In a Galaxy Far Far Away – The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi has been out for a few weeks, so hopefully there aren’t too many spoilers here, but just in case you haven’t seen it yet, be prepared for spoilers.

OK, so unlike other entries in this series, this one picks up RIGHT where the previous entry ends, so let’s just jump right in here.

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Episode Number: 8 — Released: 2017 — Production Number 9

The New Order Strikes Back

People were so worried that this would be a rehash of Empire, but it’s nice to see them going a different route in a Post-Rogue One universe. Though I do like the subtle rhyming elements that DO call back to Empire.

We’ve got Rey seeking training from a great Jedi Master who isn’t what she expected. We’ve got Yoda! We’ve got a mysterious dark tree that contains secrets relating to the Force (I wonder if it’s the same sort of tree that Luke went into on Dagobah). We’ve got a scoundrel who ends up betraying them, though Lando is WAAAAY cooler than DJ and gets a redemption arc. We’ve got the debut of a new type of freaking huge Star Destroyer a la the Executor from Empire. We’ve got a huge confrontation in which the parentage of the main character is revealed, though it is the opposite of Luke’s earth-shattering revelation.

But this isn’t an Empire rehash. The trilogies are all supposed to rhyme, but this one goes in new directions not just in terms of story twists, but in terms of its entire mythology. While the Prequels felt like a Greek tragedy and the Original Trilogy felt like a Greek myth in terms of their scope and their heightened reality, this new trilogy feels more like a Shakespearean history, presenting a vast scope while remaining intimately connected with the personal journeys of its characters. It feels a lot more visceral and less concerned with Fate or Destiny with capital letters. The Force Awakens was literally about the end of a perfect fairy tale existence, and The Last Jedi is about a frantic dash for survival in a purely Darwinian fashion.

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There are no grand plans at play. Our heroes escape with barely anything left, suffering huge losses over the course of the film, and there’s no rosy horizon. In fact the very end suggests that, though everyone will probably die, there are Force-sensitive folks out there in the galaxy as well as tons of heroes who will still fight for what’s right. It’s not the Jedi’s job to persist. The galaxy can survive without them.

And I think that’s my favorite thing about this. Its about people, not the destiny of one super powerful family.

I am Snoke, the Darkside Master

I love that Snoke was a red herring. I feel like who he is and where he came from is still important, but it doesn’t matter who he is because Ben Solo’s fall was the result of Luke losing faith for a terrible instant and Ben listening to the first dark side user who decided to use him to further his own goals. We KNOW there are dark side users out there in the galaxy who aren’t Sith. It’s obvious that one would sense Ben’s power and swoop in as soon as possible, dazzle him with visions of him as a dark side successor to Darth Vader and even create a troop of followers named after him. The Knights of Ren didn’t appear in this movie, but they don’t have to. They were bait that drew Ben Solo to the dark side (or at least 80% of the way there because he’s still very conflicted). It doesn’t matter who they are.

Ultimately, the whole dynamic of the apprentice turning against the master to grow more powerful is a Dark Side trope Snoke should have seen coming (though he’s probably not a Sith, so maybe he was clueless). We needed Kylo Ren to overthrow Snoke earlier than Episode 9 because we need to see what would have happened had Vader succeeded in overthrowing Palpatine before episode 6. Luke redeemed Anakin in his final moments and he gave his life to save the galaxy. But in this trilogy, there are no prophecies or destinies. Kylo Ren is conflicted in a human way, and he makes the right choice as Vader did…but then his self doubt and insecurity take over and he doesn’t want to step outside his comfort zone, so he turns to Rey and asks her to join him, choosing the security of power (that isn’t really security at all) over the light that he needs to balance himself out.

Kind of a Strange Old Hermit

Luke’s journey in this one is AMAZING. Going back to A New Hope, we see an Obi-Wan who’s completely at peace with his life. He’s made HORRIBLE mistakes, and he’s been involved in terrible situations, but he’s worked through it all, and he’s ready to face the end of his life with a serene acceptance. Luke in The Last Jedi has no such serenity. He ran from his problems, but instead of working through them, he’s hid from them so that when Rey forces him to deal with it, the emotional trauma of his own catastrophic failure is too much.

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Luke does finally find that peace and acceptance once he tells Ben that he failed him, but his journey to that incredible apotheosis is a jagged very human one. Luke is not the wise old wizard who has all the answers, he’s a man who made a mistake and who is paralyzed with fear and regret. His ultimate end is so incredibly powerful because it’s one of relief. He stretches himself to his absolute limits to save his sister, and in so doing is able to finally find the sort of peace that is necessary for him to become one with the Force. I know we’ll see him again as a force ghost (because it’s just really important) but his arc in this one is so well done, I’ll be super mad if he’s not at least considered for an Oscar. That performance was stunning.

