I want to watch ALL the films

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Yes that’s right, every last one of them. One of the least expected symptoms of lockdown that I have experienced is what I refer to as “Watchlist anxiety”. With so many streaming services just a touch of a button away and the lack of anything else to do, other than having an arm wrestle with some guy called Barry over a toilet roll in Tesco, I started to build up some watchlists. Before I knew it, it was massively out of control.

It’s time for some stats

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Now according to Google there are thought to have been approximately 500000 films made. A rather ambitious estimate is that I have seen around 2000 individual films, which is 0.4% of them, so its clear I have some catching up to do. In fact if I was to watch one film a day it would take me a more than likely unachievable 1369 years to watch them all. That is if I watch one a day, which has only really been possible since lockdown. In my normal life I reckon I probably get through about 150 films a year, so I’m looking at around 4000 years to complete. But the other problem is, people keep making films, and I think it would be unreasonable for them to stop just to allow me to catch up.

Kevin Feige: “Guys we’re not going to make any more films for the MCU because Dom has still got 498,000 films to watch, so we’re gonna hang fire so he can catch up”.

The other issue is of course, and I know I’m not the only one here, but I love a good re-watch. I am of course a Spielberg nut, but throw in the MCU and Star Wars and there is at least 60 films there that I have to watch on a regular basis, and the true rub here is, I have to watch them in order, oh yes, if you’re going to do something you have to do it right.

Me: Hey guys I see you’re watching Empire of the Sun

Friend: Yeah that’s right

Me: So what did you guys think of The Color Purple, it’s great isn’t it?

Friend: erm, well we haven’t watched that one yet

Me:

Samuel L Jackson What GIF by Coming to America

The rewatches are my comfort blankets, as much as I love watching new stuff and getting that buzz from new films when they really hit you, I want to go back and watch every Spielberg from Duel (watched again this morning, it is Spielberg day, see below) and watch how his filmmaking changes over the years, likewise the MCU from IronMan onwards, it feels odd to me that you would just select one at random, or maybe I’m just odd.

The Plan

Planning GIF by memecandy

I have a number of subscriptions, Netflix, Disney + and for now anyway, Sky Cinema through Now TV. On top of this I have an extensive DVD/Blu-Ray collection and I tape (its always tape, I’m a child of the 80s) stuff off the TV like Film4 and TCM. Away from the subscriptions I love collections. As already stated I have to watch Spielberg in order, the MCU in order, Star Wars in order and believe it or not I have also in the past 12 months thrown PIXAR and the Disney Classics into the mix, and I haven’t even mentioned Bond yet. The anxiety is caused by making sure I am getting the most out of my subscriptions and also not neglecting my slightly unhealthy fandom.

Therefore I have come up with a rota, a 15 day cycle if you will. A chaos organiser, an anxiety destroyer, and overwhelming overwhelmer.

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Day 1 – Netflix – this will invariably be a new film. Yes there is plenty of stuff I have seen before that may be fun to watch, but primarily I need to use it for the new stuff. Netflix is the bully of the group though, as it is the place most likely to pique my interest with new stuff so may shove some of the other days out of the way.

Day 2 – Now TV – I only have this for 6 months, and is quite limiting on what I haven’t seen, although there should be enough to tide me over

Day 3 – Planner – So this is my Sky box, films recorded from places like TCM. This is always a good day as invariably it is a classic film that I have never seen before.

Day 4 – Disney Plus – Now here is the problem, if I take out all the Disney classic cartoons, the PIXAR, Star Wars and the MCU, take out the Documentary’s and all the shorts there are currently still 324 films on Disney Plus, a remarkable amount of those I haven’t seen. I made the decision the other day to start at the top (they do a handy A-Z) and work my through them, so I watched Kirk Douglas in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, one of the 498K ticked off, you see it works…………… yes I will consider therapy.

Recent news broke that Disney Plus was launching its Star service for more grown up viewers and at least another 250 films on that. At my current rate that is about 5 years worth of watching on its own.

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Day 5 BBC iPlayer/Kanopy – The BBC iPlayer has some fantastic classic cinema on there and Kanopy is a new service for me. It is free because I work for a University and it has a huge library of everything from World Cinema to early cinema, just this week I watched Plan 9 from Outer Space and looking forward to revisiting the Chaplin back catalogue that is on there.

Day 6 – Spielberg day. I don’t care how many times I have watched them all before, I never get bored. Close Encounters of the Third Kind for example, I have to watch that film 2 or 3 times a year and I always notice something new when I watch it. In a World where we need to do things that benefits our wellbeing, then watch what you like…………as long as its in order.

Day 7 – DVD/Blu-ray – I have to justify the collection, it is apparently taking up valuable shelf space, and cupboard space, and wardrobe space, oh and loft space. I have to be seen to be taking that 5 step walk across the living room to the shelf to be selecting one. I have to be careful though, this is the ultimate rewatch policed area

Wife: I don’t know why you have all of them, I bet you only watch about 4 of them

Me: That’s not true, I watch them all, an equal amount (never sounded more unconvincing)

Wife: I can clearly see your Aliens blu-ray in your hand, right this second, and I know you watched that the other night because I heard you say “somebody wake up Hicks” from the other room

Me: I was just putting it back (easily beat the previous level of sounding unconvincing)

Wife: Yeah whatever, by the way I hate that I know that it is an Aliens blu-ray.

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Not mine by the way.

Day 8 – Google Play – I have this other account where I don’t own the physical media and they aren’t often on streaming services so I have them on here, e.g. Tim Burton’s Batman (still my favourite Batman film) so once again to justify my outlay the Google Play account gets a turn. Like a kid who has just asked for Roblox vouchers, I actually asked for Google Play vouchers for Christmas just so I could add to the collection,

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Day 9 – Amazon Prime – My least favourite of the streaming services, however occasionally good things turn up on there, such as Fellini’s 8 1/2 and the black and white version of Parasite. I just keep it for the free delivery of the Blu-rays really.

Day 10 – MCU – Again back to the collections, and so I don’t get distracted in my one man, doomed to failure, mission of getting through the Disney Plus back catalogue, a separate day for the MCU.

Day 11 – PIXAR – this is of course followed by PIXAR for the same reason as the MCU, which brings me neatly onto

Day 12 – Disney Classics – There’s 56 of these bad boys so that’s 2 years work right there, assuming I don’t miss a cycle. I wonder if my daughter will still want to watch these with me when she is 55 years old and we’re just getting to Moana.

Day 13 – Bond – I can take or leave Bond if I’m brutally honest but I do own them all on DVD/Blu-ray and similar to Spielberg and the MCU it would be nice to watch them all in order. Anthology you say, ah pish. In fact I think there are some that I have never seen so there we go, I can watch a franchise and chip away at that outstanding 498k. Besides with No Time to Die delayed again, I have time to get up to speed with this James Bond chap.

Day 14 – Film Docs – This can be anything from the monumental Empire of Dreams to a making of doc on a DVD that I have never watched. I always claim to never have the time to watch the extras, well there you go…….BUILT IT INTO THE SCHEDULE!!!!

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Day 15- Star Wars – It’s where it all started, the obsession of Cinema and film is right there in those 2 words. I love all 11 films and I don’t really care how often I see them. They are like old friends, they are my childhood, they are my adulthood and I think we are very fortunate to live in a time when we have almost unlimited access to them.

That’s it that’s the plan, pretty cool eh? If this all sounds a little OCDish then please note that this is very much tongue in cheek, but film fans are notoriously about order, whether that is how you file your DVDs to what order to watch films in. There are entire websites dedicated to the order the Star Wars films should be watched in.

We live in a time when we have never had it so good, regarding access to films, but the amount of times I have sat for an hour just scrolling through streaming services procrastinating over whether to watch Willow for the 80th time or take a punt on The Apple Dumpling Gang (it’s on the list, oh yeah!), when in fact a little bit of order can make that decision for me. If I added up the time I spent scrolling, well that’s probably 20 films or one Lord of the Rings, right there.

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Me arriving for opening night of No Time to Die in 3390

So by the year 3390 I should have caught up, of course by then Cinema will be a totally immersive experience, but I’m sure, Tom Cruise will be making Mission Impossible 83 live from Alpha Centauri and there will be a new Spiderman reboot in the works and there will still be the financial toss up between some pick n mix or a villa in Marbella, rest assured I’m somewhere there will be a watchlist that will require some detailed plan of action

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

Does Spielberg ever wear sweatpants? A look at hero worship.

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Following on from my recent series of Spielberg Top 10 blogs, I have decided to write some pieces on perceptions and pre-conceived ideas that the general public has on people in the spotlight, from hero worship to hatred. Is it rational to not watch a film just because Jack Black is in it, or do you wear your rose tinted glasses when ever news breaks of a new Julia Roberts film? Does it go further than that, where does fantasy and reality end?

