 3 parts starting with Elliott and Michael escaping the home with E.T to rendezvous with their friends at the local park. This first segment is filled with peril and tension aided by Michael’s erratic driving and Elliot’s nailbiting tunnel peg removal from the back of the stolen van. As soon as we get on the bikes the second part kicks in with the frenetic strings that elicit pure childhood. The money shot moment kicks in 6:58 as the reprise of the flying theme launches, E.T, Elliot, Michael and their friends across the sunset. The final act of the piece, the emotional goodbye as Elliot and E.T part ways, is never allowed to descend into total mawkishness, but lets be clear here, it is not the intention of either Spielberg or Williams to have any dry eyes in the audience at this point, you cry at this, or else may I suggest you go audition for the role of the Tin Man in the Wizard of OZ as there is clearly a heart needed.

The Star Wars Universe

Away from his work with Steven Spielberg, Williams is perhaps most noted for his work on the Star Wars saga. Recommended to Star Wars creator George Lucas by Spielberg after Williams’ work on Jaws, Williams, and Lucas began yet another one of Hollywood’s great collaborative relationships. I will start by showing the original 1976 trailer for Star Wars to illustrate my point. The trailer conjures an almost unrecognisable atmosphere of the film to the one we know and love. Watching the trailer, you would have no idea that the film would be released in the UK with U certificate, but what is perhaps most intriguing is the lack of John Williams’ imperious classical score. Without the music, Star Wars is marketed as a suspenseful action thriller, almost a horror movie set in space. It is impossible for anyone in my generation to imagine a world before or even without Star Wars but the trailer below demonstrates that without John Williams we are watching a very different film.

Over the 40+ years since Star Wars was unleashed on the popular culture zeitgeist, each installment has been met with either Universal acclaim (Episode 5) to Univeral panning (Episode 2 anyone?) but what has never been in doubt in any Star Wars film has been the scores produced by John Williams. Even Episode 2 has the melodramatic but majestic Across the Stars, which proved that even when dialogue is written and delivered with the poise and guile of a drunk man being tasered whilst carrying a tray of marbles, that form may well be temporary but class is permanent. The music of the Star Wars saga is as much of an importance to our auditory functions as the collection of alien lifeforms or the fantastical worlds are to our visual appeals.

George Lucas created the Star Wars universe but I think John Williams created his own unique world with the variety, dynamism and pure out emotion that accompanies the visuals better than any other film series I can think of.  Fans of the films can listen to the scores from any Star Wars film and instantly be able to pinpoint the part of the film it applies too. Those slightly less devoted can listen to the score and have an entirely different experience as they are taken on a journey through their own imagination that holds no barriers. Here are my 5 favourite pieces from the Star Wars saga, in no particular order.

The Asteroid Field from The Empire Strikes Back

Recently adapted by John Powell for the Score of 2018’s Solo, this piece takes me back to my 4-year-old self who sat in the flea pit, cigarette stained, overflowing toilets and sticky carpet Canon Cinema in Bolton where I was watching a double bill of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back. I don’t remember a great deal about Empire from that showing but I do remember this bit. Leaving all the damp, festering stench of the numerous discarded packs of Peter Stuyvesant Reds behind I was suddenly transported into the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon as we twisted and turned through the Asteroid Field to escape the pursuing Empire. I remember ducking and yelping in a C3PO style voice as the rocks (and occasional potato) flew past the screen. It was pure cinema, pure exhilaration and was the greatest thing this 4-year-old had ever experienced. Adding to this unbridled joy was John Williams who perfectly captured the excitement of this daring race through the stars. After the first 2 minutes of cat and mouse banter between the brass and woodwind section, with Han furiously searching for his Hydro spanners, we finally get to the precipice of the rollercoaster hill climb to be plunged at 2 mins 18 headfirst into ripping cornets and frantic strings. One of the finest demonstrations of film music dropping you right into the action.

Luke Vs Vader – Return of the Jedi

Due to my family being a bit late to the VHS party and not being regular cinema-goers I had to wait an eternal 5 years to finally get to see Return of the Jedi. On the night my dad brought home our first video recorder he had managed to obtain a copy of Jedi from the local video shop and that was me done for the weekend. Food was not necessary, I ran upstairs got my pyjamas on and waited impatiently for the rest of the selfish oafs to finish their Friday night chippy tea. Eventually, they sat with me and we pressed play and my mind was blown. I had read the storybook version of Jedi having received the St Michaels annual for a previous Christmas (see image below) cover to cover dozens of times but never seen the film. This was the one I had waited for, my whole life had led to this moment. I won’t bore you with the time we were told we were to watch it at school as part of our patron saints feast day only to find that the kid who organised it brought The NeverEnding Story instead, counseling did not help.

Image result for St Michaels Return of the Jedi

So finally Jedi, it was everything I’d wanted and more. None more so than Vader’s redemption which occurs just after the piece above. I don’t think it’s the saga’s greatest lightsaber duel but it is the most important to me and that is partly down to John William’s music, which captures the moment where Luke really does get the upper hand for the first time. The main hero and the main “villain” battling possibly to the death. The original trilogy to me was building up to this moment and it is hauntingly beautiful as a result.

Princess Leia theme – Star Wars a New Hope

It is often taken for granted just how much of an emotional punch John Williams brings to the Star Wars saga with his scores. Similar to the Yoda theme, the Princess Leia theme is instantly recognisable to the character that it accompanies. From the “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope” hologram of a New Hope, to the heartbreaking reprise 2 mins 40 into the Finale from The Last Jedi, as Williams remembers the late, great Carrie Fisher, we know we are in the presence of nobility, a courageous warrior and indefatigable leader. Princess Leia was in so many ways ahead of her time as a character, a shrieking damsel in distress she most certainly wasn’t. From the moment she meets and basically ridicules both Luke and Han at their lame rescue attempts, we have a hero with more than her fair share of guts and steely determination. Watch how she verbally spars with both Vader and Tarkin and how she ruthlessly dispatches stormtroopers whilst Luke faffs around with his makeshift cord/vine that will enable them to swing to safety and that’s just the first film. Williams score, although gentle and melancholic in places also demonstrates that this is no shrinking violet, this is a Force to be reckoned with.

Rey’s Theme – The Force Awakens

There are people on Planet Earth who like pineapple on pizza, who think Cristiano Ronaldo is a better football player than Lionel Messi, who think Queen never made a decent album after News of the World, and those who think that the latest Star Wars films are childhood destroyers and a slight on all of humanity…………..these people are all wrong. The one thing that they will no doubt all agree on, however, is that the music John Williams has produced for the most recent entries into the Star Wars universe is of an unflappable quality that captures the essence of the original and prequel trilogies. Joking aside, regardless of what your tastes of the visual action on screen maybe (and if you hate Episodes VII and VIII, you are and always will be wrong :)), you would be a deemed a pineapple pizza eating monster if you did not revel in William’s scores. Capturing elements from the original scores and mixing in new themes like a master alchemist. This is perhaps none more so illustrated by Rey’s theme, which starts with a solo clarinet which reflects Rey’s solitude before moving onto percussion with the rising strings as the audience surveys Rey’s barren surroundings whilst hinting at the adventure yet to come. Thematically it recalls Luke being called across by Aunt Beru to check that any translator that Uncle Owen may buy can speak Bocce. Packed with nostalgic nods to a Universe we are so comfortable in, here Williams’ score for Episode VII grants us a time to reminisce, whilst embracing new thrills and terrors that will mean just as much to a new generation as the Imperial March did to mine.

Duel of the Fates – The Phantom Menace

Ah, the Phantom Menace, the most eagerly awaited film of all time and possibly the biggest anti-climax. However, I watched it again recently with my kids, and although far from any kind of classic, it isn’t as bad as some would have you believe. In fact, I would go so far as to say compared to Episode II it’s a veritable masterpiece. As I have mentioned already, whatever the artistic merits of the films, one area that has never been questioned are John Williams’s scores for the prequel trilogy. Duel of the Fates was instantly iconic and has become firmly embedded into pop culture history. The piece also accompanies the standout scene of the prequel trilogy as Jedi’s Obi-Wan and Qui-Gonn battle against the devilish Darth Maul (2nd best thing in the prequel trilogy after Williams’ scores), in a literal fight to the death. It’s easy to forget how perfectly choreographed this sequence actually is, and to coin a cliche, is worth the entrance fee alone. The music is a balletic partner to the ferocious battle on screen and is simply brilliant.

Other film work

Of course, there is more to John Williams than Star Wars and Spielberg films. Oscar-nominated 51 times, starting in 1968 for his score in Mark Robson’s The Valley of the Dolls till Brian Percival’s 2014’s The Book Thief, Williams has notched nominations for his work with 23 different directors including the likes of Oliver Stone, Norman Jewison, and Alan Parker. Before his Star Wars and Spielberg, Williams made an impact in a slew of disaster movies that were all the rage in the early 1970s, providing scores for major ensemble works such as the Poseidon Adventure (1973) and the Towering Inferno (1974), both scores were nominated. Following on from his double hitter of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Williams hit big again in 1978 with Superman, yet another score to firmly lodge itself into popular culture psyche for decades to come. The love theme from Superman the Movie (below) is near on perfect and once again is an example of perfect mood and moment capture.