This only goes to show what little people can do

I really liked how, following Rogue One’s incredibleness, this film really played up the Normal People Being Heroes aspect of the whole thing. The bomber gal who gives her life at the beginning, Rose (who doesn’t feel like she’s a “hero” but ends up nearly sacrificing herself to save everyone), and the little boy at the end (when he grabbed that broom with the Force, I just about squealed in delight out loud and made everyone around me hate me) were essential parts of this movie, showing that Rey isn’t the One who can save them all. It’s the actions of lots of people who will save them.

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Admiral Holdo’s INCREDIBLE final moment is just as heroic as Vader’s final moment. Rose’s standing up to Finn is just as important as Leia standing up to Han. I liked how Rose and Finn’s mission was a failure. They trust the wrong person and get captured and nearly executed. Sometimes plans fail. Finn then learns not to be selfish and nearly sacrifices himself to save everyone before being stopped by Rose who sees his potential.

Rey does help save everyone, but it’s not a deus ex machina. Luke distracts Kylo, Leia’s leadership keeps everyone alive, and Rey allows them to escape. They’re ALL heroes. And they’re all flawed humans. It’s perfect.

Burning bridges (and trees)

Star Wars is all about its iconic imagery, and The Force Awakens was, too. It was a study in nostalgia. The Millennium Falcon got a big crowd-pleasing reveal, Han and Chewie did, too. Darth Vader’s helmet was sitting on a pedestal. Luke’s first lightsaber was discovered in a chest, surrounded by ominous voices and a flash of the past. The iconic stormtrooper armor was immortalized in Captain Phasma’s silver variant. The whole movie was about familiar icons.

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This movie is about reducing those icons to their utilitarian reality. Luke tosses his lightsaber over a cliff. The Millennium Falcon is just a ship. Luke’s X-wing was sunk into the ocean. Kylo Ren’s Darth Vader-esque helmet is smashed. Phasma’s armor is broken. The pedestals all come crashing down, taking the beloved icons with them, and the series is making it clear that the past needs to be learned from and then allowed to drift back into the past. Yoda even burns the tree so Luke can see how little those symbols of the past matter. Yoda knows what’s up. Holding on to past and tradition and icons is what allows dark side users to periodically rise and wreak havoc (it’s literally been going on for thousands of years). But by attaching more importance on personal growth and strength and an intuitive and more all-encompassing view of the Force (which Qui-Gon Jinn followed, making him something of an outlier), the whole concept of dark forever in competition with light can be replaced by a more balanced grey approach that matches the reality of nature. Luke has yet to tell Rey this, but she seems perfectly placed to take up the grey Jedi mantle down the road.

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I hope we get a Force Ghost Luke in the third movie…

Conclusions

There have been lots of reviews about this movie, and there are tons of comments on Facebook from fans complaining that this movie has ruined everything they’ve loved about the whole franchise, but, respectfully, they missed the point of the movie. It’s not about flashy lightsaber battles, it’s about people wrestling with real conflicts, and I really enjoyed it.

I feel like the character arcs will make a lot more sense once we get to the third movie and the whole journey will conclude and it will be mind-blowing. I just hope we get actual closure. i don’t even really want a huge superweapon to be destroyed. I want Return of the Jedi where the amazing battle is mostly psychological (the scene with Luke, Vader, and the Emperor is the greatest moment in the entire franchise) and we get closure for all the characters…and hopefully done in such a way that Kylo Ren doesn’t die…though I feel like that’s a tragic inevitability…

And now we wait for two LOOOONG years before episode 9! Eeee!

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Spielberg By Numbers – The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Moar dinosaurs!

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

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The Plot: (Based on Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park) John Hammond sends Ian Malcolm to Jurassic Park’s Site B to observe wild dinosaurs in their natural habitat and to find Dr. Sarah Harding, Malcolm’s girlfriend who volunteered to leave early. But Hammond’s nephew, eager to recoup losses, sends a team to Site B to capture dinosaurs for a planned San Diego dinosaur attraction.

Seen It Before?: Yeah. It scared the crap out of me when I saw it in the theater, but oddly enough it didn’t give me nightmares the way the first one did (even though I loved the first one obsessively)

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Writing (5): The script for this one feels very muddy. The second book is much longer than the first and has a huge cast of characters. In the process of trimming it down and combining multiple characters into single ones, the script ends up feeling very uneven. Whole sequences are devoted to random characters dying, and we have no connection to them.