Before I go any further, I am not a Psychologist and everything that follows will be merely my opinion. Secondly, I have not really ever met any famous people, I met Benedict Wong (Wong in Dr Strange) at Em-Con last year, he was a decent bloke, from Salford no less……..I’m sure he kept the photo. I certainly don’t know any famous people personally so my opinion of any of them is based purely on their public persona or the impressions I have built up on them through their work or interviews etc.

Now take my friend Benedict for example. He was at a fan convention in Nottingham, signing autographs and taking selfies (for a small charge of course), but basically he was being paid to be nice and for my two minute chat with him and the photo he took with me and my son, he seemed a perfectly normal bloke, who just happened to have what is perceived as a glamourous and exciting job. Now for all I know when I walked away, he may have turned to his agent and said “don’t let anyone like that loser come near me again, bloody Mancunians thinking they know me….” etc. I’m sure he didn’t, but how do I know?

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Me and that rather splendid Benedict Wong at EM-Con. Btw he’s the one on the left.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a bit of a fan of Steven Spielberg, I think the guy is the Greatest Living Film Director, and possibly the greatest ever, if reading this, you don’t need to agree with that, it is a subjective opinion. I have not, sadly ever had the opportunity to meet Mr Spielberg, and quite frankly, I’m 99% sure that I never will. Spielberg makes films that have connected with me, they have comforted me when feeling low, they have excited me and made me marvel at the sheer audacity and wonder of them. There is a tendency to think therefore, we must like the same things, ergo, I reckon we’d get on really well if we met for dinner. Now before anyone starts filing restraining orders, the truth is he is just doing a job, when he finishes his work for that day, he goes home to his wife and family, they may even stop on the way for Pukka Pie and Chips because they can’t be bothered to cook that night. Does he ever wake up on a Saturday and lounge around in his joggers watching Saturday kitchen whilst aimlessly scrolling through Twitter (basically my Saturday mornings)? Ok he probably doesn’t but neither is he likely to be being carried round on a velvet throne waiting for today’s fresh catch of the day to be served to him on a silver platter by harp playing cherubs.

No matter how much some fans would like to think it, he cannot walk on water. Here’s the thing, whenever you read an interview from anyone who has ever worked with Steven Spielberg they all gush about how wonderful and generous he is as a man, a director and an overall human being. You could argue, who in Hollywood would not want to work on the next Steven Spielberg film, they’re hardly going to bad mouth him are they? But overall his public persona means we have no reason to doubt that he is in fact an all round decent guy, but who reading this can honestly know for sure?

I try not to live my life cynically, but we live in a Social Media driven world these days where it appears everyone is fair game for shots to be aimed at. There is always someone willing to sling the mud, anonymous keyboard warriors who chase the likes, the ticks, the retweets. Why say nice things about somebody who is already venerated globally, that’s not interesting? Let’s find some dirt on them, and if we can’t do that, well we shall make it up, and with each passing day we are faced with questions around what is true about individuals, individuals who apparently gave up their right to any kind of private life the moment they decided to display their talent to the World. I’m sure they all do normal things

20+ Best Famous People Doing Normal Stuff images | famous people, people,  famous
Christian Slater filling his car with petrol. Why is he having to do that himself one may ask?

Tom Cruise is maybe as reviled as he is revered. Everyone has an opinion on him, from ultra focussed professional, to crazy religious nut. The truth is only a handful of people will really know the real Tom, but fans and detractors will claim they do know him, based on the work he presents and the public persona he has put out to the World. You hear it quite often on Internet forums “Oh Tom Cruise is proper weird”, oh, know him personally do you? The flip side to this, is that there will be fans of Mr Cruise who will not have a bad word said about him.

Famous people often don’t help themselves here, occasionally making ill-advised comments or declaring undying love for someone, using a talk show sofa as a trampoline to emphasise ones love. Granted this is not normal behaviour, but how much is artificial, how much is rehearsed, we are not at liberty to know. Cruise is a big enough star to be able to deal with flack that will have come from what at the time was probably a calculated risky move, he has a loyal fanbase who would pretty much forgive him anything.

I’m not for one minute suggesting that all “stars” are clean as a whistle, they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t have flaws, but the fact is we don’t know them personally and probably never will, so should we have them on these unreasonable pedestals, would the reality only disappoint us?

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Here is Keanu Reeves who appears to be pushing his own shopping trolley, what the hell?

Many years ago I read an interview with Harrison Ford who had just been voted “World’s Sexiest Man” by a magazine. He was asked by the interviewer how he felt about that. Ford responded by saying that it meant nothing, as none of the people who voted for him knew him personally and if they did they probably wouldn’t find him particularly sexy at all. Harrison Ford has a reputation for being a bit of a grumpy old man, how about the fact that he might just be an incredibly guarded, private man, who sees his profession as a job as opposed to someone who expects the world to worship at his feet. He actually might be the life and soul of the party, we will probably never know, in fact the only thing we know about Ford for sure is that he is pretty bad at landing planes.

When evidence is clearly more than idle internet gossip, where do you as the consumer draw the line? In the last few years, and not before time, the #Metoo movement has moved into the public arena, some established stars with huge followings have pretty much seen their careers ended (and rightly so) as a result of allegations. Do we as the public have to make a stand against this by not watching a film, that’s success or access to us is largely down to money that Harvey Weinstein invested? Do we throw our copies of American Beauty into the bin because Kevin Spacey starred, or do we appreciate that thousands of good people put their hearts and souls into making that film, and Spacey was just a small element of it.

The 21st Century so far with the birth of social media and reality TV has led to enough manipulation of the psyche to make one imagine that George Orwell is still operating things from a distance as an omnipotent puppet master. Reality TV is designed primarily to be as far away from reality as possible, whilst creating the illusion that it is entirely attainable for the average person. Win X-Factor and you will have a pop career that will make you a global superstar with the longevity of the Beatles, when in reality the fame in most cases lasts slightly less than Andy Warhol will have predicted. Big Brother was initially realised as a social experiment, now a freak show designed to have 10 strangers argue and come to blows in an unescapable TV set, nobody wants to see people getting along.

Social Media is a different animal itself. People need to keep very much at arms length, what is reality and what is being shown as the norm. I am a regular Twitter user, and through it I have had many fantastic and inspiring discussions about movies and the power and the sense of wellbeing that movies and cinema bring to these people. Bizarrely I am quite a private person and the majority of people I interact regularly with on Twitter I don’t know personally and with respect, I have no real desire to meet and get to know personally. There are obviously some people on Social Media that I don’t fully understand, like the guy who hated ALL of the Marvel movies but had seen every one of them (you would have thought they would get the point after the first few) or the guy who saw The Last Jedi 10 times just to be sure he hated it as much as he thought he did. I’m glad to say I don’t have the time, energy or desire to spend that much time and money on things that didn’t agree with me, which is probably one of the reasons why I only have about 400 followers on Twitter despite over 10 years of hilarious and knowledgable tweeting (tsk tsk).

That’s the whole point though, nobody anymore wants to hear nice things, or the things that you enjoy, where is the fun in that? Get out there and be the bigger person, what the world needs more of now, is some guys refusing to watch an all female Ghostbusters (brilliant by the way) because it ruined their childhood, but then telling their Twitter followers why it ruined their childhood. They don’t need to actually watch the film to state that opinion, it’s an all female Ghostbusters, it’s bound to be rubbish, women aren’t funny, they certainly can’t catch ghosts………….

I am writing this piece a couple of weeks after it was announced that Steven Spielberg’s upcoming West Side Story has (alongside many other films) been delayed until at least December 2021 due to the ongoing impacts of COVID 19. Now this is a film I am obviously extremely excited about, one of my favourite musicals being directed by my favourite director, so the delay is a disappointing but to be fair understandable setback. This is a film, however that is designed almost by its very inception, to be destroyed on social media before anyone has even seen a trailer. I am big enough and long enough in the tooth to admit if the film, when I eventually see it, doesn’t land, I will say so, but we live in a world where even if it is the greatest film ever made there will be naysayers who probably won’t even watch it but hate it anyway. I’m not one of those who feel Spielberg can’t do any wrong, 1941 anyone, but I will at least reserve judgment until I’ve seen it.

Forrest Gump drives down electric avenue | Metro News
What the heck is going on here? Tom Hanks appears to be driving his own car. That can’t be right?

Which brings me full circle to this idea of hero worship. If I was ever fortunate enough to meet Mr Spielberg, I think I would say thank you. That thank you would be for the hours of entertainment he has provided through his imagination and skills as film maker. I am a fan, I’ve described myself, as a devoted Spielbergian, but he is not a hero. He is a man who is very, very talented at what he does, but he’s not physically saving lives, he is trying to make the World a slightly happier place by putting his abilities to good use. He, along with the majority of celebrities (I like to think) have what is seen as an unusual profession but deep down are normal people.

I remember last year returning home from watching Avengers Endgame with my son, it was a Sunday and we sat down to our weekly Sunday roast dinner, and my son asked me “hey, do you think Robert Downey Jnr is sat having a Sunday roast with his family?” My answer was “Well, why would he not be?” He is by all sense and purpose a family man who probably when not filming has a fair bit of time on his hands so why would they not do the “normal” things in life.

