Monday, May 2, 2016

All Spielberg Movies

I realized a few months ago that I had seen nearly every movie Steven Spielberg has made, and enjoyed most of them. I have since sought out the few I had missed. So here is my review of every Spielberg movie but four, roughly from my favorite to least favorite.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark
 It has the best adventure scenes of any movie-- it basically defined the genre for my generation. And of course the theme is fantastic. You can see where he got this stuff in books like Allan Quartermain, but like Star Wars, it transcended the source material. I made a fan film of it, I wrote fan fiction of it before that was even a word. If you've never considered it, ask yourself-- why does this movie work so well even though the ending is literally a Deus ex Machina?

2. Empire of the Sun
This was one of his most powerful. I enjoyed it on every level, the imagery, the music, the story, the themes. It doesn't say things that are simple or only on the surface. Plus it's about being a foreigner in Japan.

3. E.T.
When I watched this in the theater, everyone got out of their seats and cheered when the bicycles took flight. I've never seen people react so emotionally to a movie. The way Eliot's family lived felt real to me, in a way that very few movies do. There house was a mess, they played with Star Wars figures and D&D. E.T. was an ugly little troll of an alien, not an idealized elf (looking at you, Cameron). It's a really sentimental movie, but I feel like it earns it.

4. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The interactions between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in this movie are classic. I loved the climax, especially, where Indy's faith is tested. (In my head this movie is all tied up with the video game version of it I played so many times.) There are no better chase scenes than in this movie.

5.Schindler's List
Terribly sad, with an amazing violin score. It's at the same time filled with horror and hope, an impossible trick to pull off.

6. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
This is about revelation-- how it can be a terrible, life-destroying thing, to be awakened to the truth and unable to communicate that to those you love,  leading to personal tragedy, while at the same time leading to a larger reality filled with beauty and awe. I can't think of another movie that better captures the emotion of awe. It's also a really solid first contact story.

7. Jurassic Park
This is just a horror movie in plot-- basically the monsters escape and kill everyone but the ones we most want to survive-- but it was probably the first movie that showed that computer graphics would someday be able to do anything you can imagine. It also, again, is really terrific hard-SF. So many movies play with SF ideas but don't bother trying to get them right in the way that real fans of the genre need to feel satisfied. A couple of nitpicks, from someone who is really into dinosaurs: by 1990, we knew that raptors were covered in feathers. I read it in an interview with Robert Bakker in 1987.  And it's not Jurassic so much as it is Cretaceous. (Or you could just call it Mesozoic and cover all your bases.) But I still believe the running T-Rex is more plausible than more conservative reconstructions.

8. War of the Worlds
I don't know anyone who likes this as well as I do. It's the best alien invasion movie ever filmed. It builds up tension in all the right ways, it captures the alienness of aliens in a way that only Giger has managed as well. It's true to H.G. Wells (except the weirdness of coming up from underground) in the things that mattered, and the acting and relationships felt real. The action is non-stop once it starts, as exciting as Mad Max. Having the older son survive was kind of a cop-out, but whatever. I say it's underrated.

9. A.I.
This was strange and painful to watch. It asks some big questions about what it means to have worth, to be alive, to love. It creates a science fiction world that is unique. On the downside, it is also terribly violent. It is weirdly paced, and puts together a lot of things that shouldn't go together.

10. Saving Private Ryan
The opening scene of the invasion at Normandy was amazing (though terribly violent), capturing what war must really be like in a way that I've never seen in another movie. The rest is a watchable war movie, but not really special. Tom Hanks was enjoyable.

11. Jaws
I have heard that this was the first summer blockbuster. It was a good scary movie, skilled at building tension, but it would have been helped by modern CG. The two-note shark theme is unforgettable. As an action film it kind of drags, though.

12. Lincoln
I thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of Lincoln himself. It made me realize that pork-barrel politics isn't all bad-- it allows wheels to turn in politics that would otherwise be immovable.

13. Catch Me if You Can
A kind of horror film about how lax security protocols were in the 1960s. It's amazing the whole country didn't get blown up. DiCaprio does a good job.

14. Amistad
When a movie is preachy, it should preach about something you are still on the fence on. Since I don't think slavery is good even in the slightest, I don't need so much of the movie telling me how slavery was bad. I'm being too harsh. I liked it, but it didn't move me to tears the way Schindler's List did.

15. The Terminal
The movie is about learning to make a joyful life for yourself wherever you get stuck, but I have to think that his choice not to just go home wasn't the right one. Having slept overnight in an airport, more than once, there are few places I would rather live. They actively do things to make it harder on you. I liked "cheesecake."

16. Munich
A tense thriller that also explores what happens afterwards to those who do violence for their country.

17. Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull
Yeah, yeah, refrigerators and aliens are cheesy, I agree. But I like the chase scenes, and him getting together with Marion. It's a solid plot, and Ford can still play Indiana Jones. I still say it's way better than the second one.

18. Minority Report
While this is SF, it's not hard SF-- it plays with the appearance of SF, but does things which are impossible with it, which makes me care about it less. It is often weird for its own sake. Philip K Dick isn't my favorite SF author. For years afterwards, my work with unusual hand-driven interfaces was experienced by the people we presented it to as out of this movie.

19. War Horse
This was an odd one because the main character-- the horse-- is basically a cipher, being just an animal, after all. The ending is sentimental to the point of absurdity. But overall the movie is enjoyable. It has Benedict Cumberbatch.

20. Hook
While it had a few moments-- Dustin Hoffman's Hook and Julia Roberts' Tinkerbell were all right-- the movie wasn't as good as a lot of kids from that time seem to think. Like the food fight scene: why not use real food, instead of pink and blue stuff? And you can't just pick the fat, unpopular kid to be the leader when you're not going to be there to supervise and expect it to work, long term. Haven't you read Lord of the Flies? I liked the sets.

21. The Adventures of Tintin
My son really liked this one, but I guess its a movie only kids can enjoy. It suffers from uncanny valley effects.

22. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
 Nearly everything I liked about the character was missing from this story, with the biblical element replaced with a generic cannibal cult leader. I found both the woman and the kid sidekick annoying.

23. Twilight Zone
The individual episodes this was based on were somehow better, in their cheap black and white TV way, than this was.

24. Duel
Weird 1970s suspense film about a man on a long car trip being chased by a truck. I couldn't get into it. What was it about cars and the 1970s? So many shows were based around them in that decade. Smoky and the Bandit, Mad Max, The Dukes of Hazard, Speed Racer, Herbie, American Graffiti, Cannonball Run... that's just off the top of my head.

I didn't finish watching these, so it doesn't feel fair to review them:
Always
The Color Purple
1941
The Sugarland Express

2 comments:

heather said...

We just watched Bridge of Spies, which he directed. I liked it, more than Sam I think.

Mike Stay said...

I would have placed Minority Report a lot higher, but I've always been a big fan of P. K. Dick. I thought they did a marvelous job of adapting the story to the screen in such a way that having read the story didn't ruin the film. I thought the pacing was perfect; I even sat down once to count the minutes and watch for the beats. What did you think was impossible in the story (other than prophecy)? Eye transplants seem to me to require nanotech, but if you have nanotech, the whole society changes so much that it's unrecognizable, not near-future. The jetpacks require tech approaching the stuff used in the Expanse series; maybe the Mars colonies existed but had become mundane. Twisty plant genetics?

I also enjoyed Tin Tin a lot; for me, whatever uncanniness it had wasn't enough to turn me off to it.