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The script is well-paced, but it’s so all over the place, mashing tonally different pieces together haphazardly, that it just doesn’t flow as effortlessly as the first film did.

Acting (7): Ian Malcolm feels like a completely different character in this one from the first film. Jeff Goldblum does his best to throw in as much sass as he can, but other than that, he’s just not very consistent. That is most likely an issue with the writing, but Ian just doesn’t work in this one.

The rest of the cast is alright, but aside from Pete Postlethwaite (whom I love) everyone just feels like they’re going through the motions to get to the end. I don’t really connect with anyone.

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Visual Style (8): The dinosaur effects are top notch, combining elaborate puppet effects with pretty good CGI (not as good as the first one, but still nicely done). And I love the darker atmosphere. That is one element from the book that I’m glad translated to the screen. The book has a grimier feel than the first one, and the film’s King Kong-esque visual style fits very well.

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Regardless of this film’s thematic issues, you can’t argue that it looks great.

Music (8): I love John Williams’ King-Kong-esque score. The drum-heavy main theme conveys a sense of adventure and action rather than the graceful sweep of the first theme. It’s a fun score that elevates a so-so movie into an entertaining popcorn flick.

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Genre (5): Whereas the first film was a techno thriller/cautionary tale in the lineage of such classic stories as Frankenstein and The Island of Doctor Moreau, this one is very much a monster movie in the vein of King Kong. It’s bigger on thrills and not as concerned with the themes of tackling established dogma in view of new evidence in the scientific community that the novel tackles.

In terms of thrills, the film delivers really well. I love the trailer-over-the-cliff scene. It’s goofy, but it’s well-edited and genuinely fun. The scene with Sarah on the cracking glass is seriously iconic.

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This is a lot more of a horror film than the first one, but the scares don’t add much to the story except to make you root for the dinosaurs rather than the moronic human characters .

And then we get the goofy Godzilla parody moment where the T-Rex rampages through San Diego, and you’re left wondering what you’re watching. It’s a hilarious scene, but it’s a really dumb climax to the more terrifying atmospheric monster film the beginning set itself up to be.

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Overall Thoughts: An entertaining monster flick that doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

Total Score: 33/50

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. E.T. (45)
  3. Jurassic Park (44)
  4. The Color Purple (44)
  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  7. Jaws (42)
  8. Empire of the Sun (42)
  9. Hook (39)
  10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  11. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  12. The Sugarland Express (35)
  13. Always (34)
  14. The Lost World: Jurassic Park (33)
  15. 1941 (27)

Next week, we’ll be going back into heart-wrenching historical drama territory.

Spielberg By Numbers – Schindler’s List

*wipes sweat off brow* Alright, let’s do this.

Schindler’s List (1993)

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The Plot: (Based off the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally which was based on historical events) The true story of German Oskar Schindler who saved over a thousand Polish Jews during the Holocaust.

Seen It Before?: I heard it was traumatizing, so I’ve avoided it…until now…and yes it is traumatizing.

Writing (10): Not only does the dialogue feel very true to life, avoiding a lot of the grandiose language that is usually found in historical epics like this, but the plot moves at a reasonable pace, and the changes the characters experience feel very real and logical.

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I also like how the script embraces the complexities and layers of history, giving as detailed a view of this period as it’s able without sensationalizing anything.  It moves from the big-picture view of the Jews in general undergoing an increasing loss of rights and then humanity as they’re sent into worse and worse situations, but then it also carries the threads of Oskar’s and Amon’s and Itzhak’s lives through the years, setting them up as counterpoints to the big changes sweeping through Poland.

It’s just one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever experienced.

Acting (10): The cast is mind-blowing. Liam Neeson portrays his character’s selfishness and complexity beautifully. I love how he’s never portrayed as a hero until he hears that other people see him as a hero near the end. He’s one who uses people to build up his fortune, and since he knows how business and politics works, he’s able to manipulate the situation to actually save lives once he comes to realize the tragedy of what was happening.

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Also, major kudos to Ralph Fiennes for giving an absolutely evil character enough depth to make him endlessly compelling. He’s one of my favorite actors, and though it’s hard to like his character in this one, he makes Amon more than just a flat sadistic villain. He’s not likable by any means, but his character feels real enough to be genuinely terrifying. He’s not a film villain. He’s a historical villain who actually hurt people.