Maybe it’s time for us all to take a step back and just enjoy the art, just appreciate that for those 2 hours they are attempting to entertain. That in itself is a gift and I’m truly grateful for it. If I was to ever meet Mr Spielberg that is what I would thank him for.

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 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

The Top Ten Greatest Indiana Jones Scenes - Part 3 | Page 3

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

Ready Player One': 16 Key Differences Between Book and Movie | IndieWire

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

Shame Files Podcast: The Lost World: Jurassic Park | Cinedelphia

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

E.T. the extra-terrestrial - ET - Steven Spielberg - Character profile -  Writeups.org

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

The nail shredders: Spielberg’s Top 10 most nerve jangling moments.

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Among all the wonder and magic, there is of course a serious side to Spielberg’s work. The man can build tension, like LEGO build bricks. Here in my latest Spielberg Top 10 I take a look at 10 of the most tense moments in his films. This was a tough one and I’m sure people will point out personal favourites that didn’t make my final cut, for example there is no room for the excrutiating ascent up the hill at the climax of Duel as David Mann’s car starts to give up the advantage, likewise the caravan cliffhangar in the Lost World, which will be saved for a later countdown. I hope you enjoy the list but as always, comments, discussion and feedback very much welcomed.

10. “Let’s go, let’s do it, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go let’s publish” – The Post (2017)

Meryl Streep, The Post, and the Best Movie Dress of 2017 | Vanity Fair

Meryl Streep’s Katherine Graham has the most difficult of decisions to make. Taking over the paper started by her father and then ran by her late husband (who committed suicide), she had no real journalistic experience and was often overruled or patronised by her all male board. Through a series of contacts the paper gets hold of a number of documents that would show that America’s involvement in the Vietnam war was a lost cause. If the Post were to publish it would be a major news coup and hugely increase their circulation, on the other hand it may bring criminal charges against the paper from the United States government. The shareholders and board members don’t wish to publish because of the latter, where as Editor in Chief Ben Bradlee (an underrated and very gravelly Tom Hanks) believe it to be in the nations best interest as the press have the right to publish. The question here is, does Katherine have the backbone to stand up to the misogynistic board who feel she is greatly out of her depth.

Spielberg’s brilliance here is that he manages to ring enough tension in a two and half minute phone call that the viewer can literally chew on it. It’s also a major turning point in the film, Katherine finds her feet and her inner confidence that results in one of the finest transformations of character in a Spielberg film as she delivers the most cutting line to her board “This is no longer my father’s company. It’s no longer my husband’s company. It’s my company.” She is now in control and don’t you doubt it.

9. Abandoned in the Woods – A.I (2001)

Scene Pick: 'AI' – David is Abandoned in a Forest - Word Matters!

Spielberg’s hidden masterpiece is almost 3 films in one, you have the psychological, almost horror, first act where Monica and Henry Swinton get given David, a prototype Mecha child, to help come to terms with the supposedly terminal illness of their son Martin. The second act is a chase movie, where David desperately searches for the fabled Blue Fairy whilst avoiding being caught by the authorities, and the third and final act is projected science fiction as David is transported thousands of years into the future to discover his and his loved ones fate.

The focus for this top 10 will be the climax of Act 1 where (SPOILER ALERT), Monica abandons David in the woods, after one too many accidents involving David and her miraculously recovered son Martin, Monica realises that David is potential danger to the family and must be removed. However, knowing that David will be destroyed if returned to his maker, Monica can’t bring herself to do that so she plans a picnic for David in the woods with the ulterior motive to leave him there to defend for himself.

David is programmed to love Monica, but the real question is, can Monica love David back? This scene demonstrates the torment and conflict that Monica, played wonderfully throughout by Frances O’Connor, is going through. As a distraught and terrified David hammers on the window of the car as she pulls away we are left with the indelible image of David drifting into the distance silhouetted perfectly in Monica’s wing mirrors.

It’s a Spielberg speciality to show case parent and child separation, but here we don’t have a real human child, or do we? With David showing some sentient characteristics, we are left wondering just exactly what Monica has just abandoned in the woods.

8. The Phone bomb – Munich (2005)

Photo de Yigal Naor - Munich : Photo Yigal Naor - AlloCiné

2005 was the fifth year that Spielberg released two films in the Cinema. Once again, he attempted to follow the formula of one for the multiplex crowd and one for the serious Cineastes. What was slightly different this time was that both Munich and the darker than dark War of the Worlds (more about that one later in the blog) were both desperately bleak films, that offered little in the way of optimism or sentimentality that Spielberg had often been accused of, (although War of the Worlds does have a rather interesting ending that isn’t really in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film).

Courting controversy from it’s inception, Munich could possibly be Spielberg’s most misunderstood and misrepresented film. A tale of “eye for an eye” brutality and the glorification of revenge wasn’t something that Spielberg was used to having to deal with. What Munich actually is a fictional, taut, tense thriller set to the backdrop of horrific real life events. A film that is tense from the word go, there is very little to lift the gloom, but a fascinating watch all the same. A film that is truly difficult to tear your eyes away from once it starts.

There are a number of scenes that i could have chosen from Munich to include in this blog, but I have gone for the phone bomb scene as it includes perfectly orchestrated set up, sweat inducing close calls, involving a potentially devastating victim who was an unintended target.

Spielberg perfectly captures the horror and conflict of the attackers, illustrating the inner turmoil of the so called “good guys”. Munich is an astonishing piece of Cinema and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the Schindler’s Lists and Saving Private Ryans of this world.

7. Raptor attack – Jurassic Park (1993)

10 Reasons The Velociraptors Are The True Stars of The Jurassic ...

If the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park is pure Cinematic monster horror, then the stalking of the children in the kitchen by the Raptors is pure nail biting Cinema. Cold and calculating the Raptors engage in a game of cat and mouse with young Tim and Lex as they shelter in one of the theme parks as yet unopened kitchen (bearing in mind no-one has been in that kitchen yet, that cupboard door really should shut better).

The T-Rex attack is pure terror, whereas there is a more sinister edge to the Raptors. Game keeper, and part-time alarmist, Robert Muldoon explains how the Raptors systematically work out their surroundings, remember they never attack the same part of fence twice. Dr Grant has already informed the audience how Raptors work as a team, “you stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that’s when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side, from the other two raptors you didn’t even know were there.” Oh yeah, and just when you think these 6 foot turkeys can’t get anymore menacing, they can open doors as well.

The Raptors appear to enjoy the hunt, the teasing of their prey, the wicked grin of torment that seems to light up their faces as they realise they have the children cornered. Some quick thinking involving a slippery floor and a fridge door relieves the pressure and tension for a while. However, whilst the T-Rex would slump despondently away waiting for the next flicker of movement, the raptors won’t be pacified with that, they want the victims they are working as a team to get.

It’s yet another fine example of perfectly choreographed tension and is Spielberg at his most fluid. Talking about perfectly choreographed tension….

6. “Pipet….Pipet” – Jaws (1975)

Watch a Great Deconstruction of the Jaws Beach Scene - /Film

Ok, so this might seem an obvious choice to include but what we have here is a young director throwing everything into one of the most carefully constructed storyboarded scenes in modern Cinema. Packed to the rafters with clever camera fakes and comical red herrings, (that’s some bad hat Harry). At this point of the film we know there is a shark out there, we know also that the mayor wants the beaches open, so you know what is going to happen, it is not going to end well.

So the true mastery of this scene, is that despite the audience knowing all of this, Spielberg manages to wring the tension out of every oversized towel on the beach. Similar to the T-Rex attack in Jurassic Park, Spielberg drops the score, employing John Williams to be more than just a character technique, bringing in the ominous dur dum at just the right moment. The red herrings have swam away, leaving the stage for the arrival once more of Carcharodon carcharias to grab an Alex Kintner sized snack.

Capturing the frozen in fear moment with Cinema’s most famous dolly shot, the first of two nods to Hitchcock, replicating his innovative camera work from Vertigo, accompanied with a Bernard Herrman inspired violin screech reminiscent of Psycho.

A scene that anyone reading this blog will have seen a thousand times, but there is a reason we go back to watch it again and again, we love the fear.

5. The basement search – War of the Worlds (2005)

The Basement Scene in War of the Worlds (2005) - YouTube

Back to 2005 for this one and Spielberg’s completely unfamily friendly summer blockbuster. Packed full of post 9/11 paranoia, War of the Worlds, like Munich, is a thoroughly draining watch from start to finish. Unusually for Spielberg there isn’t much preamble or steady build up with him, with the Super Bowl trailer money shot of an articulated lorry plunging off a collapsing highway onto the wooden houses of suburbia in the before the 30 minute mark.

That’s because War of the Worlds is more than just about attack, it is about survival, it is about resourcefulness. However, the stand out sequence, takes place in the grungy basement of the just slightly more than deranged Ogilvy, played with delicious menace by Tim Robbins. With a set that wouldn’t look out of place in an Eli Roth movie, the sense of unease is palpable from the start. Things reach a pinnacle of desperation when the aliens send in a probe to explore the basement. What follows is an almost dialogue free 8 minutes of sheer bottom clenching tension.