Williams would continue to mix serious politically inspired scores most notably for Oliver Stone’s bruising Vietnam nightmare Born on the 4th of July and his conspiracy theory led JFK, both of which were Oscar nominated, with iconic festive fayre like the theme for Home Alone (see below)

Working with director Christopher Columbus, Williams’ score perfectly captured the magic of Christmas and the childhood wonder of that time of year,  and the menace of the films two main miscreants. There is more of that magic incorporated in the Harry Potter scores that he also produced for Christopher Columbus. Once again Williams was able to produce an instantly recognisable score for a new generation of literary, movie and music fans, best encapsulated perhaps by Hedwig’s theme (see below)

Influences

Not only has John Williams had a profound effect on the lives of audiences the world over, but he has also left indelible impressions on some of the finest film composers working today. All brilliant in their unique way the following have all produced scores of the most exacting beauty of raucous bravado that lends more than just a hint of the John Williams Approval Shadow looming above them.

Thomas Newman

It’s quite unfair to suggest that Thomas Newman lives in the shadow of John Williams as he is a composer of such exceptional quality that I could write a blog about the 14 times Oscar nominated musician in his own right. The reason I mention him here is that I feel he is the closest to Williams of any of his contemporaries. Specialising in large scale percussion led pieces, Newman captures that sense of Americana that has become so familiar to Williams fans. When for only the 2nd time in 40 years, Williams was unable to work on a Spielberg cinematic release with 2015s Bridge of Spies, Newman was the natural choice to take up the reigns and in doing so produced my favourite of this decades Spielberg scores. Never is this more prevalent than the 10:51 epic composed for the Glienicke Bridge sequence, where Newman mixes the orchestral swells of Williams with the almost dainty, dreamlike, piano-led mistiness that had served Newman so well in previous classic scores for the likes of Frank Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.

A regular in capturing the playfulness whimsy of a Pixar movie and more recently the urgency of a Bond score, Newman is one of those composers that conjures up imagery of warm cup of coffee in front of a log fire on a cold day.

James Horner

The late, great James Horner who’s life was cut tragically short in a plane crash in June 2015, was a master of musical story telling. A regular collaborator with James Cameron, Horner again had the ability to create other worlds through his music to such a degree that it could be argued in some cases the visuals were matched to his music as opposed to the other way round. A fan of including angelic voices alongside perceived native beats, whether that be the tragedy of the ending of Titanic to the illustration of rusticness in Braveheart to the battle-hardened otherworldly experience of Avatar, Horner rose to prominence providing scores to fantasy films of the 1980s for the likes of Willow, Cocoon, and Krull, so the comparisons with Williams were clear to see.

Michael Giacchino

A fellow Pixar regular, Giacchino cut his composer teeth by providing scores for video games in the 1990s before becoming a regular collaborator with J.J Abrams with 2005 Mission Impossible III. He then went onto score the rebooted Star Trek film series in 2008, and the majestic Spielberg inspired Super 8 in 2011. He made his Pixar debut in 2004 with The Incredibles . A now staple of Pixar, Giacchino has also dipped his conductor’s baton into the Marvel Universe with his 1970s nostalgia inspired Dr. Strange score, which if you haven’t listened to then stop what you are doing right now and listen. Giacchino’s John Williams connection saw him enter the Star Wars universe in 2016 when handed the task of composing the score for the first standalone Star Wars movie, the impressive Rogue One. Filling the sizable Williams shoes in a World that only Williams had previously trod was no doubt a daunting experience, but was handled with a deft touch that perfectly encapsulated the mood of a movie that devotees will know the emotional outcome before it even starts. The piece below could have been written by John Williams himself in one of the earlier Star Wars. I think if I’m still able to string coherent sentences together in 40 years time I may decide to write a blog on Michael Giacchino in the same gushing tones that I am currently doing for John Williams

John Powell

Talking of composers who took the leap into the Star Wars universe I give you John Powell. It could be argued that John Powell’s score for 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars story is the most impressive element of the film, which is a back handed compliment if ever I heard one. I actually really enjoyed the film and think it will be thought of more highly when time becomes the most useful judge. However, there is no denying that Powell’s score is near on perfect. Similar to Giacchino, Powell really came to the fore with a series of action-packed scores for animated hits such as Shrek and the massively underrated, both from a film and score point of view, How to Train Your Dragon series. Powell had demonstrated that he could work music into action set pieces, whilst not being afraid to throw in some curve balls to the listening audience. See below for the rip-roaring and nail-biting Marauders Arrive from the Solo soundtrack, which mixes John Williams’ cues with tribal chants and breakneck pace. John Powell, like Michael Giacchino, will hopefully continue to dazzle us over the next decades as they are the closest I have heard to the mass appeal of John Williams.

The future

With John Williams close to becoming a Nonagenarian it is fair to assume that we are currently witnessing the twilight of his career. However, with Episode IX of Star Wars currently being worked on and a fifth Indiana Jones movie slated for early next decade, there is no sign of him wishing to take it easy. I leave you with the most iconic piece of any movie score and a piece that perfectly encapsulates the brilliance of the brilliant John Williams

The Spielberg Awards

Hi folks, following on from my look at Spielberg through the last 5 decades, blogs that can be found on the following links 2010s 2000s 1990s 1980s 1970s I decided to have a light-hearted look at his films and launch the first and no doubt last annual award ceremony, imaginatively titled “The Spielbergs”.

First up was the Spielberg World Cup where I asked the good people of Twitter to vote in the first round, which consisted of 8 groups of 4 with the top 2 progressing to the Quarter finals, for which the top 2 from 4 groups progressed to the semi-finals and the top 2 from each group produced a final 4 for a climactic battle. Each round was randomly drawn by my 7-year-old daughter so there was no danger of letting my own favourites gaining any advantage. Please note as creater of these polls I was not eligible to vote

Group 1 

Close Encounters 46% 
Saving Private Ryan 33%
Catch Me If You Can 17%
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - 4%
142 votes cast

Catch Me If You Can was an early casualty if drawn in a different group it may well have progressed. The fact it got 17% in such company was a testimony to its appeal. The top 2 were always going to progress here, Crystal Skull was merely making up the numbers.

Group 2

E.T - 72%
Minority Report - 17%
Bridge of Spies - 7%
The Post - 4% 
208 votes cast

A clear favourite going into this one as the result showed. These are 4 exceptional films but I think a lack of familiarity with  Bridge of Spies and The Post saw them score lowly. When the draw was made I thought this would be a tight group……..I was wrong

Group 3 – 

Jaws - 69%
Hook - 13%
Munich - 10%
The Lost World - 8%

162 votes cast
There was only going to be one winner in this group so the intrigue would be who would grab second among three of Spielberg’s more divisive films. Family panto fun triumphed over controversial revenge thriller……but only just.
Group 4
Duel - 36%
The Terminal - 32%
The Color Purple - 23%
Amistad - 9%
174 votes cast
This was a group that allowed some of the more unfancied films to shine and it turned into quite a close contest. With 23% The Color Purple would have progressed in most of the other groups.
Sorry to see Amistad doing so poorly. Very underrated. @TheLoneWolf68
Group 5 – 
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 54%
War of the Worlds - 22%
The Adventures of Tintin - 19%
Always - 5%
170 votes cast

It was all action and adventure in Group 5. It could be argued that Temple of Doom got a lucky draw here but over 50% of the vote can’t be wrong. Good showing for Tintin here I feel.

Group 6 – 

Jurassic Park - 87%
War Horse - 6%
The BFG - 5%
Sugarland Express - 2%
149 votes cast

The biggest first-round margin of victory was hardly a surprise. A great battle for 2nd place though.

Group 7 – 

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 66%
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 27%
Empire of the Sun - 6%
1941 - 1%
166 votes cast

Tough draw for Empire here, it surely would have done better in a different group. The battle of the Jones’s would be an indicator of how the tournament would progress. Also worth acknowledging the one person who voted for 1941, good for you, whoever you are 🙂

People need to give Empire some love!, it’s one of his best! @smurfman75

Group 8 – 

Schindler's List - 64%
Ready Player One - 18%
Lincoln - 10%
A.I - 8%
148 votes cast

Whereas Schindler’s List’s progression to the quarter-finals was always likely, Ready Player One’s 2nd place ahead of Lincoln was perhaps the surprise of the first round.

QUARTER-FINALS

Group 1 –  

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 53%
E.T - 38%
War of the Worlds - 6%
Ready Player One - 3%
104 votes cast

The top 2 were never really in doubt from the get-go but what might be a surprise to some is how far ahead of E.T Raiders was.

