Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Home-Made Film Festivals (2): Overlooked Steven Speilberg

It may seem impossible, but the director who single-handedly invented the summer blockbuster has made a few movies many of us have overlooked--some would argue justifiably so; but they're worth a viewing, if only to compare them with his more visible efforts.



Empire of the Sun (1987)
Like The Color Purple (1985), maybe a little too pretty for its own good, but it's an interesting companion to Saving Private Ryan as it follows the often-surreal trials of Jim, (young Christian Bale in a remarkable feature-film debut), separated from his British parents when the Japanese invade Shanghai in 1941. In true Spielberg fashion, the transition from childhood to adolescence occurs in the midst of delirium--here, from prison-camp starvation to atomic blasts.

Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
A truly strange hybrid, A.I. is Golden Boy Spielberg's memorial to Ice King Stanley Kubrick. In the process he lets slip some of his more Kubrickian tendencies, particularly his cynical side. But this--like E.T. and Catch Me If You Can--is also another "little boy lost" movie, perhaps overlong by about thirty minutes, but determined to remain true to Stanley's sardonic scorn for humanity's inhumanity.

1941 (1979)
One of the last of the Young Turk self-indulgent megabudget flops, it bears repeated viewings if only to catch every well-timed slapstick disruption, jaw-dropping set-piece, and fearless camera swoop, not to mention all those SNL and Second City slickers. It's easy to think of Indiana Jones as you watch a Ferris Wheel plow its way along a pier and a U.S.O. dance become a jitterbug Armageddon, while a Japanese sub noses along the coastline, its crew--perhaps with the audience--mourning the loss of "Hollywoooood!"

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