Once again employing the red herrings, a trusty old boot, a handy mirror, Spielberg is mining his back catalogue to good effect, check out the ripples in the water, and the unseen menace that is all around. Whilst all this is going on there is a terse battle of wills between Ray (Tom Cruise) and Ogilvy. Ray, Ogilvy and Rachel ( a quite brilliant Dakota Fanning) are then joined in Hell’s kitchen by three of their Alien assailants. The attention to detail here is tremendous, the spin of the bike wheel straight out of the H.G Wells novel.

Watching this scene again for the purposes of writing this blog, I can honestly say this scene could have been even higher. It’s absolutely masterful, in a film that once again doesn’t quite get the attention and love that it deserves. This is gripping stuff from Paramount logo to Morgan Freeman voiceover.

4. Entering the gas chamber – Schindler’s List (1993)

Schindler's List Scene - YouTube

In a film that has many moments of quiet desperation and thoughtful reflection, there are a number of scenes that potentially could have been considered for this blog, the one though that always makes the room that you are in fade into obscurity for me is the scene involving the women who are sent to what they and the audience believe to be the gas chamber. I’m not going to go into any more of the detail of the scene and talk more about why the film is so affecting.

There are many times when Schindler’s List feels like a documentary and it is easy to forget at times that there is a narrative to what we are watching. In this particular scene, you become so absorbed in what’s happening, that you wonder why the cameraman continues to film, why don’t they help?

Filmed with largely non-professional actors, this scene is so real, you can feel the cold, you can smell the fear and the tension is such that at times you just want to look away. This is devastating, yet vital cinema.

3. Cinque’s experience on the Tecora – Amistad (1997)

Amistad 1997 ( Scene of slaves on the ship ) FULL HD mp4 - YouTube

Amistad is a film that often flatters to deceive but in the middle there is a sequence so brutal that you wonder if you have actually started watching a different movie. As Cinque, (played with indomitably stunning screen presence by Djimon Hounsou) reflects on the horrors that he experienced on board the Tecora as they sail across the Atlantic.

As a depiction of hell on earth, we are “treated” to an observation of a claustrophobic, deeply unpleasant setting, where slaves a chained together so desperate for nutrition that they are eating food off each others faces. We witness brutal torture and attempted rape, whilst slaves are herded like cattle into the dark, non ventilated underbelly of the slave ship. We watch babies being born in these most squalid of conditions, but worse is yet to come, as we witness the horrifying reality of slaves being chained together and having stones tidied to their feet to ensure when they go overboard they will not be coming up for air.

I struggle to think of a more upsetting scene in Spielberg’s filmography. Yes the liquidation of the ghetto in Schindler’s List and the Omaha Beach battle of Saving Private Ryan are devastating but we watch those almost in stunned numbness. This scene is so up close, you can almost taste the sweat and tears. The tension is sickening, and is perhaps made the more prescient with the current global climate into the way we treat certain people. Amistad deserves to be seen more widely.

2. Barry’s kidnapping – Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Deanna Crisbacher : Cutting Edge: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

In Close Encounters we are treated to magic, wonder and scenes of such cinematic beauty that I’m not ashamed to admit they make me weep. In a film that is mainly about family, we are introduced to single mum Gillian, and her young son Barry, when Barry is woken by his toys who have mysteriously come to life, so far so very not Toy Story. After meeting his new friends in the kitchen Barry is seen giggling as he chases the shadows across the ranch that Gillian rather strangely seems to own. This scene is partly to demonstrate that children often find excitement in things that adults fear.

When Barry’s new friends return to take him on a little trip, Spielberg goes into full on 1970s horror mode. Dousing the house in dusty hue, turning on the red glow of the electric hob, with Gillian’s panic and sweat dressed white shirt we are one chainsaw away from having dinner with a man wearing human skin as a mask.

Throwing all the practical effects that he can at the screen, Spielberg manages to turn up the tension by praying on the most primal fears of adults, anonymous house invaders , your appliances coming alive, oh and the failure to protect your children. As Gillian cowers in the corner, screaming in the throat gargling way that dominated 1970s horror films, we have young Barry loving being drawn towards the orange light, culminating in the famous keyhole moment, with the door opening to reveal an Oz type wonderland.

Despite Gillian’s best attempts, Barry is not going to be denied his chance to play with his new friends and heads off through the cat flap. What is so brilliant about this scene is that it is so simple, yet so effective. The scene reflects every parents worst nightmare, and it’s such an exhausting 3 minutes that you almost want to pause the film to go have a lie down.

1. The battle of Remelle – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan's Bodycount | Saving Private Ryan Wiki | Fandom

There are people who claim that Saving Private Ryan starts and ends with the devastating opening Omaha Beach sequence and that the following two hours are rather plodding and not much happens. Well those people are quite frankly wrong. Watching the Omaha Beach battle is a numbing experience, it’s one of the most visceral attack on the senses, however the battle of Remelle is in many ways just as effective.

With the Omaha Beach battle we are thrown straight into the action, there is no time to survey the scenery, take in the view, plan the route of attack, you are just straight into it. With Remelle, there is planning, there is a setting of the scene, and there is definite whiff of inevitability about the upcoming fight. This leads to the most nerve wracking two minutes I’ve ever experienced in the cinema.

Once the planning is in place, the sticky bombs made, the platoon sent to their various sentry posts, the bridge rigged with explosives and the path of destruction laid out for the enemy troops to trundle down to receive the mother of all ambushes.

Now back to that nerve wracking, tension inducing two minutes. With everything in place the signal is given from Private Jackson up in the clock tower that the German 2nd SS Panzer Division were nearly in the bombed out town. The brilliance here from Spielberg, like the pounding thump of the off screen T-Rex approaching in Jurassic Park, we hear the rumbling approach of the tanks, crunching the rubble and scraping the metal as it moves off screen.

Spielberg holds the camera looking down the trench, and then we see the terrifying sight of the German tank goes past the entrance to the town corridor only to abruptly stop, turn it’s gun turret down the rubble strewn street, as if eyeing up its potential prey. The audience takes a breath, and watches as the tank reverses and then straightens up and then proceeds down the street towards the allied forces.

What follows is 20 minutes of more intense battle, if anything more personal combat than on Omaha as we see individual one on one, some time hand to hand combat between assailants. Some of the deaths in this battle are more than horrific, due to the face we have invested 2 and a half hours in these characters, we’ve grown to like them, we don’t want to witness their pain and suffering, but we watch we’re convinced that they will triumph. One particular knife fight is desperately upsetting to watch.

This is possibly Spielberg’s most underrated sequence, overshadowed by the brilliance of Omaha, but Remelle is the embodiment of what those brave souls went through. The human sacrifice made in that conflict was never more painfully illustrated than in the Battle of Remelle.

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

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 Spielberg Top 10: Best Opening Scenes.

To grab an audience you have to start well, all the great films pull the audience in, you could argue that you need to grab them in the first 5 minutes or people may lose interest. Like writing, if I waffle on too long you won’t read the rest so without further blathering, here is my personal TOP 10 opening scenes in Steven Spielberg directed movies.

10. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Steven Spielberg Provides An Update on the Second Tintin Film ...

Spielberg’s first foray into the world of motion capture is occasionally forgotten when discussions around Spielberg’s most dynamic films arise. Unfairly labelled by some as an animated Indiana Jones film, The Adventures of Tintin packs enough of an individual punch with scenes of audacity bravado as to clearly stand on it’s own two feet. None more so then this cracking opening tracking shot as the camera follows the mischievous Aristidis Silk through an outdoor market. Shot largely from the ground up the camera stops on a street artist painting a portrait of a young man who’s back is to us. On completion the Artist shows his finished article, it’s Tintin as familiarised in Herge’s collection of stories. It’s the first of a number of lovely moments in a vastly underrated film.

9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

That Moment in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): First ...

“Are we the first?…Are we the first to arrive?” Yes, I annoyingly shout this whenever I go to a friends or family members house for dinner etc, in my head it never gets old, however some of the invites have dried up over the years.

The opening scene of Close Encounters is packed full of mystery and red herrings (see the headlights come out of the dust) and sets the scene perfectly for the wonders that are to come. Subtle and made with practical effects, it hooks the audience straight into the story. Where did these planes come from? Why does the old man claim the sun came out at night and sang to him? Great stuff.