Ben Kingsley’s character, Itzhak Stern, also offers an incredible arc. For most of the film, he’s the true hero, creating the reputation that draws people to Oskar and ultimately causes Oskar to change his priorities. His arc is so powerful, and I think it adds a human component to the story that ties things together in the beginning before we get Oskar’s change of heart.

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Visual Style (10): I LOOOOOVE the way this movie looks. It’s not just shot in grayscale, it has that 1940’s elegance in the party scenes that feels sleek and well-oiled, but then in the brutal war scenes, we get that gritty quality that exemplified so many of the greatest war films of the 40’s and 50’s. It’s utterly harrowing.

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Plus, the use of the girl with the red coat to signify the moment when Oskar realizes what is happening is wonderful. It’s not overdone, and it’s very subtle.

Plus, the black and white filmstock helps to highlight the shocking nature of the graphic violence. It looks so much like an actual 1940’s film that you’re not expecting to see that kind of brutality in a film from that era, so it stands out, more.

It’s just an incredible film all around. The visuals are so much a part of the story that they don’t feel like a gimmick at all.

Music (10): John Williams’ main theme, played on the violin by Itzhak Perlman, is GORGEOUS. It’s haunting and timeless, and one of my favorite Williams themes. Simone Pedroni recently released an album of piano transcriptions of a number of Williams’ compositions and his version of the Schindler’s List theme is my favorite of the bunch.

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Plus, I love how incidental music is used. The period-specific vocals add a lot to create not only atmosphere, but an image of the world the Jewish people were getting pulled farther and farther away from.

I know John Williams initially was worried he wouldn’t be able to do the subject matter justice, but he did a BEAUTIFUL job. He absolutely deserved the Oscar he won for this one.

Genre (10): This film felt very cohesive. It blends the 1940’s glamour with the gritty realism of life in Nazi-occupied Poland, and also balances the brutality of Amon Göth with the optimism that keeps characters like Itzhak Stern from going completely nuts. The decision to shoot it more like a documentary than narrative film allows all the different elements to blend together well in a realistic fashion.

Overall Thoughts: This movie is absolutely beautiful, completely traumatizing, and absolutely essential viewing for every human.

Score: A perfect 50/50. It deserves nothing less.

Rank

  1. Schindler’s List (50)
  2. E.T. (45)
  3. Jurassic Park (44)
  4. The Color Purple (44)
  5. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  6. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  7. Jaws (42)
  8. Empire of the Sun (42)
  9. Hook (39)
  10. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  11. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  12. The Sugarland Express (35)
  13. Always (34)
  14. 1941 (27)

Next week, we unwind with more dinosaurs!

Spielberg By Numbers – Jurassic Park

Best Movie Ever.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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The Plot: (Based on the novel by Michael Crichton) A wealthy businessman resurrects dinosaurs. Havoc happens.

Seen It Before?: A million billion times.

Writing (8): This is one of the most perfectly paced movies ever. The script moves at a perfect pace, juggles all the characters equally, and gives everyone ample time to shine. The original novel is my favorite book of all time, but one of its main issues is that the breakneck pace of the plot often happens without the characters who are a bit flat (not that you care because the story is so arresting).

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The film version gives every character depth, even Genarro, the lawyer, who is the second person to die on screen. He’s got a great arc from skepticism to fanatic devotion to Hammond. The only character I don’t feel gets the same oomph is Dr. Wu, who’s pretty amazing in the book (although he dies rather gruesomely at the end while in the movie, he survives so he can come back in Jurassic World).

But in terms of writing, the film works like well-oiled clockwork. It juggles all the different tonal moments perfectly, and you never find yourself getting bored.

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Compared to other Spielberg films, I don’t think this one is as inspiring, but it’s no less entertaining.

I also really like how it uses the animated sequence to lead the audience through one of Michael Crichton’s amazing infodumps (I’ve never read an author who is as good at pelting the reader with vast amounts of educational data while still making it completely intriguing.

Acting (8): The standouts are Laura Dern, Sam Neil, and Jeff Goldblum. I like the kids, too, but the main trio of scientists will never not be amazing. Ellie Satler is strong, and her romantic relationship with Alan Grant is so far in the background that she’s never reduced to “the chick.” She feels so genuine and realistic, and she’s allowed to be a person.

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Grant has a great arc in that he learns that he actually likes kids, which is amazing because it’s usually the gal who gets to be the emotional parental figure, but Ellie’s too busy saving everyone. I just love it. This is the most feminist movie ever.

