Spielberg By Numbers – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Welcome back! It’s Indy time, again!

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)


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.


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???


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


  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)


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.


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.


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.


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


  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!

Spielberg By Numbers – Empire of the Sun

Welcome back!

Empire of the Sun (1987)


Plot: (Based on J.G. Ballard’s semi-autobiographical novel) The story of an English boy who gets separated from his parents during the Japanese invasion of China and has to survive on the streets and in the internment camps during World War II.

Seen It Before?: Nope. I played the main theme from this movie in marching band in high school the year we did our John Williams tribute, though!

Writing (7): The themes and symbols of this film are very powerful and hard-hitting, though this film does feel a bit over long. The pacing goes from intense and terrifying to rather contemplative, but the transitions don’t always work. Tom Stoppard’s script captures the emotions of the characters very well, but at times it’s so committed to chaotic realism that the audience gets a bit lost as to what’s going on. I get that, since it’s told from the point of view of the main character, a child, he wouldn’t know what’s going on and we definitely feel his confusion and fear, but overall, it tends to make the film hard to follow at times.

But when it works, it works well. The scene after the airstrip is bombed and Jim reveals that he can’t remember what his parents look like is completely perfectly written and acted.


Acting (9): This was Christian Bale’s first movie, which is crazy because he carries the entire movie. I’m always impressed at how GOOD Bale’s acting chops are because the look of dead acceptance in his eyes by the end of the film is so haunting, you forget that he’s only thirteen. At times, he goes a bit overboard, but that’s something Spielberg is able to bring out of children actors.


The rest of the characters, except for perhaps John Malkovich’s character, Basie, all exist at the fringes of Jim’s notice, and so they all have a sort of abstract quality. Regarding Basie, he’s one of my favorite Malkovich performances. He’s likable, reprehensible, and impossible to read. He takes care of Jim, but he also exploits Jim’s ability to get things done. He’s not a charming scoundrel a la Han Solo. He’s much more like Dickens’ Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist, which is apropos since Jim is parent-less for the movie.

Visual Style (9): The chaos and grime of Jim’s world is so well realized. This isn’t an idealized portrait of anything. the scene where he gets separated from his parents is HARROWING and creates real panic in the audience. The bright moment in the internment camp where he’s running around, trading items to get what Basie needs is bright and cheerful until the camera pulls back and we are reminded that this isn’t some charming farming commune.


Special kudos to the scene where Jim sees the Hiroshima bombing off in the distance and mistakes it as Mrs. Victor’s soul leaving her body after she dies. It’s absolutely beautiful without being schmaltzy. We know what just happened, but Jim doesn’t, and it’s this great moment of visual dramatic irony.

I also appreciated how the Japanese are never visually demonized or made to appear less than human. The camera doesn’t shy away from how they treated the people in the camps, but they’re not a one-dimensional evil group of people. Jim respects whoever’s in charge and so when the Japanese are in charge, he looks on them with something akin to reverence. the moment where the Seargent calls Jim “very difficult boy” before they’re all shipped off is a nice moment.

Music (8): John Williams’ theme is sweeping and beautiful, but it’s a bit melodramatic. The use of the Welsh lullaby is very effective, especially in the scene where Jim sings for the Japanese kamikaze pilots, not understanding what they’re about to do.

Overall, the score depicts Jim’s coping mechanism of focusing on the spectacle as a way of avoiding dealing with his sense of loss very well. Everything Jim sees, even though it’s awful, becomes like a movie to him, so the sweeping ethereal music makes sense. It also represents an innocence that Jim loses as events unfold.


Overall, though, the score is good, but not something that is as transportive as his other more well-reviewed scores.

Nevertheless, the score was nominated for an Oscar, though it didn’t win.

Genre (9): The tone is fairly consistent throughout, but at times it seems to get a bit lost, sending Jim on a side adventure to recapture the audience’s attention. It’s got a consistent tone, for the most part, but the meandering script, so intent on presenting things as realistically as possible, sags in a few places.

Overall Thoughts: Inspiring and emotional, the film feels much more like a journey than a neatly structured narrative.

Total Score: 42/50


  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. 1941 (27)

See you next week! We’ll be looking at another of Spielberg’s “flops.” We’ll see what the numbers say.

Marvel By Numbers – Spider-Man: Homecoming


We’re taking a break from Spielberg this week to add another entry to Marvel By Numbers because I FINALLY got around to watching Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)


Overview: Peter Parker reeeeeally wants to be an Avenger, but Tony Stark thinks he should stick to being a “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” instead of going after big supervillains. But a supervillain shows up and Peter decides not to listen.

Writing: 9/10

I’m glad this film keeps things grounded. The story is very focused on Peter’s growth as a person, not really as a superhero, and that works beautifully. Everything leads up to Peter’s choice at the very end when Stark offers him everything he’s ever wanted, and I think he makes the best choice.