Ready Player One is Spielberg’s worst film!, and he hasn’t had many. @smurfman75

Group 2 –

Jaws - 57%
Schindlers List - 23%
Saving Private Ryan - 18%
Duel - 2%
115 votes cast

This is the dictionary definition of the “Group of Death”. Blame the 7-year-old, not me. Saving Private Ryan is the most high-profile exit of the quarterfinals and surely would have progressed in less prestigious company. Even Duel would have fancied its chances of at least as second place in the next group.

This is why polls are inherently fraught with unintentional bias. You really cannot compare any film with Schindler’s List. @CinemaPhileTX

Group 3

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 67%
Hook - 13%
War Horse - 11%
The Terminal - 9%
97 votes cast

Hook will have annoyed some Spielberg aficionados making it to the semi-finals ahead of films such as Saving Private Ryan, but to coin a famous sporting cliche, you can only beat what is in front of you.

 

Group 4

Jurassic Park - 49%
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 28%
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - 15%
Minority Report - 8%
123 votes cast

Similar to the first round another strong Jurassic performance, this time in much more esteemed company, Close Encounters in its second tough draw continues to hold its own, whilst Temple of Doom and Minority Report had to settle for making up the numbers here.

Argh! Toughest one. How can anyone choose between temple of doom and close encounters? @patrickdeudon

Close Encounters every time…For me of course – Rob @thebeardedtrio

SEMI-FINALS

At this stage of the competition I had in my mind the 4 films that would progress to the final, regardless of the draw, I was wrong and quite shocked if honest.

Group 1

E.T - 31%
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 30%
Schindler's List - 21%
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - 18%
311 votes cast

You could argue that Indiana Jones has a larger fanbase than Schindler’s List but with over 300 votes cast, you would have thought that Schindler’s, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest pieces of modern cinema would have pulled through. At this stage, though we really are splitting hairs, as all 4 are wondrous pieces of filmmaking

That was tough between close encounters and last crusade but I have to give it to last crusade. By far the best Indy movie and even though I love close encounters… Connery+Ford=gold. @RoadRaider3

How can you separate these…its the Sophies Choice of the movie world @filmbuffbaker

Look forward to the second group. If Jaws, Jurassic Park and Raiders are in the final, there’s no way I can choose. May have to close my eyes and just blind tap. @BoxOfficeBeyond

Group 2

Jaws - 41%
Raiders of the Lost Ark - 29%
Jurassic Park - 25%
Hook - 5%
367 votes cast

The battle of the franchises saw Jurassic Park fall at the last hurdle. Jaw’s margin of victory coupled with a potential split vote for Indiana Jones fans in the final, surely meant that Jaws went into the final as the clear favourite. Hook’s fun ride to the semi’s predictably ended there.

Where did you get the nerve to ask such impossible questions???@OakAyling

Raiders-not only his best, but THE best. In. Tha. World. @BossyToo

THE FINAL

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 35%
Jaws - 32%
E.T - 22%
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 11%
313 votes cast

So the winner is…….Raiders of the Lost Ark. The final four demonstrated what I have always suspected that Spielberg fans have tremendous taste. The split vote didn’t happen and Raiders just pipped Jaws to the grand prize.

Arrrghh!!! This is so hard. Jaws….No! Raiders….No….Yes…No…Arrghhh! Voted for Jaws in the end. It gets my vote, just. Don’t put me through that again. I feel like I’ve cheated on the other three now. – Rob @thebeardedtrio 

My decision for ‘Raiders’ is in part totally subjective (in the mid 1980s, I made a Super8 short film with a couple of friends and was having the time of my life). The other part is the brilliant cast & perfect Spielberg mix made of adventure, action, suspense, awe and humor. @SpielbergChron

Image result for Raiders of  the Lost Ark

Following on from the World Cup which crowned everyone’s favourite Archaeology teacher’s first screen adventure as the Greatest Spielberg Film, I decided to run a few more polls to answer the questions about Spielberg films that quite frankly nobody had ever contemplated or felt the need to ask.

Twitter limits every poll to 4 options, which means that I had to leave some strong contenders out of some of the categories, some of them even caused me to have sleepless nights as names popped into my head that I hadn’t even considered. This was never more apparent than in this first category

Best supporting actor in a Spielberg film

Image result for Robert Shaw Jaws Robert Shaw Jaws 58%

Related image Sean Connery Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 19%

Image result for christopher walken catch me if you can Christopher Walken Catch Me If You Can 17%

Image result for tommy lee jones lincoln Tommy Lee Jones Lincoln 6%

Robert Shaw’s cantankerous old sea dog has always been a Spielberg favourite. On reflection, the four men above would have been all worthy winners, but just take a look at some of the outstanding men I left out/forgot about before the poll was launched. Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies, Anthony Hopkins Amistad, Robert MacNaughton E.T, Jeff Goldblum Jurassic Park, and perhaps the most glaring oversight Ralph Fiennes in Schindlers List.

This could be close.. and in this short of race, there’s no shilver medal for finishing shecond..!@_ThatFilmGeek_

Best supporting actress in a Spielberg film

 

Image result for drew barrymore e.t Drew Barrymore E.T 41%

Image result for teri garr close encounters third kind Teri Garr Close Encounters of the Third Kind 25%

Image result for samantha morton minority report Samantha Morton Minority Report 19%

Image result for margaret avery color purple Margaret Avery The Color Purple 15%

In E.T Drew Barrymore gives the impression that she doesn’t even realise she is in a film. The story is happening around her the childlike wonder she displays is reflected in the emotion that the audience goes through. Teri Garr is possibly the standout performance in Close Encounters as the doubting Thomas figure who is presumably left to explain all of this to the three children. Its great to see both Samantha Morton and Margaret Avery score reasonable percentages in two breathtaking performances.

Not the four performances I would’ve chosen to represent this category, I don’t think. But from this group I guess it’s got to be Garr. Drew comes close, though. Great performance at that age. @853_OKG

Whilst we are looking at acting performances, let’s see what you voted as best lead performances

Best Performance by a Leading Actress

Image result for whoopi goldberg color purple Whoopi Goldberg The Color Purple 48%

Related image Meryl Streep The Post 24%

Image result for goldie hawn sugarland express Goldie Hawn The Sugarland Express 14%

Image result for holly hunter always Holly Hunter Always 14%

All 4 of these women would have been a worthy winner here but what a delightful surprise to see Whoopi Goldberg’s astonishing debut get the lion’s share of the vote in this category. As for the “overrated” Meryl, she can do no wrong in my eyes, Goldie Hawn “Aw shucks” her way through Sugarland Express and Holly Hunter is beyond adorable and by quite some distance the best thing about Always.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor

Image result for daniel day lewis lincoln Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln 52%

Image result for richard dreyfuss close encounters Richard Dreyfuss Close Encounters of the Third Kind 36%

Image result for tom hanks saving private ryan Tom Hanks Saving Private Ryan 12%

Image result for eric bana munich Eric Bana Munich 0% 😦

When putting these polls together I anticipated that Day-Lewis would win regardless of who I put him up against and I was proved correct with his powerhouse performance as America’s 16th president. Dreyfuss treads the line between excitable and maniacal in Close Encounters, whereas Hanks probably gives the most human performance out of the nominees. Spare a thought for Eric Bana who didn’t receive a single vote which is massively unfair as he is the very heart and soul of Munich, one Spielberg film that requires further reflection. Also just outside the top 4 were the likes of Liam Neeson in Schindler’s List, Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds, Hanks for The Terminal and even Henry Thomas for E.T, but more about him next.

Best performance by a child in a Spielberg film

Image result for henry thomas et Henry Thomas E.T 51%

Image result for christian bale empire of the sun Christian Bale Empire of the Sun 38%

Image result for dakota fanning war of the worlds Dakota Fanning War of the Worlds 8%

Image result for ruby barnhill the bfg Ruby Barnhill The BFG 3%

The best child performance in a Spielberg film is Haley Joel Osment (A.I.), but out of the four you chose to highlight, I’d go with Henry Thomas.  

Out of all the categories I ran, I had more comments over who I had left out than any other category. The opinion from @ViverdeCinema was just many who claimed the Haley Joel Osment should have been on this list. I could have also quite easily had had Drew Barrymore and Robert MacNaughton from E.T, Jonathan Ke Quan from Temple of Doom, Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello from Jurassic Park, or how about Carey Guffey who played Barry in Close Encounters. Spielberg’s ability to bring out very believable performances from youngsters is all too apparent. Out of the 4 I did go for, Henry Thomas is the standout. His performance, in my opinion, is right up there with the very best from any actor in a Spielberg film.

Ok, lets now take a look at the bad guys.