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And Ian Malcolm is weird and wonderful. I love how he doesn’t really add anything to the story (except for arguing against what Hammond was doing and helping Ellie find the breaker box) except to be the man candy. For most of the movie, he’s just draped sexily across a table like a Bond Girl, and I’m just OK with that.

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The rest of the cast does pretty good, but those three take the cake.

Visual Style (10): These dinosaurs STILL hold up today. That just blows my mind. Watching Hook before this, I noticed that some of the effects haven’t held up (especially Tinkerbell), but with this one, the blend of CGI and animatronic puppetry is just perfect. I also like how it blends the sleek awesomeness of the labs and the more technical scenes with the rich storybook quality of the jungle.

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This movie still looks amazing. There are movies that came out a decade later that haven’t aged as well as this one. Industrial Light and Magic really blew this project out of the water.

Music (9): This features my favorite John Williams main theme ever, so I’m a bit biased, but I love the hints that the score in general gives to the old school monster movies. The main theme has a wonderful 1950’s esque sweep to it, but then when things get more enclosed and tense, the score follows while still maintaining an overall continuity.

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I also think the score is part of the glue that holds the different thematic elements together so well. It’s just marvelous.

Genre (9): Techno thrillers are awesome, but because we get enough soaring optimism and comedy, the film isn’t heavy and oppressively scary. Thinking of a film like Jaws, it’s obvious why that one is often thought of as a horror movie, but this one is very much more of a fun movie. We care about everyone and we want them to survive. We’re not REALLY worried that our heroes are going to die, we’re just eager to see how they escape.

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The more comedic moments still hold up without descending into the syrupy silliness we’ve seen elsewhere.

This movie gave me nightmares for years when I first saw it as a kid, but I continued to love both this movie and paleontology in general, so it obviously succeeded in what it was going for.

Overall Thoughts: A crazy fun movie that is the quintessential popcorn movie. It’s held up beautifully, and I think modern movies could learn a lot from this one.

Score: 44/50

Rank

  1. E.T. (45)
  2. Jurassic Park (44)
  3. The Color Purple (44)
  4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  5. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  6. Jaws (42)
  7. Empire of the Sun (42)
  8. Hook (39)
  9. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  10. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  11. The Sugarland Express (35)
  12. Always (34)
  13. 1941 (27)

Next week, things gets serious!

Spielberg By Numbers – Hook

What if Peter Pan grew up?

Hook (1991)

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The Plot: A grown-up Peter Pan has to return to Neverland to save his children from a vengeful Captain Hook.

Seen It Before?: Yep! I don’t remember it being nearly three hours, though. Goodness…

Writing (7): When it’s good, it’s great, but the script is a bit over-stuffed. The dialogue is fun and filled with lots of snappy exchanges (especially between Hook and Smee), and I think the characters are mostly very well written.

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Peter’s kids are more uneven. Jack is such a realistic kid, and he’s got some great relateable moments, but Maggie is written as much more of an ethereal storybook character whose dialogue is a lot more contrived, and it creates an uneven quality to the story where the male characters are dynamic and interesting and the women (especially Maggie and Moira) come across as flowy spaced-out angels. Wendy is the same kind of character, but Maggie Smith infuses the character with a cheeky playfulness that keeps her from becoming furniture. I get that this was done intentionally (the “Mother” in Barrie’s original story is a sort of idealized archetype, and it’s obvious Maggie is going to grow up into this same sort of idealized Mother someday) but it keeps the writing from clicking together completely.

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I’m also not a fan of Tinkerbell at all. Her character’s motivations seem very out of place and I think the whole subplot where Tink has feelings for Peter and becomes full-sized so she can make out with him, even though he’s married just doesn’t work. I know it has roots in the original story, but it feels like too much of a tangent.

One issue I do have is that there are a number of unanswered questions in terms of the world-building. Hook, before he appears, has a supernatural quality that’s never explained. The ominous green light and the magical whisking away of the kid’s bedding makes it seem like Hook is using some kind of magic to catch them, which is visually really cool, but doesn’t make a lot of sense. Hook is a man. He’s not a glowing supernatural boogieman with telekinetic powers.

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Acting (8): Robin Williams is marvelous, especially as he moves from imposing and tightly-wound to gleeful and casual. He starts out as the movie’s villain, and then once he gets to Neverland, we want him to become the hero. It’s a great arc and Williams pulls it off marvelously.