The characters are all given great moments, and the story keeps the focus where it should. Even though this movie is hilarious, there aren’t any extraneous moments that are added just for laughs. It all contributes to the story.

Style: 8/10

I love the intro with the handheld camera recording everything. I love how it returns the entire MCU back to its roots with the improvised style of Iron Man that set this whole thing going. It also connects back to some previous moments in the MCU, giving this one deep roots that keep it from feeling as though it’s just tossed onto the top of an increasingly precarious stack of films.

I like how this film was able to set up Peter’s Spidey suit as a very different animal from those appearing in previous Spider-Man films. It has its own personality (and “suit lady” AI) and seeing Peter figuring out how all its bells and whistles work is really a highlight of the film.

There weren’t any real crazy iconic visual moments save for the rather silly scene with him trying to hold the ferry together (even though it should have sunk easily pretty fast), but there weren’t any distractingly odd visuals either.


The Villain: 9/10

I love Michael Keaton, and I was really surprised by his take on Vulture. His motivations made sense, and his beef with Spider-Man had some genuine depth, which I appreciated. Having him end up being the dad of Peter’s homecoming date was a nice twist I didn’t see coming, and it really helped to make this film feel more grounded.

One of the post-credit scenes added a HUGE other layer to his character in that he has a chance to get rather brutal revenge on Peter, but chooses not to for unknown reasons. I loved that.


He’s a guy you could genuinely like. His methods get a bit extreme, but he doesn’t strike you as a “bad” bad guy. He’s not a nice guy, but you still want to know what makes him tick.

Explosions: 8/10

There were a few explosions, but they really weren’t the focus of the film. I kind of wanted more, but I was so entertained by the snappy dialogue and soul-squeezing wholesomeness of Peter’s penchant for being distracted by really cool stuff all the time that i didn’t mind so much.

Favorite explosion: I honestly can’t remember any. I know they happened…

The Hero’s Journey: 9/10

I loved Peter’s arc. He goes from goofy kid to mature superhero, and it doesn’t feel forced or silly. The moment where he’s trapped under the collapsed building is a great metaphorical low point for him because he isn’t able to rely on anything and he panics. But then he’s able to calm down and figure out how to get out of it.

I also liked how he lets his real life slip while clinging to the chance that his superhero life might pick up soon, but then realizes what he’s been missing. The superhero stuff is cool, but it doesn’t fulfill him in the same way¬† that his friends support and encourage him, and I like that he ultimately walks away from a life as an Avenger in order to focus on himself more.


He’s just a really well-written character.

Score and Rank

  1. Captain America: Civil War (49/50)
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (46/50)
  3. The Avengers (45/50)
  4. Iron Man (43/50)
  5. Spider-Man: Homecoming (43/50) RT liked Iron Man a little bit more, but still, Top 5, baby!
  6. Doctor Strange (42/50)
  7. Iron Man 3 (42/50)
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy (41/50)
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (41/50)
  10. Captain America: The First Avenger (40/50)
  11. Thor (39/50)
  12. Avengers: Age of Ultron (39/50)
  13. Ant-Man (38/50)
  14. Thor: The Dark World (36/50)
  15. The Incredible Hulk (34/50)
  16. Iron Man 2 (33/50)

Next week, we’ll be getting back to Spielberg. And I promise to see Thor: Ragnarok soon!


Spielberg By Numbers – The Color Purple

Welcome back!

The Color Purple (1985)


Plot: (based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel) The life of Celie, a black woman growing up in the early 20th century who, separated from her sister, endures abuse from her father and then her husband, but finds her inner strength with the help of the strong women in her life.

Seen It Before?: Read the book, but had always avoided the movie because I wasn’t sure it would do the book justice. Boy was I ever wrong!

Writing (8): The film is paced beautifully. There are a few elements that were toned down from the novel, but overall, the themes of the book are respected very well. The dialogue has a natural quality to it (something Spielberg brings out very well) while still retaining the rhythms and content of Walker’s beautiful prose.


Adapting novels to the screen is hard to do well, and this is one of the better ones I’ve seen.

Acting (10): Whoopi Goldberg’s performance is absolutely heart-breaking. The audience feels her fear of Albert as well as her joy when Shug helps her find her sister’s letters. The beauty of the book is seeing Celie discover her strength, and Goldberg brings that discovery to life so well. You just want to cheer for her.

Margaret Avery is a delightful Shug. She’s got the rough edges as well as the warmth that draws Celie out of her shell.


Huge kudos to Oprah Winfrey for her incredible portrayal of Sofia. The fact that she didn’t win an Oscar for her performance is just tragic. The scene at the dinner table at the end when she comes back to life is one of the most joyous things ever.