8. Always (1989)

Opening scene to the Steven Spielberg film, “Always” (1989) - YouTube

A very brief moment here in one of Spielberg’s least appreciated films, but it is a moment of perfectly dexterous showmanship. Two sleepy fisherman whiling the hours away when in the background, entering the shot from above a seaplane making an unexpected landing. The plane disturbs the fishermen from their slumber but it’s breaking system doesn’t seem to be helping much. The camera stays transfixed as the plane stealthily approaches the stricken boat with its panicked occupants and just as the we the audience grip the corners of our seats as the Fishing boat is about to be made into two the plane lifts off, tickling the tops of the heads of the fishermen, who duly make a swift exit into the lake. You can watch the whole wondrous 55 seconds here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upPHSDqj5x0

7. Munich (2005)

Munich (Part 1) - YouTube

Changing tone completely now, we have one of Spielberg’s most controversial films, Munich. Starting with opening titles that tell us “the following is based on real events” we are greeted by a group of men trying to scale a fence outside the Munich Olympic village. They are given a helping hand by a group of unwitting American athletes, all the while John Williams, tense heart beat of a score pounds away in the background and Janusz Kaminski’s bleak cinematography creates an atmosphere of incredible unease. We are then thrown into the middle of the terrorism plot as we watch them change clothes, load up their weapons and move to their targets apartments. It is nerve shredding tension that never lets up in the two and half hour running time that is perhaps Spielberg’s best kept secret.

6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Fun with Franchises: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989 ...

Who doesn’t love a good origin story? Who loves them even more when they last no more than 10 minutes? Indiana Jones’s third adventure is just a fantastic film, it really is, it’s packed full of laughs, family bonding and adventure. None more so than this opening salvo that returns Indy to his childhood as a Boy Scout. The casting of Sean Connery is often talked about as a stroke of genius by Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas but do not underestimate the casting of the late River Phoenix as a younger version of Harrison Ford. His screen time may be very short but that introduction of the character, including the origins of his fear of snakes and the famous scar on his chin is beautifully put together.

I could have quite easily included all four Indiana Jones films opening scenes in this top 10 as they all start with a bang in one way or another, but I plumped for Last Crusade (and spoiler alert one other) because it gives Indy a little bit of backstory, and 10 minutes in we are already grinning from ear to ear.

5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan: 21 facts you didn't know? Mel Gibson was ...

I know what you are thinking, FIFTH???? Well, it’s only so low because strictly speaking it’s not the opening scene, which of course is the old man (who I won’t name in case hasn’t seen it yet) visiting the war cemetery.

Taking 25 days to shoot with over 1000 extras the Omaha Beach landing is the most visceral attack on the senses. With no accompanying score the audience are asked to dodge the bullets and mortars and they come whistling across the soundwaves as we catch glimpses of limbs being blown off, men being incinerated, men being mowed down by relentless machine guns. We want to look away, we want it to be over but we don’t.

Personally the for me, Spielberg’s greatest achievement with this scene is making the audience realise that these were not trained killers, they were ordinary men sent into an extraordinary/hellish world to try to defend their freedom. That first 25 minute is one hell of a History lesson and one that should never be dismissed as just entertainment.

4. Jaws (1975)

Top 10 Movie Opening Sequences | Some Films and Stuff

Dur-dum………Dur-dum……..Dur-dum. Ok if you’ve never seen Jaws, then why are you reading this blog? No only kidding, but if you’ve never seen Jaws you have been stood next to a body of water, where somebody, usually your dad has made the Dur-dum sound, and you know what that means, that your dad is implying there is a man eating shark in that water. It’s universal, it’s know globally, that’s the brilliance of it.

Now on the face of it, who wouldn’t take Chrissie up on her offer for a touch of skinny dipping, fortunately for Tom Cassidy, too many sherbet lemons meant that he missed out on a night time sea based frolic and Bruce therefore had to waltz in the waves with Chrissie alone, albeit a tad aggressively.

A lot of the success of Jaws was down to onset mechanical failures, proving once and for all that the things you can’t see are far scarier than those that you can, and this opening scene continues to terrify to this very day. A real stomper.

3. Bridge of Spies (2015)

Bridge of Spies Film Locations - [otsoNY.com]

I make no secret of my love of Bridge of Spies, I think it is a piece of immaculate film making that demonstrates that classical methods can still be effective. In an almost dialogue free game of cat and mouse the opening 10 minutes of Bridge of Spies, is a lesson in meticulousness and attention to detail that can be sadly lacking in the current age of quick cut superhero dominated cinema.

There is a quiet assurance on display here, a calmness to Mark Rylance that embodies his performance throughout. It’s one of Spielberg’s quieter opening scenes but it’s massively effective, who is the man? Why are they after him? It’s a quite wonderful opening to a wonderful film.

2. Minority Report (2002)

MINORITY REPORT (2002) - The Arrest of Howard Marks - YouTube

How do you explain a rather tricky concept to an audience without overdoing the exposition? Simple, show the entire process from start to finish in one nail biting, ass kicking 12 minute opening salvo. It worth pointing out that as slick as Spielberg is here, this is another Janusz Kaminski masterpiece. The saturated grey and blue tinge adds to the cold atmosphere of a man going through the personal turmoil of watching his life unravel as his adulterous wife is locked in the arms of her suave lover. Meanwhile, Det Anderson (Tom Cruise) pieces together the future crime, almost in balletic fashion as Schubert’s No8 Unfinished Symphony plays dauntingly over the action.

As the time ticks by we know already they are against the clock to prevent the crime, we are totally engaged from the get go. The arrival at the street the Mark’s live on a moment of pure beauty as the pre-crime officers descend on zip-wires onto the lush, green, parkland. The slight delay whilst Anderton confirms that Howard left the door open all add to the palatable tension.

It truly is a most wonderfully choreographed scene, it’s Spielberg at his most playful.

  1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Long-lost Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark footage found on ...

Quite possibly the greatest opening of any film, never mind a Spielberg film. It’s quite difficult to imagine now, but coming off the back of the disappointing 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark was considered a huge gamble by the studios involved. The Wonderkid had come unstuck with the commercial and critical failure of 1941. In order to start to rebuild his reputation, Spielberg has claimed that he has never been so prepared to make a film as he was for Raiders. Every scene had a storyboard, every minute detail was planned in advance, this film had to come in on budget and on schedule. He achieved both, with scene after scene of perfect action and adventure.

The opening scene has got everything, thrill, spills, gore even humour, note Indy’s face when he grabs the branch to prevent himself from falling into the Abyss, only for the branch to slightly give way, this was no superhero, this is was an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation etc.

If filmed today, this scene would have been edited within an inch of it’s life, imagine if you will Michael Bay shooting this opening scene, but thankfully Spielberg allows the scares and the claustrophobia to prevail, Douglas Slocombe’s cinematography and Norman Reynolds stunning production design instantly transports the audience into this hellish, booby trap ridden cavern.

Then the crowning glory, the rolling boulder, pure genius. The brilliance of Raiders is that as breathtakingly stunning this opening sequence is, it doesn’t peak here and keeps going for the next 100 or so minutes. The opening sequence isn’t even my favourite in the movie, I reserve that for the truck chase, but this is Spielberg at his most prepared, at his most free, at his most playful, he is here to entertain and boy does he ever. What a way to introduce you to one of Cinema’s most iconic heroes.


I dedicate this blog to commemorate the sad loss of Allen Daviau 14/6/42 – 15/4/20 – a true Spielberg legend in every way.

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 case of two dusty roads

In preparation for the (at time of writing) December 2020 release of Steven Spielberg’s 33rd feature as Director, West Side Story, I have decided to attempt to put some more Spielberg blogs together. I have previously written about how Spielberg’s films, themes and styles changed thorough each of the last 5 decades, you can read some of those here if you wish.

Interestingly enough, I thought one of the few advantages of quarantine would be I could watch more films and write more about them, this hasn’t been the case so far, as looking after easily bored kids take priority when I’m not doing my day job. I am however, the newly crowned house champion at Monopoly and Uno, although I’m trailing in last place in Twister due to being the most inflexible man on Earth.

Anyway onto the blogs, I like the idea of doing a series of Top 10 blogs based around Spielberg, so that is what I will be working on, however, to get me back into the swing of things, a more standard essay on Spielberg’s first two Cinematic films (in Europe at least) Duel and The Sugarland Express.

Both films are road movies, both feature scenes of desperation, one is a no-holds barred, seat of the edge thriller, the other, based on real events, is a story of divided families, mistrust, and a reckless pursuit of potentially unattainable goals.

If we take a look at Duel first, a battle of good against evil, a tale of triumph over considerable adversity, it is the story of man versus technical beast, as Dennis Weaver’s wimpish salesman, David Mann (that’s M.A.N.N) Duel’s the unstoppable, pollution spewing oil tanker, with it’s anonymous driver, culminating with one of them succumbing to a gear crunching, metal- scraping end. That is the simple premise and Duel, originally made and released in the US as a TV movie of the week, never needs to delve any deeper than that, just hold on and with a complete lack of pretension and pointless subplot, Duel just gets on with it. Imagine if you will the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a half hour short and you get the idea

The Sugarland Express on the other hand, allows almost begrudgingly a little bit of character introduction and development. We meet Lou Jean Poplin, an almost annoying Goldie Hawn, as she helps her very slappable husband Clovis, played with particular mardiness by the always watchable and sleaze inducing William Atherton, break out of a minimum security prison to go and reclaim their baby son who has been taken into foster care due to the inept couples various indiscretions. En route they steal a car from the fantastic Mr and Mrs Nocker and kidnap and hold hostage Police Officer Maxwell Slide. The problem with the Poplins, and this is one of Sugarland’s Achilles heals, is that they are very difficult to root for, they are not very nice people and watching it now we are on the side of the authorities.