Also, major kudos to Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook, my favorite character in the movie. He’s comedic, dangerous, likable, and immediately iconic. Hoffman did such a marvelous job creating this character that it’s hard to imagine that it’s even Dustin Hoffman at all. I’m a huge fan of Bob Hoskins’ Mr. Smee, as well. He and Hook have a great comedic chemistry on screen, and they feel like two old friends who have known each other for literal decades.

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The kids tend to veer into overly cheesy land, but I guess it works.

Also, Maggie Smith, as always, is perfect.

Visual Style (9): I really love the way this film looks. The scenes at the beginning are sterile and flat and colorless, and then once they move to Wendy’s house and then Neverland, the rich colors really stand out.

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Neverland has the look of turn-of-the-century oil and watercolor illustrations. Spielberg did his homework and really made sure to give Peter Pan’s wide library of iconography an integral part in the film’s visual design. The hook, the treehouse, the pirate ship, the shape of Neverland, the mermaids, the Lost Boys, the kiss, the shadow, clocks, Peter’s heroic pose, Captain Hook’s red coat, they’re all there, and you get a little giddy every time they show up.

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Everything has the tactile quality of a thickly-layered oil painting. It’s a kid’s world where everything is gooey and dusty and shiny and you just want to mash your hands into this world and just touch everything. The heightened cartoonish reality not only appeals to kids, but it makes you wish you were a kid, so you could follow Peter’s path and leave adulthood behind and just get into a food fight and run through the trees.

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Music (8): The score meanders a bit, but when it hits a thematic statement, it’s great. I love Peter’s flying theme and the catchy march that introduces Hook. I also love the use of the ominous choir that is used to show the distant memories that are sparking deep in Peter’s head when he’s trying to remember his past but can’t.

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I feel like this movie should have been a musical. I know Spielberg has always wanted to do a musical. We get the song at the play and Maggie singing the lullaby later on, and a few moments where the pirates and the Lost Boys singing or chanting, but I feel like the strength of the main themes would have been better served as a musical film. This is probably the most musical of any of Spielberg’s films, but I just feel like the music is a bit wasted. It could have been given a lot more prominence, in my opinion.

Genre (7): I think this is probably the reason why this film didn’t do well with audiences originally. It’s difficult to pick out who the audience is. The first part, up until the kids are kidnapped, is very much aimed at adults with the protagonist being a father who is losing himself to his work. I love the moment when Moira explains to him that he’s missing out. And then we get the dark fairy tale quality of the kid’s abduction, which is great even if it doesn’t make sense.

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But then when he gets to Neverland, it becomes a kids movie, culminating in literal Looney Tunes-esque fight scenes wherein a kid folds himself into a boulder and bowls pirates over en masse.

I’ve also mentioned that it edges into musical territory but doesn’t fully commit.

Add to that the nearly three hour run-time and you’ve got a fun swashbuckler that tries to keep the attention of both adults and kids and doesn’t quiiiiite manage to keep a smooth coherent genre.

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Overall Thoughts: A fun, beautiful movie that should have been a musical and that doesn’t quite know what its audience is.

Score: 39/50

Rank

  1. E.T. (45)
  2. The Color Purple (44)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  4. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  5. Jaws (42)
  6. Empire of the Sun (42)
  7. Hook (39)
  8. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  9. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  10. The Sugarland Express (35)
  11. Always (34)
  12. 1941 (27)

Next week, we’re looking at my favorite movie of all time, and I promise to be fair…but it’s really the best movie ever.

Spielberg By Numbers – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Welcome back! It’s Indy time, again!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

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The Plot: (A sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark) Indy goes on a quest to find his dad, punch Nazis, and discover the Holy Grail.

Seen it Before?: Boatloads of times!

Writing (8): This one is a great synthesis of the seriousness of Raiders and the witty banter of Temple. The comedy and adventure elements blend together beautifully. The script is balanced, well-paced, and a lot of fun. And the dialogue has a witty punch to it that is just delightful. The whole thing feels very immediate and forward-moving.

I love how the Dad/Son subplot is woven into the overall adventure plot without it seeming tacked on, cheesy, or overly sentimental.

Also, I’m a fan of how Elsa is written. She’s a villain, but she’s not 100% on board with what the Nazi’s are doing, and, in another life, would have joined up with Indy to fight them. She’s still a villain and too in love with “fortune and glory” but she’s not one-dimensional, so she’s much more interesting than if she had just been the “treacherous Bond girl” type.