Best non-human villain

Image result for shark from jaws “Bruce” the Shark from Jaws 39%

Image result for t-rex from jurassic park T-Rex from Jurassic Park 23%

Image result for velociraptor from jurassic park Velociraptor from Jurassic Park 19%

Image result for truck from duel The Truck from Duel 19%

One of the more closely fought contests, with “Bruce” proving once and for all that things that don’t work quite as they should are actually terrifying. The iconic T-Rex turns in some ways, from monster to hero by the end of Jurassic Park but she wouldn’t thank you for saying that. The sinister Raptors probably scored less than the T-Rex because nobody likes clever clogs. As for the truck, well it can rest in the knowledge that without it there probably wouldn’t have been any of the others and I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog (stop cheering at the back).

Most despicable Human villain

Image result for amon goeth schindler Amon Goeth Schindler’s List 88%

Image result for captain hook hook Captain Hook Hook 6%

Image result for sorrento ready player one Sorrento Ready Player One 3%

Image result for mola ram Mola Ram Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 3%

The biggest “winner” in any category voted on, as its widely regarded as one of the biggest bastards in history was realistically portrayed in Schindler’s List. Fiennes depiction of pure evil was so accurate that when survivor Mila Pfefferberg was introduced to Ralph Fiennes on the set, she began shaking uncontrollably, as he reminded her too much of the real Amon Goeth.

as is terrible, he has no redeeming qualities at all! He’s pure evil, and unfortunately ‘s depiction is historically accurate… 

After that bunch of evildoers, I wanted to take a more light-hearted look at some of Spielberg’s characters.

Most slappable character in a Spielberg film

Image result for ray winstone crystal skull Mac Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 56%

Image result for willie scott temple of doom Willie Scott Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 32%

Image result for clovis sugarland express Clovis The Sugarland Express 8%

Image result for hollis p wood 1941 Hollis P Wood 1941 4%

Ok firstly in the case of 2 of these I am not criticising the performance, as I think Kate Capshaw is fantastic in Temple of Doom, also William Atherton in Sugarland gives an early precursor to future whiny slimeballs that we see in Ghostbusters and Die Hard, just that their characters are so frustrating as in need of a good wedgie. Ray Winstone plays the same character in EVERYTHING and the last thing Indiana Jones is a cockney gangster who one-half suspects is going to break the fourth wall and give me the latest odds on whether Indy is likely to get out of his next tight spot. As for Slim Pickens in 1941, well to say he is the loudest and most annoying person in 1941 pretty much says it all about what I think of him in that film.

Hollis P Wood? Slim Pickens? Slappable? NO! He’s one of my favorite characters in 1941.

If we want to slap the four above which of the following females makes us want to punch the air with their stunning exploits

Most kickass female character in a Spielberg film

Image result for marion raiders of the lost ark Marion Raiders of the Lost Ark 60%

Image result for dr sattler jurassic park Dr. Sattler Jurassic Park 20%

Image result for artemis ready player one Art3mis Ready Player One 10%

Image result for sarah harding jurassic Sarah Harding The Lost World 4%

Marion from Raiders has long been a fans favourite but I am still surprised how large her winning margin was against Ellie Sattler from Jurassic Park who for my money is the ultimate Spielberg action hero, smart, witty with an edge of vulnerability that prevents her from requiring a cape.

No contest. Marion. Hands down. @kkcorby14

I’m now going to take a look at the moments that make Spielberg, well, Spielberg, starting with scenes that shook us to our core.

Most harrowing scene in a Spielberg film

Image result for liquidation of ghetto schindler's list Liquidation of Ghetto Schindler’s List 48%

Image result for omaha beach saving private ryan Omaha Beach Saving Private Ryan 39%

Image result for monica abandons david a.i Monica abandons David A.I 13%

Image result for amistad boat scene thrown overboard Below the deck Amistad 0%

A close run thing here between the two World War Two epics. The thing with all four of the scenes listed above, the viewer wishes to turn away from the screen but we can’t. On Omaha Beach we feel that we are in amongst the battle, ducking to avoid the bullets and shrapnel heading our way. The liquidation of the Ghetto is a different type of desperation, we want to help, we want to know why the cameraman isn’t stopping to help, can’t they see what is happening, why are they filming this? Monica abandoning David perhaps hits home more to parents, especially those who have dropped a screaming child off at nursery, but in this film, there is no glass of milk and a Spot the Dog story to pacify David, and we know Monica is not coming back 4 hours later to collect. As for Amistad receiving 0%, well it’s possibly the most brutal scene of the lot but the least relatable hence the zero votes.

So the flip side to the most harrowing, what is the most wondrous scene.

Most Wondrous Scene in a Spielberg film

Image result for mothership lands close encounters Mothership lands Close Encounters 34%

Image result for raiders of the lost ark opening scene Opening scene Raiders of the Lost Ark 31%

Image result for t rex attack jurassic park T-Rex attack Jurassic Park 20%

Image result for dolly zoom scene jaws Alex Kittner beach scene Jaws 15%

So with this one, I was looking for the scene that best epitomizes Spielberg and his films and as you can see it was a very close contest. For me, the last 30 minutes of Close Encounters is the finest piece of Cinema ever put together, whereas the opening of Raiders is possibly the finest opening to any film. The T-Rex attack has Spielberg at his most terrifying and the Alex Kittner scene in Jaws is the dictionary definition of the slow build, littered with red herrings and exquisite camera work.

It’s the Kitner scene, the way he draws u in to different characters who u believe will be the sharks next victim is brilliant!. The zoom in shot on Brody, splashing of water, and the final death of Alex who so happened to be wearing red which stood out but no one noticed @smurfman75

If those scenes were breathtaking, I wanted to know if there was one particular image that stood out as the most iconic in a Spielberg film.

Most iconic image in a Spielberg film

Image result for e.t fly past moon E.T and Elliot fly past the moon E.T 75%

Image result for The Aliens arrive Close encounter The orange doorway Close Encounters of the Third Kind 10%

Image result for red coat schindler's list The girl in the red coat Schindler’s List 8%

Image result for jurassic park glasses of water The glasses of water Jurassic Park 7%

All four images are instantly recognisable and emotive for very different reasons. Nothing captures that feeling of childlike wonder and amazement, however, than E.T and Elliot flying past the moon, it’s debatable whether there is a more iconic image in the history of cinema.

I’m now going to take a look at some of the very familiar faces who have appeared in Spielberg films who have either gone on to bigger and better things or already had achieved monumental things before appearing in a Spielberg film.

Best before they were famous performance in a Spielberg film

Image result for oprah winfrey color purple Oprah Winfrey The Color Purple 54%

Related image Samuel L Jackson Jurassic Park 33%

Image result for benedict cumberbatch war horse Benedict Cumberbatch War Horse 11%

Image result for ben stiller empire of the sun Ben Stiller Empire of the Sun 2%

Samuel L Jackson was a successful actor before Jurassic Park having starred in Menace to Society, Coming to America and Goodfellas but this pre- Pulp Fiction starrer as the chain-smoking technician Arnold was the first time he really put a stamp on a film. It’s sometimes easy to forget how good a performance Oprah gives in the Color Purple. Here the majority of you seem to agree.

I love Cumberbatch in that film but I gotta go with Oprah. @kkcorby14

Best after they were famous performance in a Spielberg film

Image result for richard attenborough jurassic park Richard Attenborough Jurassic Park 51%

Related image Francois Truffaut Close Encounters 32%

Image result for audrey hepburn always Audrey Hepburn Always 15%

Image result for michael lonsdale munich Michael Lonsdale Munich 2%

Big winner here for Richard Attenborough who played the often misinterpreted genius, John Hammond. Spielberg spoke about his nervousness of working with one of his heroes in Truffaut in Close Encounters but Truffaut is the audiences representative in this film with his sense of wide-eyed wonder and excitement. The stunt casting of Audrey Hepburn pays off with a charming little cameo in Always and ex-Bond villain Michael Lonsdale add a certain gravitas to Munich

Can’t measure with existing technology how fabulous Truffaut was for CE3K. His demeanor, his sense of wonder … so essential! ~P @Sibling_Cinema

Next up I want to take a look at his possibly misunderstood or lesser known films

Most derided Spielberg film which is actually pretty good and deserves a second chance.