What characterises both as Spielberg films is a sense of isolation, in Sugarland’s case from Officer Slide, here the latest incarnation of the normal everyday guy caught in extraordinary situations, a staple of Spielberg films that has continued through his entire back catalogue. Both Slide and Mann are caught in situations that neither prepared for and both to a certain extent, (especially Mann) are being toyed with by protagonists and in the case of the Slide in particular, are being used as a bargaining chip to greater goals.

Mann and Slide also share a redemptive journey, they both prove to themselves that they are more than the bookish worms that they start out at the start of the film, again another trait that graces Spielberg work for generations to come, such as Brody overcoming his fear of the water, or Dr Grant embracing his responsibility of surrogate parenting. Don’t forget both Brody and Grant could have left the impending chaos to the experts but choose not to.

Early on in Duel we eavesdrop on a phone call between Mann and his wife, who is haranguing him for not standing up for her whilst being harassed at a party the previous evening, asking Mann to be more manly. Note here how Spielberg point his camera slightly away from Mann whilst he is being berated. We are embarrassed for him, in the way when you can listen into an argument on a bus or a cafe, here Spielberg utilises his favourite shape to help hide the fact that we are listening in.

The Haunted Closet: Spielberg's Duel (1971) and The Incredible ...
We eavesdrop in the hope that he doesn’t notice

So the simple question I always ask myself when watching Duel is, why does he not just turn round? Why does he continue on this path into danger? I feel the answer lies in the fact that David Mann has never stood up to any challenge in his life, this is his chance to prove himself, pass this ridiculous test of manhood.

Likewise, there are a number of opportunities where Slide could have escaped his captives, but over time he starts to bond with them and almost develops a sentimental attachment to them, even though there were numerous occasion where as driver of the car he could have changed the course of the narrative.

From a direction point of view we have Spielberg desperately trying to showcase his abilities, Duel is insanely flashy movie, with Spielberg using every camera trick that he has in his arsenal, from close up tight shots of the petrified Mann to extravagant belong shots of Mann’s car screeching to a terrified stop as viewed from the under carriage of the trucks beast like belly.

Duel (1971)
The Long shot of isolation, a tale of man against beast

Likewise Sugarland contains a wondrous moment midway through when Spielberg produces a tracking shot through two moving vehicles including dialogue between both vehicles. Its a beautiful shot that once again showcases the young directors sheer dexterity with the camera.

Sugarland Express, The - Internet Movie Firearms Database - Guns ...
The dazzling 360 degree camera shot in Sugarland

What also dominates both films, and is in fact a rarely mentioned theme that runs through Spielbergs work in the 1970s in particular, is the Director’s almost disdain for the locals. In both Duel and Sugarland the general American public are almost looked down upon as redneck hicks, who have low IQs and are less that warm and welcoming to strangers. You can also throw in the local fishermen in Jaws and the white trash hill dwellers who Roy Neary of all people, looks down upon in Close Encounters.

Imgur: The magic of the Internet
Low IQ Locals in early Spieberg films

In one of Duel’s most captivating scenes, Mann is sat in cafe trying to figure out who the mysterious driver of the truck might be. In Mann’s head everyone is a suspect, he looks down on these people, he trusts no one, he has an air of superiority to him, he spells out RYE to the waitress in the cafe to ensure she gets his very simple lunch order correct. He ends up confronting a man simply because of the way he dresses.

In Sugarland, we have the previously mentioned Nockers who are easily hoodwinked by the Poplins, who are hardly the greatest of con artists. Add to this Buster Daniels the drunkard who Slide is taking home before he is accosted by the Poplins. What follows is a stream of incompetence from the strong arm of the law to local shopkeepers and townsfolk, who are never portrayed as being too high on the social scale.

The scoring of both films follows similar traits, with John Williams’s whimsical first Spielberg score captures the isolation and open highways in Sugarland perfectly, whereas Billy Goldenberg’s Hermann esq score perfectly adds to the tension and fear of Duel. Goldenberg’s score can be found in its glory on the following link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjEcmWvcmjY

All the Spielberg hallmarks are in both of these films as he hones his craft to enable him to move onto bigger things. What happened next propelled him almost by accident into the stratosphere, but what we witness in these two fraternal films, is a young Director packed full of self belief, something that almost 50 years later is still going strong.

Why we should all be eternally grateful that Spielberg made 1941

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A look at why Spielbergs most flawed film is one of his most important film  making experiences

There is a scene close to the start of 1941, where two young men are working in a restaurant kitchen. One is preparing the food on the grill, whilst the other is pot washing. They are both dancing to early rock n roll in preparation for the big Jitterbug contest that evening. As they dance, their work becomes increasingly erratic, the cook smashes eggs onto the grill, letting them cook with shell, the pancake batter gets sloshed onto the heat plate with reckless abandon and the pot washer sends ornaments crashing into the soapy water without a care in the world. If ever a scene could be used as an example of art imitating production, then this perfectly encapsulates the total chaos that is 1941.

Filming on 1941 started in October 1978. Spielberg coming off two of the biggest commercial and critical hits of the 1970s with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind made him one of the most bankable name in Cinema. Not since Alfred Hitchcock had a movie Director been on Cinema marquees. This was no matinee idol such as Robert Redford, or box office kings such as Burt Reynolds or Jack Nicholson, this was a movie nerd who knew that the record-breaking Jaws and the studio saving Close Encounters gave him pretty much free reign over budget, script, and cast. So when he announced to family and close friends that his next project was to be a comedy based on the Pearl Harbour attacks of 1941, more than a few eyebrows were raised. The material itself is not something that lies to comfortably with Spielberg, he never fully manages to get a handle on it, however, Spielberg’s bravado and self-confidence at this point knew no bounds. There didn’t appear to be anyone to say “no” to him.

The production itself went on for a staggering 257 days and it is reported that Spielberg shot over 1 million feet of film. Michael Kahn, who’s breathtaking work on Close Encounters will be revered for generatrions to come, struggles to weave the spaghetti like threads of plot together and on a film that is crying out for a steady hand on the Editing rudder this is a rare concept album curio performance from the usually dependable pairing of Kahn and Spielberg. Working on a script provided by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis (who Spielberg would go on to greater success with Back to the Future in 6 years time), the screenplay was packed full of zany characters, each one displaying a cacophonic paranoia that drowns out any semblance of a cohesive story.

It’s quite stunning that 1941 was nominated for Academy Awards, but the nomination for Best Sound is beyond ludicrous. The one thing that 1941 is, is very loud. The montage cast call at the start of the end credits seems to emphasise this as each character is introduced with them screaming at the camera, only Robert Stack and Lionel Stander, who looks baffled throughout, get away without the scream.

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The film opens with a completely misjudged homage to Jaws, with Susan Backlinie reprising her role as the doomed Chrissie Watkins, only instead of a Shark this time she gets caught on the periscope of a submerged Japanese submarine. This cheesy, self-referential nod to his previous work is something that has thankfully not found its way into Spielberg work since, (with the possible exception of the cringe-inducing pseudonym Steven Spielrock on the production credits for The Flintstones, where Spielberg acted as Executive Producer), Backlinie is not the only Jaws alumni to make an appearance with Murray Hamilton and Lorraine Gary making an appearance. Gary actually screams more into the camera in her 5 minutes of screen time here than in all 4 Jaws films put together. We then move to the previously mentioned dancing chefs, a scene that culminates in a fist fight in the restaurant that results in a soldier having his face plunged into a cream cake. We are then introduced to John Belushi’s drunk, loud American pilot who ultimately has to chase his plane off down the street firing his gun as he goes, and of course he’s shouting. This is all in the first 10 minutes and it is quite apt when Robert Stack, playing Major Stilwell first appears on screen and says, almost to the audience, “this is madness”. The film continues with one eardrum bursting setpiece after another, which more often not culminated in a character screaming wide-eyed into the lens. But, perhaps most criminal of all, it’s just not funny.

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So why do I think this is an important film making experience for Spielberg? The free reign and lack of planning that hampered 1941 were eternally banished, never again would Spielberg go into production so ill prepared. One of the rare criticism I have ever heard labeled at Raiders of the Lost Ark is that some of the action sequences are over choreographed. Well yes, they are and for good reason. Raiders was meticulously planned, with each frame storyboarded and prepared, every fake snake and desert rock had its particular place, each battle-scarred truck had the exact amount of scorch marks, each piece of dialogue had a purpose to the plot. Spielberg was going in prepared, well and truly with no pedestal to preach from, he had to get this film right, on schedule and on budget, the result was an incredibly slick film that rose above its dusty landscapes.