My only issue is the prologue sequence. I have nothing against it and I really love it, but it’s an elaborate set piece so we can get one brief shot with Henry and Indy so we get a sense of how their relationship was when he was growing up. But the rest of it has no bearing on the plot except to present an explanation for Indy’s fear of snakes in Raiders and the scar on his chin. It’s nice fan-service, but it doesn’t contribute much. But I do understand that these movies have to start with an action sequence.

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Also, this is totally unnecessary, but I read somewhere that the hot adventurer guy who gives Young Indy his hat is Abner Ravenwood, Indy’s mentor and Marion’s dad. Now, I don’t think this is official, but it was an abandoned plot point, so maaaaybe it’s official???

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Acting (8): Sean Connery and Harrison Ford have such amazing on screen chemistry. You can ACTUALLY believe that they’re related. Their dynamic is beautifully portrayed and I think it’s what elevates this movie as high as it is. I just love every single scene where they’re together.

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I love Julian Glover, but I feel like Donovan comes across as a bit stiff. When we first meet him, he’s got a charm that I really like, but once he reveals himself as the villain, he loses a lot of that charm, and I think it hurts the character. He becomes a cardboard cutout. I wish we’d gotten a bit more humanity. He thought he was the hero of his own personal story, but doesn’t even see how Elsa loses faith in him and ultimately kills him. I think we could have gotten more depth from him.

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Alison Doody is great. I think Elsa is one of her best roles. I liked her in A View to a Kill as well, but she isn’t given as much to do in that one except exist in the background. In this one, she’s a complex character with conflicting motivations that ultimately loses herself to foolishness and greed, which I think is a great arc for her.

The rest of the actors are alright, but they’re not really able to compete with the main duo of Indy and Henry who unequivocally steal the show.

Visual Style (7): This one has a very 1930’s adventure film softness to it that I love. It doesn’t have the lurid colors of Temple or the high contrast of light and shadow of Raiders, which gives it a subtle washed-out vintage look that I like. I don’t think this one has as many iconic stand out visual moments like the boulder dash in Raiders or the heart-ripping scene in Temple, but it holds its own pretty well. It’s not a huge moment in the film, but I love the dirigible sequence (or is it a zeppelin?). The floating thingy. You know what I mean.

I do love the whole sequence right at the end, with the Crusade knight washed out in cold light and the multiple cups warmly lit by torchfire. It’s a pretty set and I think serves as the backdrop to a lot of the film’s most enduring images.

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Music (10): I LOOOVE this score. After the ominous-but-generic score for Temple, John Williams really steps up his game and delivers a multi-layered musical backdrop that really ramps up both the action and the spirit of fun and adventure that this film exemplifies so well.

“Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra” is legitimately one of my favorite John Williams pieces ever. If I were to create a John Williams Symphony that showed off his entire career, It would include this piece as the third movement. I love it so much. It’s clever, fun, and really shows off what Williams can do with an orchestra when he’s scoring an action scene while still making sure that you’re paying attention to what he’s saying.

I also love the various lietmotifs that come into play like the hymn-like grail theme, the bombastic Nazi cue, and of course Indy’s theme which isn’t used as liberally as it was in Temple, but when it’s used, it’s very deliberate. I also love the slower variations of the theme that underscore moments when Indy makes a heroic decision. It’s just perfect John Williams in every way, and I love that Spielberg is a director that allows the orchestra to be a character in the film.

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Other directors don’t do this. You can see this in The Force Awakens. While Lucas allowed Williams to be a part of Star Wars’ iconography, J.J. Abrams is too obsessed with slick, fast visuals to give the music room to breathe life into a scene. But Crusade is one of those perfect blendings of music and action that we don’t see very often. I love it.

Genre (10): While Raiders is my favorite Indy film, I think this one has the most consistent tone of all of them. It lightens up the darks, and softens the goofy to find a nice sweet middle ground of adventure/comedy that is pitch perfect. Now, while that makes it a bit less bold than Raiders, it also makes it less prone to the wild shifts in tone that we saw in Temple. So, in terms of genre, it’s pretty spot on in terms of consistency and style.

Overall Thoughts: A super fun film that is much more family-friendly than the first two in the series that is elevated by it’s amazing score and the dynamics of its two lead actors.

Score: 43/50

Rank

  1. E.T. (45)
  2. The Color Purple (44)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  4. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (43)
  5. Jaws (42)
  6. Empire of the Sun (42)
  7. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  8. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  9. The Sugarland Express (35)
  10. Always (34)
  11. 1941 (27)

Next week, we’re going to visit Neverland!

Spielberg By Numbers – Always

Welcome back! This week is a film that made critics mad and audiences go “meh,” but let’s see what the numbers say!