Related image A.I Artificial Intelligence 40%

Image result for hook poster Hook 34%

Image result for indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull movie poster Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 15%

Image result for 1941 movie poster 1941 11%

There was actually quite a lot of love shown to each of these films, they all obviously have fans, but they do also have a number of critics. There is no doubt in my mind that A.I is a stunning piece of work and should be respected by a much wider audience. Hook is a lot of fun and is great family entertainment, Crystal Skull is seen by many as the biggest disappointment in Spielberg’s career but that could be down to expectation more than anything else. As for 1941, well 11% are willing to stick up for it………good for you 🙂

if anyone says AI is bad, they have zero knowledge of filmmaking. AI is immortal! @CinemaPhileTX

Hook, A.I. Crystal Skull all could easily be deserving of this vote. But A.I. is a truly incredible movie that is criminally underrated. It gets my vote. @853_OKG

Best Spielberg film that nobody has seen but really should

Image result for always movie poster Always 30%

Image result for The Terminal movie poster The Terminal 26%

Image result for Amistad movie poster Amistad 25%

Image result for Sugarland Express movie poster The Sugarland Express 19%

Another close run contest this one. I am very fond of all of these movies and they should all be seen by a wider audience as each one tells a very different story of Spielberg’s career at the particular point of which they were made. In my opinion, The Terminal, in particular, is a charming film that was a rare lighter effort from Spielberg in a post Millenium decade where he was at his darkest

I voted Always. Saw it years ago when it first came out but had forgotten much about it. Rewatched on the recommendation of a friend and it was lovely and heartwarming. Holly Hunter was terrific. @kkcorby14

All are great films but Amistad is also important. A message that resounds especially today. @aillsley3

I’m now going to take a look at the sounds that we remember from Spielberg films by giving out awards for the best one-liner and the best music score

Best One-Liner

Image result for you're gonna need a bigger boat “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” Jaws 62%

Image result for life finds a way jurassic park quote “Life uh finds a way” Jurassic Park 23%

Image result for She talks in her sleep Indiana Jones quote “She talks in her sleep” IJ and the Last Crusade 15%

Image result for would it help bridge of spies “Would it help?” Bridge of Spies 0%

The often misquoted “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was always going to win this one and to be fair why the hell not, it’s almost as iconic as the film itself. Ian Malcolm’s realisation in Jurassic Park is the culmination of one of the finest scripted scenes in a Spielberg film. Connery’s piece of perfect improvisation is possibly my favourite line ever and as for the 0% Bridge of Spies quote, well hopefully longevity will see this line immortalised in time to come.

Best Score

Image result for jaws theme sheet music Jaws main theme 37%

Image result for welcome to jurassic park sheet music Welcome to Jurassic Park 29%

Image result for the raiders march sheet music The Raiders March 24%

Image result for e.t flying theme sheet music E.T Flying theme 10%

I have to be honest I would be lost without the music of John Williams in my life. I listen to it daily, it has got me through some tough times, I feel it is a privilege that I am able to hear such wondrous music. It truly is a part of the cinematic experience. I want all readers to imagine for a moment what Elliot and E.T flying past the moon would be like without the music. Williams’s music has almost at times become a character in some of the movies, never more so than when his two-note motif in Jaws still to this day can send a shiver up the spine of all potential ocean paddlers, more than a malfunctioning rubber shark could ever want to.

I’d say Jaws. For me personally, I was familiar with the idea of a dorsal fin above the water accompanied by “daa dum” long before I had seen Jaws and even before I knew who John Williams was! I’d know a lot of other people who’d say the same thing. @JWilliams_Fan

Personally, Jurassic Park’s main theme gives the chills everytime. Raiders theme means pure adventure, but Jaws is the most iconic simply due to how pervasive it has been. People that haven’t even seen Jaws know it. It’s been used in endless parodies etc. @BoxOfficeBeyond

My final category involves a group of people who most people who have read this far will know the name but maybe not the face.

Spielberg’s unsung hero

Image result for michael kahn editor Michael Kahn Editor 39%

Image result for kathleen kennedy Kathleen Kennedy Producer 22%

Image result for janusz kaminski Janusz Kaminski Cinematography 22%

Image result for kate capshaw Kate Capshaw Wife 17%

All 4 of the above have played an integral part in the career of Steven Spielberg. He would possibly be half the filmmaker without one or more of them offering guidance and support. I salute them all.

Kahn is the man. Being an editor it is a very hard job to make the edit invisible. That is the brilliance of a film editor. Michael Kahn has done that for decades with Spielberg. @theburbsman

A tough one, but I have to go with Michael Kahn. The work of editors is often discussed/critiqued in reviews, but the editors themselves often go unmentioned. In a way, they’re like sculptors. What they do is nothing short of amazing and Kahn certainly has his mark on that. @GoNerdYourself

So there we go that is it for my Spielberg blogs, for now at least. I hope you have all enjoyed reading them. I have certainly enjoyed writing them, especially the research side of it.

As with all good award ceremonies and quite frankly some bad ones, I have some thank yous. I want to thank in particular the following people who have retweeted and promoted my blogs over the past year, and have also on occasion helped me with certain detail. They are Paul Bullock @apaulbullock, The guys at the Bearded Trio @thebeardedtrio  , the Spielberg Chronicles @SpielbergChron and all the following who have contributed in some way. 

If you like to follow people on Twitter who have intelligent, humourous and occasionally excitable conversations about film, you could do a lot worse than to give the following fine people a follow Darren Murphy @smurfman75  , KK @kkcorby14  , Marc Uren @uren_marc , That Film Geek @_ThatFilmGeek_ , EasyRidingRagingPodcast @ERRPodcast  , The CinemaPhile @CinemaPhileTX, Music By John Williams @JWilliams_Fan, Stephen Haller @theburbsman, Jim Rockford @853_OKG, Go Nerd Yourself @GoNerdYourself, A Film Club @afilmclub Amblin Road @AmblinRoad.

Thanks mainly go to anyone who has taken the time to have a read of these blogs, you’re all excellent people, and also thank you to Mr Spielberg for continuing to produce pieces of cinema that just put a smile upon my face. Here’s to many more over the coming years.

 

Spielberg the 1980s

Raiders of the Lost Ark PosterImage result for Spielberg 80s filmsPoltergeist PosterTwilight Zone: The Movie PosterIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Poster The Color Purple PosterEmpire of the Sun PosterIndiana Jones and the Last Crusade PosterAlways Poster

Hi folks and welcome to the second blog of my looking back at the films of Steven Spielberg during the 5 decades that he has been directing motion pictures. In the previous blog, we looked at the 1970s, which provided a gentle, low key start to his career with the nerve-jangling TV movie Duel and the more sedate family drama Sugarland Express. Spielberg was then propelled into the stratosphere of movie stardom with the unexpected and unparalleled, at that point, the success of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The 70s ended however with the inauspicious 1941, a failure on so many levels, it had brought Spielberg down to earth with a  considerable thud.

It is to his enormous credit that he was able to bounce back.

The 1980s was a period of big money, big shoulder pads and in the cinematic world big pectorals and biceps. The 1980s made movie stars out of beefcake action men such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, whilst the introduction of MTV in 1982 led to films constantly throwing in baffling montages to appear to be completely up with the times, see for example the quite bizarre dance sequence three quarters of the way into the otherwise brilliant The Breakfast Club. Partly due to the success of Star Wars, and to a lesser extent, Close Encounters, there was a slurry of Sci-Fi and fantasy films that now sit firmly in the nostalgia folder, remembered with fondness but generally just further illustrated how brilliant Star Wars 4, 5 and 6, and Close Encounters were, examples include Willow, The NeverEnding Story, The Explorers, The Last Starfighter and to a certain extent Ghostbusters (ducks bullets here).

Fortunately, Spielberg’s output has managed somewhat to stay clear of unnecessary aging, with the odd exception, relying heavily on practical effects and more human stories to give the majority of his 1980s output an ageless quality. It wasn’t without his disappointing films, the 80s was a fairly traumatic time for Spielberg both professionally and personally. There was the introduction of one of Cinemas most iconic heroes and a conscious move towards bolder and more grown-up films in what was seen by some as a desperate attempt to be accepted by the industry who saw Spielberg as nothing more than a glorified popcorn seller.

First things first, however, Spielberg needed to bounce back from the professional whooping he’d received regarding 1941, and a close personal friend was on hand to assist him with getting back on track.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) 

“Snakes, why did have to be snakes?”

Raiders of the Lost Ark Poster  

So as legend has it Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were sat on a beach in Hawaii, building sandcastles escaping from the media glare that was engulfing both of them after Star Wars and Close Encounters, when Spielberg mentioned to Lucas his long held desire to direct a James Bond film. Lucas replied by stating he had something that was better than James Bond and was a throw back to the Saturday morning adventure series that were broadcast on the fledgling media that was television in the early 1950s. Lucas’s story was of an archaeologist adventurer called Indiana Smith who battled evil forces around the world chasing priceless artifacts. Spielberg was hooked on the idea straightaway and moved this to the top of his directing pile once he had completed 1941.

Spielberg finally got the chance to recover from the battering he received from the aforementioned 1941 in 1980 when he began filming his new film Raiders. With Lucas acting as Executive Producer and the lead protagonist now known as Indiana Jones, Spielberg went for the first time in his career for box office gold in his casting, bringing in Harrison Ford, riding a crest of stardom following Star Wars. Lucas was initially reluctant to work with Ford on what was potentially another franchise and pursued Tom Selleck for the role. Selleck was tied down to a TV contract to make Magnum PI and had to pass on the role. Ford stepped in and the rest is movie history.

Conscious of the mistakes and the loss of control he endured during 1941, Spielberg was determined to be better prepared this time. Each scene was meticulously story-boarded down to the finite detail. Spielberg has claimed that he had never been so prepared before a shoot as he was on Raiders, desperate to come in on schedule and on budget……he achieved both.