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Spielberg also realised his own limitations with comedic material and has stayed away from all-out, and in particular, slapstick comedy since. He came close in 2000 when he almost directed Meet the Parents, ultimately being persuaded against the idea by his wife Kate Capshaw. Spielberg films are packed with humour but it is never allowed to dominate or take over. Comedy, along with romance, shares a filing cabinet, labeled “only to be used in case of emergency” in Spielberg’s office.

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There are moments of flair in 1941, but they are often displayed with a spiraling dizzyness that the camera battles in vein to keep up with.
Take the Jitterbug sequence that descends into an all-out brawl. At the end of the sequence the main protagonists, Wally and the downright disgrace of a character that is Stretch lie unconscious through pain and exhaustion, similar to how the audience feels at this stage.

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However, lessons are clearly learned throughout. Here Spielberg, who let’s not forget has always wanted to make a musical, really throws caution to the wind with an energetic dance contest that lent more than a passing influence to West Side Story and the recent box office smash Grease. Until the chaos rains down on screen, you can see a keen eye for choreography, which was later displayed to a much greater extent but smaller scale in the “Anything Goes” prologue to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. In fact, the opening to Doom is an interesting comparison here. Once again we have a musical number that soon turns nasty as Indy crosses and double crosses in negotiations with the treacherous Lao Che. Here Spielberg manages to keep a tighter reign on the fisticuffs, carefully positioning the main protagonists. The utilisation of props to remove the attention away from the many kung-fu extras who have been brought in to swell the melee is expertly done, in particular, a giant gong doubles as a protective shield as Indy makes his escape through a nearby window. This blog was first written in March 2019, when the upcoming West Side Story was still in pre-production, I would like to think when we eventually see that film in December 2021 that it will be more Anything Goes than 1941.

There are moments where things work well in 1941. The scenes involving Robert Stack as Major Stilwell watching Dumbo in the cinema are very affecting, a nod to a rediscovery of childhood innocence, a quiet moment of respite, an escape from the horrors of the outside world, a safe, secure environment, as an audience member, there is a desire to pull down the seat next to Stilwell and sit and watch the rest of Dumbo with him. Spielberg’s more energetic films away from 1941 would often include such a scene, e.g. Quint and Hooper comparing scars on the Orca, or in Saving Private Ryan the squad sit in an abandoned church and tell stories of lost lifestyles back home, or Ray and Rachel share a lullaby in the cellar during a quieter moment in the terrifying War of the Worlds. The Major Stilwell/Dumbo scene was possibly a reminder to Spielberg moving forward that there needs to be a quiet time even in the most crash, boom, bang of films. You need to give the audience an opportunity to catch their breath.

Most importantly, perhaps, is what Spielberg learned as a result of 1941. He was not infallible, he couldn’t surround himself with “yes” men who would fail to have an opinion. He would know what it was like to not fully prepare beforehand and see the results as a consequence. He would know his limitations, and he would never again have a cast member scream into the camera.

For more reading on 1941 and all of Spielberg’s cinematic output please take a look at my 1970s blog.

Thanks for reading.

Dom

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

A long time ago in a little old cinema in Bolton

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Cannon Cinema Bolton, circa 1996

I believe I had been to the Cinema before, possibly to see some Disney re-issues such as Snow White and Bambi, I have a vague recollection of seeing the long since forgotten Disney “classic” The Spaceman and King Arthur in about 1980, but despite growing up to truly appreciate the majesty of Snow White and Bambi, as a 3-year-old, they didn’t at the time leave much of an impression. Fast forward 2 years and my life was to be changed, forever thanks to a trip to the building captured in the above photo (albeit the photo is taken many years later).

There were 2 Cinemas in Bolton back in the early 1980s, the aforementioned Canon Cinema and the imposingly impressive Odeon seen below,

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The Odeon Cinema in Bolton circa 1962 before scandalously being turned into a Bingo Hall in 1983

The Odeon shut down in 1983, and the building became a Bingo Hall later that year. I’m sure I went to the Odeon as a kid, maybe to watch Superman 2 and I remember thinking this was the Cinema to be at. Behind the doors of this strong, obstinate stone edifice, adventures and high thrills were turned from imagination to actual moving images on a screen so big it surely could be seen from some of these distant galaxies that I would be exploring inside the walls.

I started infant School, as a 4 year old, in January 1982, in those days they always had 2 intakes into the School year so as not to frighten the kids with Summer birthdays like me into having to deal with the politics that came with being in infant school when you had only just turned 4. I had settled in quite well and had made a good friend who I will refer to as Cozi. I seem to recall Cozi would often go on about a film called Star Wars and how it was an adventure set in Space and had lots of creatures in it including a giant walking bear. I probably was more concerned at the time with which disguise Mr. Benn would pick on his next trip to the costume shop near to his home on Festive Lane.

Then one day I remember my dad coming home from work and announcing that the Cinema in Bolton was showing both Star Wars and something called The Empire Strikes Back as a double bill (whatever that is) and that we were going to watch it. Ok, that sounds fun I thought and went straight back to wondering whether Mr. Benn would ever pick that Wizard costume that he was seen wearing on the opening titles.

I had almost forgotten about the trip until it actually happened, I don’t recall the journey to town, I couldn’t tell you whether it was by car or train, I couldn’t tell you what the weather was like, I can’t even recall what time of day it was, but I can tell you the disappointment I felt as we approached the Cannon Cinema and not the Odeon. The Odeon looked like it would protect you from a Nuclear Blast, it looked like the sort of place that will comfortably shield you from an apocalypse whilst you were in there. There were steps leading up to its front door for crying out loud, only important buildings had those. No, we were at the tiny Cannon cinema, that looked like a row of shops on a busy main road. So naff did it look from outside that next door to its left was a wig shop, its there on the photo above, with its blue parasol covering its window. Hmm, yes it was fair to say I was slightly underwhelmed. However this was all about to change, the lack of curb appeal was going to be instantly forgotten.

Next to the wig shop was a rectangular perspex picture frame jutting out from the wall. It had little fairy lights around its perimeter, it looked all sparkly and twinkly, my 4-year-old eyes were drawn to it like a homing beacon from a mothership sending me a signal. As I stole a glance at it, I noticed a picture, of an imposing, monstrous man in black armour with a red sword literally reaching out of the picture frame to me. Flanked on either side of him, was a collection of otherworldly characters, including what looked like the giant Bear that Cozi had been going on about. There seemed to be a lot of action going on here, people with laser guns, a man who looked like a gold robot, spaceships and in the middle of it all, large white writing of the words STAR WARS on the left and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on the right. I remember staring at this poster and my imagination ran wild, I can remember vividly taking a step back and turning my young head, skyward all the way to the top of this no longer, tiny looking building.

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Double bill poster similar to the one I remember from outside the Cannon Cinema in 1982.


Next to the poster was another silver frame with fairy lights around its edging. This one had the teasing words “Coming Soon” in gold lettering just above it. In this poster, less is given away as intriguingly there was a picture of a young boy’s arm reaching across a starry backdrop to touch fingers with a spindly, brown and bony finger, over two brilliant bright letters which simply read E.T.

So in we went. Into the foyer with its plush red carpets, that seemed strangely sticky, I remember having to queue whilst an usher checked tickets with my dad and then in front of them, there appeared to be a person selling sweets and OMG, Minstrels!!!!. Hey, this place is alright, they sold Minstrels. There was an odd smell in the air, one I’d never experienced before and in the corner, I could see a glass box with a bright light shining down into it. Within that box was a form of wizardry that I had never dared imagine. Hundreds of little yellow creatures were bouncing up and down at an incredible rate. It looked at first as if they were trying to escape their glass prison but on closer inspection, they appeared to be jumping on a giant trampoline.

It was at this point that the Cannon Cinema in Bolton revealed one of its wondrous, magical secrets. As stated earlier the non-descript, plain, almost boring front of the cinema, gave little to no indication of the magic that was on offer. The double bill was to be shown on Screen 2, the jewel in the Cannon Cinema’s darkened, velvet crown. To get to Screen 2 though was a journey in itself as the Cinema revealed it’s Tardis-like interior, with corridor after corridor, staircase after staircase, my four-year-old legs felt they had walked to this fabled Galaxy far far away. We had reached the bottom of the stairs that would turn out to be the final ascent.

The following 10 seconds were going to have a monumental effect on the rest of my life, I remember walking up the steps that opened out to what seemed like a landing with half a wall. On approach to this half wall I could peer over it, and there it was, bathed in warm red, a huge stage and a colossal red curtain, with furrowed pleats, being lit by uplighters that despite having the power of a 10 watt bulb managed to cast the right amount of light and shade to instantly set the heart racing. What was behind that curtain? Before this stage, but beyond this half wall there was row upon row of maroon seats all facing the red curtain, all bathed in this omnipresent red glow. As we reached the top of the stairs, my dad led us to the right and I saw that there was the same amount of seats again in the top half of this cavernous room. We headed up some more steps to the right of the main ones we had just come up and about 3 rows up found our seats.