I also have to give a shout out to Danny Glover. Albert is such a despicable character, and so it’s hard to like him, but I like how Glover gives the character a helping of humanity that lets us see the man he could have been. He’s terrifying and tragic, but we see flashes of potential that he wastes in his selfish fixation on Shug at the expense of the respect he should be giving his wife. He does do the right thing at the end

Visual Style (9): There are so many iconic symbols and moments that stand out, giving this the suitable scope and sweep of Walker’s original novel. I know Alice Walker objected to the first scene, saying it was too “Oklahoma” but I love how it presents all of the film’s themes in one moment before we see Celie brought down to her lowest low. And that scene is echoed in the scenes near the end when Celie is able to find that joy again.


I also love how the film uses color. When Celie is at her lowest, the colors are very muted and dark, but once she finds her strength, the color returns to the world.

Music (9): It’s weird not to have John Williams’ scoring a Spielberg film, but it’s all good! Quincy Jones does a beautiful job of creating a sweeping symphonic score that brings out the emotions of Celie’s journey, as well as writing many of the songs sung in the film such as Shug Avery’s “Miss Celie’s Blues” and the amazing “Maybe God is Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin'” from the finale. Both musical styles complement each other well, though it’s the vocal pieces that stay with you the most. I can definitely see why the story was adapted to a stage musical.

Genre (8): Everything about this film works together beautifully. The humor arises organically from the situations just as the more terrifying moments. My only real issue is that everything is sort of softened from the book. Celie and Shug’s relationship, which is much more explicitly addressed in the book becomes more of a girl-talk bonding moment. It’s still a sweet moment, but it is played a bit safe. Also, Albert’s abuse of Celie feels a lot less brutal. Albert is terrifying in the book, but the film makes him more of a comic inept character. I like how the film highlights his insecurity and fragile masculinity, but it misses out on just how evil his treatment of Celie is.

I suppose the cohesion this film has comes from smoothing things out and softening the extremes of joy and terror from the book. I know Spielberg initially didn’t think he could do the book justice, so it’s very obvious that he’s playing thing’s safer than he did in Close Encounters where the emotional dynamics kept the film from finding a more stable center.


Overall Thoughts: A beautiful, inspiring film that does right by the novel, even if it plays things a bit safe.

Total Score: 44/50


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

Next week, we’ll be looking at Empire of the Sun. See you then!

Spielberg By Numbers – Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Welcome back! It’s Indy time!

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)


Plot: (A prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark) Indiana Jones infiltrates an ancient evil cult in search of mythical stones which were stolen from a peaceful village.

Seen it Before?: Tons of times!

Writing (7): The plot of this one is a lot more episodic, so there are a number of scenes that don’t contribute much to the overall movement of the story aside from being nasty scrapes to be escaped from. While that’s very in keeping with the adventure serials that inspired this series, it makes the film less cohesive than Raiders was.


Also, there’s some clunky dialogue moments that go just a bit beyond fun cheese.

Acting (7): Harrison Ford is great as always, though the increased wackiness of the film doesn’t leave a lot of room for subtlety and even some of his dialogue feels clunky.

Willie Scott is the classic diva damsel who accompanies the hero for no reason other than to be captured and be useless. It’s a trope. I get that, but her character is grating at times and shrill at others. Granted, a lot of it is the script, but Kate Capshaw plays things so broadly that she doesn’t connect with the audience the way Marion did.


Visual Style (8): This movie is VERY effects heavy, and while some of them still look great (the heart-ripping scene, amirite?) a lot of the other effects were so ambitious that they haven’t aged super well. As such, this film has a goofy quality that fits with the theme, but doesn’t give this film the same timeless heft as Raiders.


Music (8): John Williams is, of course, perfectly suited to crafting an ominous musical backdrop for the film’s many spooky set pieces.

His “Parade of the Slave Children” cue is great, but the score for this one just doesn’t have the same richness as the Raiders score.

Genre (7): I feel like Spielberg needs to do at least ONE full on musical in his career. The glitzy 1930’s Busby Berkeley-esque music and dance sequence that opens this movie is a delight. It’s random as all get out, and I’m not really sure what’s happening inside the dragon head (like, the audience can’t see what they’re doing in there, so is it supposed to be a fantasy sequence inside Willie’s head where she imagines that she’s on a huge Broadway stage and not in a club in Shanghai? I mean, that’s probably what it is, but still…), but it’s a hilarious bait-and-switch on the audience who are expecting doom and they get…tap dancing.


Aside from that, the rest of the film dials up the humor to 1941 levels (although a great deal more of the jokes work well in this film) and blends it with crazy action and the most extreme horror of the franchise.

The balance is just a liiiiitle off with this one, though. The action’s relentless, not giving the characters time to really breathe. The humor is pervasive and while it is very funny at times, it takes the impact away from the creepier elements to the point where you don’t feel a lot of the danger.