So to the finished product, again similar to Jaws it is difficult for me to write too much about Raiders that hasn’t already been written or talked about many times before, so I will stick to what I personally feel about the film and see where I go from there.

Firstly I think it is Spielbergs most re-watchable film. If Close Encounters has the greatest final 30 mins of his films, Raiders surely has the greatest opening 10 minutes, maybe of any film. It sets the tone perfectly for what is to follow, however, what appeals to me most when I watch it now, is that the personality traits of Indy are there for us all to see from the very beginning. A man who will put everything on the line to retrieve the treasure he craves, but also the fact that he is just an ordinary man in extraordinary situations, now where have we heard that before. This is never better illustrated when Indy has been abandoned by the treacherous Satipo (played by a young Alfred Molina) and the temple is beginning to collapse around him. Indy jumps across the cavern and grabs hold of a stray branch to help him pull up onto the other side, the look on Indy’s face as the branch then slips is not only perfect comic timing but also lets us know that this is no superhero. In the opening salvo, this is further enhanced when he uses a vine to swing out to the boat-plane that he hopes will assist his escape from the Hovitos who are in hot pursuit. There is no twist and pike somersault here there is a swing that ends with a clumsy comical splash. From this moment on, despite his dubious morals and motives (let’s be fair Indy is always after the fortune and glory at pretty much any cost), we are on this guys side.

This vulnerable side to him is further illustrated as the Mercedes truck symbol crumbles in his hand during the legendary truck chase, a scene that demonstrates Spielberg at his most prepared.  A scene that was planned to an inch of its life with the use of storyboards and practical stunt effects. Personally its the highlight of the film for me and is the sort of scene that is sadly missing in today’s CGI fuelled blockbuster fodder. It’s beautifully choreographed and enhanced by Michael Kahn’s respectful editing, (here’s a thought why not let the audience actually see what is happening here rather than throwing in hundreds of quick cuts that make it impossible to see who is who).

The breakneck pace of Raiders never lets up and from the rolling boulder opening to the face-melting ending (which terrified me as a kid) the set pieces still stand up almost 40 years on. There are minor quibbles, such as the transformation of Marion from a hard drinking, tough as nails female character, to a somewhat shrieking damsel in distress by the end of the film, but overall this is Spielberg at his wildest, having the time of his life and recovering perfectly from the 1941 debacle.

I think Raiders is perfect Friday night fun, after a few beers I have been known to watch it similar to a football game, shouting out at times of peril, and on occasions recreating the odd scene in my living room. It truly is the “they don’t make it like this anymore” movie in the Spielberg canon, which was never more evident when watching the 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Raiders is filmmaking at it’s most simple but effective and Spielberg now realised more than ever where his comfort zone lay. He was once again on a roll, a roll that commercially at least was about to hit even greater heights.

Why should you watch it?

Nearly 40 years old and as fresh today as it was then. The use of practical effects and brilliantly choreographed stunt work still stand up today. Yes, some of the Supernatural effects look a tad dated now but still pack a terrifying punch. Above all,and through fear of stating the obvious, we are introduced to Indiana Jones

E.T the Extra Terrestrial (1982) 

“You could be happy here, I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together, E.T.”

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Poster  

It is difficult to quantify in 2017 the cultural impact that E.T has had on the public consciousness. 35 years on since its release it still has the overwhelming power to amaze, to thrill, to frighten and cause such unbridled emotion as to make a grown man openly weep with joy and wonder.  Of all the films that Spielberg made in the 70s and 80s, this is the one that could quite conceivably have been made in the last 5 years, it still looks incredibly fresh. It could be seen as a companion piece to Close Encounters, Spielberg himself has stated that he got the idea after becoming fascinated by the spindly alien that emerges from the mother ship at the end of Close Encounters and wanted to write a story about an alien that comes to Earth but somehow stays behind and integrates with humans.

All the hallmarks for classic Spielberg are here, the sense of wonder, the shooting stars, the soaring John Williams score, the absent father, the childlike innocence, the suburban setting, if there was anyone out there who wanted to know what Spielberg was all about then E.T would be my suggestion as the perfect starting point. It’s been said that this is Spielberg’s personal favourite of his own films and has publicly declared that it is his perfect love story and that a sequel will never be made.

However, for all its startling beauty and pearls of magic, the film would be nothing if it wasn’t for the staggering performances of the three young leads. Spielberg has always appealed to the younger viewer but here he manages to elicit some of the finest performances given by children on film. Never once do we descend into sentimental mawkishness, the film is told entirely from their point of view, Spielberg famously filmed 80% of the film from the children’s height to emphasize the point, with the exception of Mary (played with an endearing level of understatement by Dee Wallace) we do not see the face of an adult until 30 minutes from the end of the film.

Henry Thomas as lonely Elliot is as strong a lead performance as you will find in a Spielberg film, and yes that includes Mr. Day Lewis in Lincoln. Thomas is in nearly every scene and as viewers, we never grow tired of him, he’s a young boy yet he manages to hold the attention of every adult watching this film as an equal.  Drew Barrymore pre- Hollywood wild child is the cute, without being sacharine, tomboyish Gertie. She gives a performance so real that she never appears to be acting, its as if she didn’t know she was in a film and was living and breathing every scene. It’s perfect. Finally, there’s Robert MacNaughton, who plays Michael the older brother the whole world wishes they had. (Spoiler alert) at the films operatic finale, E.T says a simple “thank you” to Michael and for reasons that I have never been fully able to explain to myself, that moment in a film filled with enough emotional wallop to make the Tin Man cry always hits me the hardest. MacNaughton is so understated in this film and vastly underrated when discussing the great Spielberg perfomances.

Adored by the general public and majority of the critics, its longevity far outstays those of its perceived critical superiors…..does anyone other than Ben Kingsley’s mum own a copy of Gandhi on DVD?

E.T does have its critics, some say its over sentimental, others have questioned the religious symbolism that dominates the final act, but I have to say if you do not loudly applaud and punch the air in delight when E.T and Elliot first take flight in the forest and soar past the moon, as Williams’ score exalts the audience……..then I would question whether you like the world of Cinema at all.

Why should you watch it?

Mainly because it is perfect story telling, taking the simplest of ideas, lonely boy befriends lonely alien, and makes it engagingly believable. It is Spielberg’s perfect love story mixed with plenty of magic and wonder that like Raiders has an ageless quality to it. Yes, its sentimental, but it is a film packed with such breathtaking beauty. This is landmark cinema that continuously rewards generations who visit it for the first time.

Poltergeist, Twilight, and pesky Jedi rumours

There are Spielberg devotees who reading this blog would be expecting to see Poltergeist as the next entry in his directorial list but officially he didn’t direct it despite constant rumours that as executive producer he spent more time on set than actual credited director Tobe Hooper. I quite enjoy Poltergeist, and there are definite Spielberg influences, not least the spooky prologue, dissolving into an “everything is not that bad American suburban setting” (see Gremlins for a further reference), however, I do find that Poltergeist relies too much on aged-poorly special effects that don’t seem to sit too comfortably in the Spielberg filmography, the previous mentioned Raiders and E.T are better examples of less is more effects that have stood the test of time far greater than Poltergeist.

In 1983 Spielberg directed the middle section of the Twilight Zone Movie. The film was beset by problems throughout production which culminated in the disastrous helicopter crash that claimed the lives of actor Vic Morrow and 2 young Vietnamese actors, who it turned out, were hired illegally in the segment directed by John Landis. The film never recovered and was a commercial disaster. The onset deaths led to high profile court cases that seriously effected Landis’s career. Spielberg’s “Kick the Can” segment of the movie was anchored by a charming performance by Scatman Crothers but the segment itself is, like the film as a whole, unremarkable and lives only in the memory for the wrong reasons.

Along with his publicly declared desire to direct a James Bond film, Spielberg never hid the fact that he would quite like a crack at a Star Wars film, however, due to friend George Lucas dropping his Directors Guild membership which Spielberg was a member of it never happened. Return of the Jedi was ultimately directed Richard Marquand, but pesky rumours have claimed that Spielberg may have had a hand in the directing of certain scenes, in particular, the battle of Endor. I would suggest that this is an unlikely turn of events but it makes for interesting copy.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

“Fortune and glory, kid. Fortune and glory”

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Poster  

Following the monumental success of Jaws and Close Encounters, there came 1941, a professional low point that a young Spielberg struggled to come to terms with. On that occasion, Spielberg’s friend and collaborator George Lucas had pulled him out of the directorial chasm by providing him with the opportunity to direct Raiders of the Lost Ark. Spielberg had his mojo back and then followed this up with even greater commercial success with E.T. He was once again on top of his game, the man who could do no wrong. However, the tables turned once again with the second professional mauling in 10 years he received on his involvement with the tragic Twilight Zone Movie. Spielberg himself was going through a messy break up with long time girlfriend Amy Irving, he was in somewhat of a rut. Fortunately, his friend was on hand yet again, giving Spielberg some safe familiar ground to attempt to get back on track by returning to Indiana Jones.