The seats had to be pulled down to sit on, this was indeed very exciting. I did what all 4-year-old boys would do at this point and launched my bottom to the back of the seat forcing it to bow at its hinges forcing my knees up into the air, as I giddily swung back and forward, much to the chagrin no doubt of my parents and the other patrons in the row behind me. I remember seeing a short scorch mark in the armrest of the chair, probably from a cigarette from a previous showing, I glanced around and saw the dark walls capturing whatever glow they could from the red curtain, reaching into the heavens and then the ceiling filled with dozens of twinkly stars, which of course turned out to be fairy lights and not a privileged insight into the Universe that was about to start in about 10 minutes. The only other light in the room came from the soft glow green lettering of the EXIT signs at the front of the auditorium. I had been in this room for less than 2 minutes and I already wondered why anyone would want to EXIT.

Now bearing in mind this was double bill I was probably destined to sit here for the next 4/5 hours which for a 4-year-old is quite an ask, so I imagine that toilet breaks did occur, I’m sure there must have been some respite between the two films but I don’t remember that detail.

After a while, once everyone was settled into their seats, the lights started to dim, the room was already dark but now it was plunging us into a pitch black environment save for the red curtain and the green EXIT signs, it was the type of dark that when you look to the right to see your parents you can only make out the fact that they are there, but you can’t see them.

Then there was a sound I will never, ever forget. There was a whir and a distant squeak and right before my young impressionable eyes the giant red curtain started to part and the biggest TV screen I had ever laid eyes on was revealed. It was a brilliant white light that illuminated the room, I turned round to take in the whole room and saw that this brilliant light was coming in a straight line from a tiny square hole at the back of the room. Millions of tiny dust particles danced merrily in its beam as this powerful, Alien-type ray fired at the screen. Then the screen almost crackled into life with a large black circular cue mark firing into the top left-hand corner of the screen. I don’t recall exactly what happened next, but no doubt we were treated to 10 minutes of adverts for Butterkist Popcorn and a man riding a surfboard in order to sell us Old Spice aftershave.

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Old Spice…….for Old Men
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Butterkist, Butterkist Rah Rah Rah!!!!

There was possibly trailers but I don’t recall any, being 1982, there may have been one for that young boy who seemed to have a friend with a very bony, brown arm set against a backdrop of stars and forests. That be as it may, I do recall my mum nudging me to let me know that it was about to start. That briefest of moments of total silence as the adverts/trailers ends and the collective throng impatiently wonder, is this finally the film.

Now I don’t know if this is just me, and I sure as hell don’t wish to brag, but I have always had this uncanny ability to remember my thoughts and feelings on certain films from the first time I saw them, even if I have seen, as is the case with Star Wars, the same film hundreds of times since. I can remember even 35 years later my thoughts and imaginations of the first time I saw it. I remember clear as a bell the pale blue lettering that appeared on the black screen ” A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…..” and then……….. BANG!!!!!! As if every brass instrument in the known universe struck up in unison, I shot about 15 foot into the air as the Yellow Stenciled Star Wars logo flashed before my eyes for the very first time. For the second time in a little over 20 minutes, life changed forever.

Then followed the crawl that seemed to come from the basement and pass off into some unknown galactical heaven never to be returned. (I used to wonder as a child whether some random space probe, out for a probe, would wander past those words and nonchalantly nod and say good morning to them as they passed). I do remember my mum breaking every cinema code violation, but for good reason, by leaning over and reading the words of the crawl to me, I was only 4 so give me a break and besides what the hell was a custodian? I recall thinking that Princess Leia’s ship was called the Custodian for many a year.

Once the crawl had a bid a fond farewell to the audience, the camera scans down to reveal Tatooine in all its golden glory as John Williams swells to an imposing conclusion of his magnum opus theme tune. Then BOOM, the Tantive IV bursts across our screens, arriving without warning from behind our heads. Where are they heading? Are they being chased? Oh, you bet your ass they are being chased?

Of all the life-changing moments that I have described happening to me in this somewhat brief 20-25 minute window into my infant life, the next one is possibly the one moment in my life, if you take away all the truly important and memorable such as family, my wedding the birth of my children, that still fills me with a comforting warm glow that will stay with me forever. As the Tantive IV sets off on its doomed journey across our screen, it struck me, something was firing laser beams. If you remember earlier I talked about a square hole at the back of the room that was shooting this brilliant white beam across the auditorium, well from inside that square hole now emerged the most glorious of all sights. An Imperial Star Destroyer spread across the screen, like a giant mountain rising out of a darkened ocean. It was bigger than enormous, it was bigger than humongous, it was the size of heaven and it glided across the screen with such ominous grace that the whole cinema was caught in its tractor beam-like aura. When was it ever going to stop? Was it ever going to stop? I sure hoped not.

Now I don’t plan to go through the entire film scene by scene but as mentioned a moment earlier I will point out the distinct thoughts and feelings that I know I had when I watched Star Wars for the very first time. I remember being really nervous when Obi-Wan first scared off the Sand People as he seemed to be a Jawa and I wasn’t mad keen on them after what they had done to R2 and 3PO. I distinctly remember thinking that Dr. Evazan was going to be a nice guy the way he almost apologetically starts with “he doesn’t like you….”. I remember the whole cinema laughing when Han told Luke “that’s great kid, now don’t get cocky” and furthermore when he asked the Falcon “come on baby, hold together”. I remember feeling that Chewbacca (the big bear) was going to rip C3PO to shreds when R2 goes into a probably unassailable lead in a game of Dejarik. I remember being scared of the trash compactor monster when it popped its beady eye out from beneath the garbage for the briefest of cameos. I remember feeling sad when SPOILER ALERT Obi-Wan sacrificed himself against Vader, and strangely even sadder when SPOILER ALERT Biggs gets taken out by Vader whilst he was hanging back, just far enough, to cover Luke during their attack run on the Death Star.

What I remember the most however was a feeling of absolute euphoria as Han squealed YAHOO! as the Falcon blasts one of the two Tie-Fighters off Luke’s tale forcing the second Tie Fighter to knock Vader out of position leaving Luke all clear to blow that thing and go home. I remember distinctly Vader spinning out into Space and realising there and then that he wasn’t dead and would probably come back, that in itself was as enticing a prospect as a young usher stood at the front of the auditorium with her mobile ice cream stall suspended from her shoulders in preparation for the interval that was moments away.

Then Star Wars finished and I can only assume there was a period of say half an hour maybe between films. I do remember the ice cream seller and I do remember the similar, yet different yellow scrawl that started off the film. Here’s the thing, I was 4 and had already sat for 2 hours, was I going to make it through another 2+ hours. I still have memories of watching Empire on that occasion but they are not as vivid as Star Wars. Maybe I did fall asleep, which is unlikely, I was never a particularly good sleeper at the best of times and this was definitely the best of times. I put it down to familiarity. We were the last family on the street to own a video recorder and Star Wars was on the TV every year at Christmas, but not Empire, we had to wait until Christmas 1988 to see that one. We got a video player that year and I remember being incredibly frustrated that Empire was on ITV at the same time as BBC 1 were showing Back to the Future, you could only record one, and I was outvoted 4 to 1. Anyway, I digress.

So there was a 6-year gap between viewings of Empire Strikes Back which as a youngster obsessed with Star Wars was a lifetime. I recall the film being set on an ice planet but couldn’t tell you too much about that. I remember vividly the asteroid field I do remember being shocked that Yoda turned out to be well Yoda, I definitely remember the sequence in the cave where Luke battled Vader and Luke’s face appeared in the damaged Vader mask, probably down to the excellent design of that scene, there were times in the following years where I wondered whether I had dreamed that scene. I remember finding out that Darth Vader was bald, I remember Cloud City and meeting Lando, I remember Han being frozen in carbonite and the Luke versus Vader conflict, but in my head that all happened out on the platform where Vader cut off Luke’s hand and revealed the big twist that I shan’t spoil for anyone here who hasn’t seen the film yet.

When watching it again in 1988 I had no recollection of the space slug, the bounty hunters, the Ugnaughts or even that Obi-Wan was in the film.

The overriding memories of that day, however, were that I was sat in a truly magical place, a building so unassuming on the outside, but a purveyor of fascinating gifts on the inside. My love of Cinema was born that day and it has never left, I still get a tingle of excitement when I walk through the door into the room and see that giant screen in front of me. It is a privilege to live in a time when I am witness to such groundbreaking art that is designed primarily to entertain and make people happy. That trip to the cinema made me realise that whenever things are looking a little bit gloomy that the imaginations of the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg to name just two are an invitation to relax and be thrilled in the various wonders that they put on the screen for our pleasure.

Dom

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Postscript, – as is the way of things, both the Cinemas mentioned above have long since gone, the Odeon building, which has ceased to be a cinema in 1983 and turned into a Bingo Hall until 2004 was demolished in February 2007. The Cannon Cinema survived until 1998 with a special screening of Casablanca marking its last ever show. The building laid empty for years before being demolished in 2006 to be replaced by a block of flats called Picture House.

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