Overall Thoughts: A fun adventure with some creepy moments that would have worked better with a more consistent tone.

Total Score: 37/50


1. E.T. (45)

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)

3. Jaws (42)

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)

5. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (37)

6. The Sugarland Express (35)

7. 1941 (27)

Next up, we’re taking a break from adventure and spending some time looking at the human condition.

Spielberg By Numbers – E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial

And we’re back!

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)


Plot: A boy befriends a lost alien and helps it return home while keeping it safe from government agents who are trying to study it.

Seen it Before?: Yep! I wasn’t a huge fan of it as a kid, but I grew to love it later on.

Writing (9): We get back to a lot of the “slice of life” moments that gave Jaws and Close Encounters a lot of their emotional core. Elliot’s home situation is so realistic and relateable, and the children’s reactions to E.T. are delightful.


In terms of the overall plot, there are a few clunky moments, but overall, it moves at a good pace and culminates in a beautiful finale.

Acting (8): Overall, the acting is pretty good, especially for a cast that includes mostly children. There are, however, a few moments where Elliot just goes a bit too far over the top to be believable. Now, granted, kids are VERY over the top, but you can just see the director behind the camera miming what he wants them to do, and it sort of takes me out of it here and there. But overall, the cast is fantastic.

I LOVE the scene where Elliot is showing E.T. all of his toys. It’s got this genuine random feel to it that makes it seem like the kid’s just ad-libbing all of it (I mean, he might have been). But it works because we get a sense of this kid’s entire worldview and philosophy based on what toys he likes and what aspects of them he values. And it’s cute because he’s always been the odd one out and probably hasn’t had a chance to geek out about his sweet Star Wars action figure collection before with anyone. And E.T. has no earthly clue what he’s saying or what any of what he’s showing him means, but it just enjoys the experience of seeing new things.


I’m also happy that one of Elliot’s favorite Star Wars characters is Lando, too. *high fives*

Visual Style (9): This movie looks great. There are so many iconic moments that stick with you (one of which became the logo for Spielberg’s own Amblin Entertainment). I love the Steampunk-esque style of E.T.’s spaceship, as well as the beautiful scenes set inside the ship at the beginning.


I also love the creature design of E.T. itself, especially the palpitating flutter within its chest when it’s glowing. According to behind-the-scenes stuff, E.T. is a plant-based being, neither male nor female, and that detail just sends E.T. to the next level, elevating it from puppet to believable being.

Having the film be shot from kid eye-level is also wonderful The only adult you see fully for a great deal of the film is Elliot’s Mom, and that immediately puts you in his shoes. Every one else, especially Keys and Elliot’s teacher, seem threatening and antagonistic while his mother is shown without any of the same camera work. You immediately get the feeling that Elliot and his siblings all feel like, deep down, they want to protect their mother from everywhere else. They knew she was hurt but they don’t understand why. The scene where Elliot casually mentions that his dad is visiting Mexico with his girlfriend is great because his brother immediately gets angry in a way he can’t really articulate aside from saying he’s mad Elliot made his mom cry. That comment is the first to reveal to us what recently happened between their parents, and you can tell no one wants to talk about it. But Elliot does because he wants to understand.

Having the camera be mostly at the eye-level of the children makes not only the kids vs. government conflict terrifying, but it makes the looming specter of their parent’s recent separation a much scarier thing than it would be if this were, say, a rom com where a recent divorcee works to pick herself up after a messy separation and move on, aided by her wacky friends and supported by her adoring children.

Music (10): This is one of the few Wiliams scores that still makes me cry every time. The flying theme is such a moment of childlike abandon and freedom and the music captures this beautifully. On top of that, the final scene has such a massive punch that’s very different from the ethereal wonder of Close Enocunters. The final scene in E.T. is this cathartic moment where the characters are all allowed to express their sorrow over lost things and heal, and the music elevates the whole moment from a schmaltzy goodbye to a moment of powerful emotional power.


Genre (9): Like many Spielberg films, there’s some genre-hopping, but this one is a lot more consistent than Close Encounters. It blends the humor and the ominous tone really well. Even the scene where it goes off the deep end and the government agents in space suits start invading the home works because it’s from a child’s point of view and such things WOULD be terrifying.

I think the only scene where the genre gets muddy is the scene where Drunk Elliot frees the frogs. It’s a fun scene, but I feel like it was supposed to be funnier than it turned out being. I dunno. maybe it’s just me, but it feels out of place.

Overall Thoughts: A beautiful movie that works better when you’re an adult looking back at your own childhood and wishing you rode your bike more (and got into D&D back when it was unironically cool).


Total Score: 45/50


  1. E.T. (45)
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (43)
  3. Jaws (42)
  4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (38)
  5. The Sugarland Express (35)
  6. 1941 (27)

Next week, we’ll revisit a familiar face (and a familiar hat). See you then!