The duo decided that they wanted two things, one to make the film a prequel and the second to go darker, as is the tradition for the 2nd part of a projected trilogy. However, how much darker were they willing to go? Lucas himself was also going through a divorce and the final film seems to reflect a director and producer who perhaps personally were not in a particularly friendly place.

I have to say that on reflection, I find Temple of Doom to be at times a quite nasty film. If you put aside for the time being the casual racism that at the time probably wasn’t deemed so, then you still have a main protagonist who is only really interested in the fortune and glory. Indy may well be a victim of circumstance in this film to a certain extent but he is played by Ford in this film as someone who really doesn’t give a damn about anyone other than himself, with the exception of his young companion Short Round, (another tremendous, non annoying child performance in a Spielberg film, this time from Jonathan Ke Quan). It takes Indy three-quarters of the film, when he witnesses the brutal enslavement of the village children, to demonstrate the slightest tugging of his moral barometer.

Then there is the future Mrs Spielberg herself, Kate Capshaw as Willie Scott, a character who is so far removed from Indy’s previous female companion, the spunky Marion in Raiders, that when watching Doom you have a certain longing for a happier time, like watching people’s faces melt as they open the ark of the covenant. To be fair, Capshaw shrieky in your face Willie is excellent and adds the light relief that is needed in this darkest of hours. For a film that is aimed mainly at children, it serves up a diet of repulsive feasts, human sacrifice, hearts being ripped out of chests, villains being eaten in full detail by crocodiles and the hero being drugged by being force-fed blood……Spielberg has clearly moved on from E.T.

There are things to enjoy, the opening nightclub song, dance and fight scenes are tremendous fun, the thrilling mine cart chase in the film’s finale, although never reaching the heights of Raiders truck chase, is a wild ride. There is great repartee between Indy and Short Round, (a cheeky card game is played beautifully) and in Amrish Puri’s Molaram you could argue that ‘Doom has the series’s most memorable and terrifying villain.  The film, however, is crying out for a Brody or Sallah type character to add a reassuring presence for the audience. Thankfully both will make a welcomed return in part 3 of Spielberg’s most marketable hero at the end of the decade. I think this is quite a damning review which is a bit unfair as I am a fan, but more than any other Indiana Jones film (including the Alien one) it leaves me cold.

Why should you watch it?

For all its flaws, there is no denying that Temple of Doom is massively different to all of the other three Indiana Jones movies and for that alone should be of interest. Thematically, Temple of Doom has not aged well but the action set pieces from the dazzling opening to the white knuckle mine cart chase make this worth the patience that the middle segment might be testing.

The Color Purple (1985)

“I’m poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I’m here. I’m here.”

The Color Purple Poster  

There was a serious fall out professionally after Temple of Doom, box office wise it had performed well but not in the same league as E.T or Raiders. Critics had blasted the extreme violence and racial stereotyping that had been portrayed in what existentially was supposed to be a kids film. The lack of perceived acceptance from the cinematic world was beginning to grate as well. By 1985 Spielberg had racked up a certainly not to be sniffed at 3 Academy Award nominations for Best Director. With Close Encounters and Raiders of the Lost Ark, he wasn’t expected to win but the loss for E.T had been a) a shock and b) a kick in the personal gonads for Spielberg who had developed a reputation of being a PT Barnum figure, or a glorified popcorn peddler amongst his peers. This bothered him and he longed for acceptance, he had conquered the box office but had so far not made any real dents in critical circles.

The family friendly ideas were still coming to him but in a possible attempt to be taken more seriously he decided to don his producer hat and leave the directors chair alone. In 1985 the power of Spielberg was apparent to everyone, despite the setbacks with Doom and the Twilight Zone Movie, monster, cultural hits such as Back to the Future, The Goonies and the previously mentioned Gremlins meant that Spielberg had a hand on the majority of films that my generation grew up with and still look back on fondly. But he wanted to be accepted artisticly as well as commercially.

In a move that was seen as some as an act of desperation, Spielberg decided on his next directorial effort as the big screen adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, a story about the trials and tribulations of a young African American woman as she lives in early 20th Century suffering domestic violence, incest, poverty, racism, and sexism. This was as far away from Spielberg’s previous Cinematic output as was deemed possible at the time.

The film is an interesting entry into the Spielberg portfolio, he never truly seems to get a grip on the material at hand. I have never read the novel but my understanding is that Spielberg left out some of the more hard-hitting themes. What he produced is what Brits would now refer to as Sunday afternoon Channel 5 melodrama that never truly seems to address the issues that appear to be put on the directorial plate. Maybe if Spielberg had made the movie in the 1990s or beyond we would have had a more involved, deeper film, but at the time critics and audiences alike questioned what Spielberg would know about black African American culture/history and how he, a white Jewish man could translate his vision to the screen.

I re-visited the Color Purple in order to write this blog and I was surprised by how much I got from it. Terrific performance from debutant Whoppi Goldberg, ably supported by a buffoonish and occasionally frightening performance from an as then relatively unknown Danny Glover. There is also an early career turn from Oprah Winfrey but the star of the show is the electrifying Margaret Avery who plays the third part in the  Shug, Celie and Mister love triangle. The film itself looks sumptuous, the Spielberg sunsets are there again and Allen Daviau’s gorgeous cinematography gives the film a warm feeling that perhaps the subject matter doesn’t warrant. Michael Jackson producer Quincy Jones stepped into providing the score, one of only 2 Spielberg directed films (so far)* not to feature John Williams and the score just makes you wish that Williams would come back and quickly. But overall Spielberg never fully addresses the issues that faced African Americans in the first part of the 20th Century, he paints a community, quite rightly, that depicts good black people and bad black people. There is little attention to the segregation and the torment that befell these communities at the time, there is a not a burning cross anywhere to be seen, the only white characters of substance, the mayor, and his wife are depicted as pompous fools as opposed to racist bigots. If anything it’s all a bit too nice. Its as if Spielberg, fresh from accusations of stereotyping entire nations in Temple of Doom, didn’t want to address these issues and stuck to a more crowd-pleasing path.

In Celie, Spielberg has only his second bona fide female lead, following on from Lou Jean Poplin in The Sugarland Express. It’s interesting that 32 years on there hasn’t been another especially when you look at the strong female characters that the likes of James Cameron and the Star Wars universe have produced in recent years.** Yes, you can only work with the material available to you but this is the only Spielberg where female characters are front and centre with the film built around them. For that alone, it is an essential watch for Spielberg fans.

So did this more grown up, serious affair work for the peer recognition hungry Spielberg?  The film was applauded by critics, garnering an extremely impressive 11 Academy Award nominations, including one for Goldberg, Avery, and Winfrey. Yes, thats right 11 Academy Awards nominations but what must have felt like a mischievous bout of pure mockery from the Academy Gods, not one for Spielberg. Yes, Mr Spielberg, your film is worthy of multiple nominations as we recognise the work of all of your colleagues and team……but not you. The teasing didn’t stop on nomination day as the Color Purple won no Academy Awards and still to this day remains the highest “losing” film on Oscar night. The main winner in 1985…….Out of Africa, a film about white people in Africa.

* 2018’s Ready Player One became the third Spielberg film not to be scored by John Williams, with Back to the Future alumni Alan Silvestri providing the nostalgia-based music

** 2017’s The Post is led by an astonishing turn by the always overrated*** Meryl Streep

*** Only idiots, with small hands, would ever think this.

Why should you watch it?

It is the biggest left field choice of Spielberg’s career and its a bloody good one at that. Spielberg showed that if you reveal the man behind the curtain, it wasn’t always an elaborate con, Spielberg showed that he was capable of stepping away from endless caper induced magical works, to showcase that he could deliver on adult orientated drama. This was clearly just the start in more mature themes but is the prelude to even greater achievements in the coming decades.

Empire of the Sun (1987)

“It’s at the beginning and end of war that we have to watch out. In between, it’s like a country club”

Empire of the Sun Poster  

Empire of the Sun is an adaptation of J.G Ballards semi-autobiographical novel of a British boy played by a young Christian Bale, who gets separated from his affluent family during the evacuation of Shanghai and becomes a prisoner of war in a Japanese Internment Camp. Spielberg initially was set to produce Empire for his cinematic hero David Lean to direct, Lean stepped aside after assessing the material and deciding that it was too similar to a diary and handed the directorial reigns to an eager Spielberg.

Spielberg had always been obsessed with the Second World War and had previously explored it in comedic fashion in  1941, but here was his first serious look at the 20th Century’s most harrowing global conflict. If the perception is that Spielberg had pussy-footed around more adult themes with The Color Purple, the same criticisms couldn’t be aimed at Empire of the Sun. The opening shot of wooden coffins floating in the Huangpu River sets the tone for a more serious piece. This film is more than just a prelude to upcoming epics but it is fair to say that Schindlers List and Saving Private Ryan would have been very different films, if made at all, if it wasn’t for Empire of the Sun.