Always (1989)

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Plot: (A remake of the 1943 movie A Guy Named Joe directed by Victor Fleming) The spirit of a dead firefighter pilot comes back to inspire an aspiring pilot who has fallen in love with the girlfriend he left behind.

Seen It Before?: Nope. Haven’t heard of it, even.

Writing (6): It feels like it’s trying too hard. 1940’s melodrama is its own thing, but the melodrama in this one is ramped up just a bit too far, leaving potentially moving scenes feeling flat.

Also, the dialogue, which could have had an easy natural feel, comes across as incredibly forced. The cast does the best they can with it, but a lot of it doesn’t have a natural ring to it. Spielberg is very good at “slice of life” natural dialogue, but with this script, it sounds more like dialogue that was written as a parody of natural dialogue. The more romantic scenes sound so forced that they are only able to sit on the very edge of charming and offbeat.

The overall plot is a great adaptation of the original story, with firefighters standing in for fighter pilots, but I think the overall movement of the plot could have been tightened up a lot.

Acting (7): Holly Hunter and John Goodman are both amazing. Their characters feel real and, even though the script takes them into wild extremes, they are able to keep the best hold on the script and make it work for them. I loved Al’s fourth-wall-breaking rant about how everything was basically World War II “except Glen Miller.” My only concern is that Al is sorely misused. He’s basically only there so he can have one emotionally volatile scene with Dorinda and to set things in motion with Ted, but he doesn’t feel all that intrinsically linked to the plot.

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Also, Audrey Hepburn (her last film before her tragic death) is, as always, flawless and perfect. I wish she’d been allowed to be sassier, but that’s just me. She does ethereal and elegant gorgeously.

Audrey Hepburn, Always (1989, Steven Spielberg) starring Holly Hunter, Richard Dreyfuss and John Goodman

Richard Dreyfuss does a good job bringing his character to life, but he has a hard time keeping the audience’s focus. By that, I mean, I found myself caring what happened to Dorinda far more than Pete. I obviously wanted Pete to find a way to move on, but I never really found myself cheering for him. His Awkward Dad sense of humor combined with the hint of controlling behavior towards Dorinda near the beginning, and then his growing jealousy as Ted confesses his feelings for Dorinda make him a very human character, yes, but not someone the audience really falls in love with.

Also Brad Johnson’s Ted Baker is suitably hunky, but I don’t feel that we’re able to really get to know him. He becomes a prop for Pete to meet up with Dorinda and deal with his own issues. But I didn’t feel that invested in his character. Granted, the script didn’t do him any favors, but I think the actor played things a bit too restrained. He’s a nervous guy who’s head over heels for Dorinda, and he does impressions! I feel like we should have gotten more of a James Stewart vibe from him.

Visual Style (9): The film looks great, especially the fire scenes. Visual skill is something Spielberg consistently displays, so that’s not an issue. I like how it has a very 1940’s vaseline-on-the-lens softness to it, a nice throwback to the original film’s time period.

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I also like the recurring blue light motif, which foreshadows Pete’s death and then is used to separate him from other characters near the climax when he is able to begin moving on.

Music (6): John Williams does an OK job, but the music in this one lacks his usual iconic flair. There were times I had to double-check to make sure this was actually a John Williams score. Cues from this film rarely if ever make it to Best of John Williams lists, and I can see why. It performs adequately, but it’s just not very memorable.

Genre (6): It’s obvious Spielberg is going for the Victor Fleming/Frank Capra vibe with glittering highs and gloomy lows, but it just doesn’t feel very consistent. The more comedic scenes (a problem for Spielberg) don’t really always work (though I did like Ted doing his John Wayne impression and Dorinda not getting it because it’s not quite right). The harrowing life-and-death flying scenes were great, and were this a more serious film (a la Backdraft) they would have been right at home. The romantic scenes were a bit overwrought, feeling like the writer agonized so much over how to write witty charming banter that it came across feeling artificial.

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If this had been just a romance, it might have worked better. Or if it had been a drama, it also would have worked better.

One positive aspect of all this is that it did ignite a resurgence of a very specific genre of films such as Ghost (1990).

Overall Thoughts: Some good moments and beautiful visuals, but the film just never comes together.

Score: 34/50

Rank

  1. E.T. (45)
  2. The Color Purple (44)
  3. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  4. Jaws (42)
  5. Empire of the Sun (42)
  6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  7. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)
  8. The Sugarland Express (35)
  9. Always (34)
  10. 1941) (27)

Next week, we get another Indy adventure!