Here Spielberg demonstrates his ability to shoot human scenes on an epic scale, utilising hundreds of extras in a very impressive Japanese occupation scene in the centre of Shanghai. The panic of Jim’s separation from his parents is intense stuff and demonstrates that Spielberg can produce moments of human madness without the reliance on props or special effects. This is a human drama of the highest order and is a precursor to the more hellish scenes in future films around the subject.

Once the film relocates to the prisoner of war camp we get further character development that was somewhat lacking in the first third of the film. Jim, in true Spielberg tradition, establishes awkward and non-compliant father/son relationships with two fellow prisoners. Firstly there Jim’s good conscience in the form of Dr. Rawlings played with a true British stiff upper lip by  TV star Nigel Havers. Secondly, we have the more dubious conscience/influence/father figure of Basie played with a surprising amount of restraint by John Malkovich. Both have a positive effect on Jim, with Dr. Rawlings reminding Jim of the moralistic life he had before the camp and Basie teaching Jim that to survive, one must know how to play the game of chance, inadvertently turning Jim into the camps “go-to” person.

The films stand out set piece is the “Cadillac of the skies” sequence as a set of American P-51 bombers launches a spectacular airstrike on the camp. Jim climbs to the top of one of the buildings to get a better view of the attack and it’s here that we witness Spielberg at his sharpest. A stunning mixture of pyrotechnics and aerobatics, all happening with Jim front and centre in the frame. One for the audience to ponder “how did he film that” as planes shoot across the centre of the screen close enough for the actors to be able to high five the pilots whilst enormous explosions erupt in the back and foreground. Pivotal scenes in Saving Private Ryan, in particular, will have shook the audience to the core and if you haven’t seen Empire of the Sun you may think you have seen all this before, but this is where it started.

As for the film itself, it does generally stand up today, it’s beautifully shot but I always feel it is more a collection of great parts without necessarily being the all round great story that it could have been. The performances, on the whole, are very good, however, I surprisingly take issue with Christian Bale. His performance is good and for one so young you could argue very good, but it holds none of the subtlety of say Henry Thomas’s Elliot in E.T. Where with Thomas you felt he was actually there unaware of his surroundings, definitely not interested in the camera, Bale I feel knows there is an audience watching and acts his way through every scene,  witness the scene where he devours the rice as a particular example. Maybe this is down to Spielberg’s direction as much as Bale’s performance and he should have reigned him somewhat.

Empire was once again nominated for Academy Awards in the technical categories, still nothing for Spielberg. Cinematographer Allen Daviau who was nominated as Cinematographer, publicly complained, “I can’t second-guess the Academy, but I feel very sorry that I get nominations and Steven doesn’t. It’s his vision that makes it all come together, and if Steven wasn’t making these films, none of us would be here.” (1)

Why should you watch it?

Put quite simply, without Empire of the Sun there would probably have been no Schindlers List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich etc. A film that shows his ability to portray real life epic storytelling. This film opened more opportunities for Spielberg than it is ever given true credit for.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

“And in this sort of race, there’s no silver medal for finishing second.”

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Poster 

1989 was a busy year for Spielberg, it was the first time he officially released two Cinematic releases in the same year. Following up, after the relative critical disappointment of the Color Purple and the disappointing box office return of Empire of the Sun, it was felt that Spielberg had to get back to what he was perceived to do best. His first offering of 1989 was a return to familiar territory and an opportunity to make up for perceived wrong doings in the last outing of one of the 1980s most iconic characters.

With Last Crusade, Spielberg and Lucas went back to basics. Gone was the black magic and extreme violence of Temple of Doom and there was a return to the more light-hearted adventure tale of Raiders with a more comedic approach. The Nazi’s were back as the villains and dark underground temples were replaced with brighter, desert settings. However the biggest coup that Spielberg pulled was convincing screen legend and former James Bond, Sean Connery to sign up to play Indiana’s grail lore, obsessed father. The casting of Connery is a masterstroke and the chemistry between him and the already brilliantly cast Ford is as good an onscreen partnership as Spielberg has ever delivered. The buddy movie as a concept was in full swing in the late 1980s, and the Ford/Connery partnership is right up there with the very best. The partnership also makes this by far the most sentimental entry into the Indiana Jones saga, amongst the ping pong repartee between the 2 leads, there are moments of tenderness that leaves the hardest of hearts with a lump in their throats. See Exhibit A – when Henry thinks that Indy has plummeted to his death over the cliff edge with the German tank, only to discover moments later that Indy has survived, we see the most moving of moments from Connery – “I thought I’d looossshhhhhtttt you boy”.

Away from the sentimentality, there is no doubt that Last Crusade is an absolute riot. Does it reach the heights of Raiders? No, not quite but it is probably the easiest of the Indiana Jones films to watch. There are welcome returns from Raiders of Salah and Brody (more in a moment on him) and of course every teenage boy’s wet dream with Alison Doody’s sexy, conniving, Nazi spy Elsa, giddy as a schoolboy indeed.

If anything the film lacks a truly great villain, with the always able Julian Glover being no more than a poor mans Belloq. There is also a lack of set piece to rival Raiders opening and the Truck Chase or Doom’s mine cart chase. Yes, the tank battle is functional and very entertaining but doesn’t quite hit the heights. The other problem has stuck with me since I first saw Last Crusade at the cinema, and that is the characterisation of the aforementioned Brody. As much as I really enjoy the late Denholm Elliots performance of Marcus, there is a scene in the Castle of Brunwald where Indy describes Marcus to Donovan as the following: “He’s got a two-day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody’s got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he’ll blend in, disappear, you’ll never see him again. With any luck, he’s got the grail already.” (2) I remember distinctly thinking in the cinema at the time, that is very cool, Brody is a badass…………as we all know it couldn’t have been more different, he gets lost in his own museum.

Last Crusade is one of those films that can’t help make you smile. Fantastic action, wonderful scripting, spot-on performances, arguably the best of the Indiana Jones scores and a ride off into the sunset that harks back to a more golden period of Hollywood that the Last Crusade embraces fully. Connery, in particular, is having a whale of a time and this is matched by his director, who hasn’t had this much fun for since 1982.

Why should you watch it?

It was return to safer, lighter ground after the darkness of Doom. Armed with one of Spielberg’s zingiest scripts and chemistry by the whole ensemble so strong you would think it was concocted in the finest lab, this was Spielberg at his most playful. Whilst not quite reaching the heights of Raiders, it is impossible not to enjoy Last Crusade. Pure entertainment.

Always (1989)

“I know now, that the love we hold back is the only pain that follows us here.”

Always Poster 

In my 1970s blog I mentioned that there is one film in each decade that passes somewhat under the radar when talking about Spielberg films, a film for whatever reason, nobody mentions, or seems to remember. Always is the entry in the 1980s that fits this category and that is quite unfortunate as there is lots to like in this gentle tale about lost love and future romance. It’s an unusual entry for Spielberg as romance has never really been his strong suit and the film borders on the saccharin on more than one occasion. However it is beautifully shot and has some spectacular scenes that are straight from the dictionary definition of Spielbergian, in particular the forest fire scenes and perhaps one of the most underrated opening shots of any Spielberg film.

Based loosely on the 1943 Spencer Tracey Film A Guy Named Joe, Always sees forest fire fighter Pete die whilst tending to a fire. Pete returns to Earth as a guardian to help Dorinda find peace and serenity without him. The problem with Always is that Pete is a bit of an ass and watching it again recently I wondered whether this was because the film was made in the 80s, when over the top and rubbish jokes were the norm, as opposed to Dreyfuss’s performance. The real star of Always is Holly Hunter who plays the cute as a button Dorinda. Hunter is purely magnetic from start to finish in a role which on paper doesn’t actually give her very much to do, but she finds the balance between mournful girlfriend and determined mover-on.

Ably supported by John Goodman who plays the cuddly wisecracking sidekick with ease the film is light and frothy and never over challenges the audience. Look out also for a spot of stunt casting with Audrey Hepburn in her final screen role playing the heavenly Hap.

If you have never seen Always then it is worth a look. For me, it loses its way in the last 20 minutes but you will not find anything to offend and you will have an easy straight-forward two hours if you give it a chance.

Always was a rather unspectacular ending to a decade that had started with such fanfare and wonder. Spielberg had personally had a tough decade, with the break up and divorce of his first marriage to Amy Irving. Professionally it was an odd decade in many ways. I find it his least interesting decade creatively. It started impressively with Raiders and the phenomenal E.T, but his desire to be accepted by his peers led him to projects that he didn’t seem too comfortable with and possibly did for the wrong reasons.  The Last Crusade was a return to the confident filmmaking of the late 70s early 80s, and he was about to embark on a decade of commercial success and finally…….critical acceptance.

Why should you watch it?

Because you probably haven’t……………..and you really should. 

Footnotes:

  1. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empire_of_the_Sun_(film)
  2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097576/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu
  3. All photos and quotes taken from http://www.imdb.com