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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Spielberg’

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)

05/20/2011 1 comment

What do you get when you cross a Steven Spielberg movie with a Stanley Kubrick movie? What do you get when you update Pinocchio to a futuristic setting? What do you get when you combine all of these together into a single movie? You get this.

A. I. Artificial Intelligence is a sci fi drama film directed, produced, and co-written by Steven Spielberg, based on the short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long” by Brian Aldiss. It stars Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor, Jude Law, Sam Robards, and William Hurt, with a brief camero by Robin Williams.

It is the near future. With the melting of the polar ice caps, coastal cities have been flooded, forcing people inland. With the reduction in available resources, a new class of robots is invented, capable of emulating human emotions – but their creator has something more in mind for artificial humans. Professor Hobby has created a prototype child robot that is capable of feeling true love, like that felt by a child for its parent, rather than merely emulating the appropriate behaviors. His company, Cybertronics, tests the child robot, named David, on a pair of their employees, the Swintons, whose biological son Martin is sick with an unidentified disease and currently in cryogenic suspension. Monica Swinton is initially afraid of this robot child, but she soon warms to him after activating the imprinting protocol, causing him to irreversibly feel love for his “mother”. Things get awkward later on, though, when a cure is found for Martin’s illness and he is able to come home. A sibling rivalry erupts as the two vie for Monica’s love, with David not understanding what is upsetting their parents so much. Things come to a head at Martin’s birthday party by the pool, nearly resulting in Martin’s drowning, and the decision is made to send David back to Cybertronics to be destroyed. Monica has grown to love David, though, and can’t bear the thought of him being destroyed like a common robot, so she abandons him in the woods, instructing him to do whatever he can to escape. From here, David teams up with Gigolo Joe, a lover-mecha on the run after being accused of murder, and embarks on a journey to find his place in this world, to explore the meaning of love, and to find a way to finally earn his mother’s love by becoming a real boy.

Spielberg is one of the great geniuses of filmmaking, as was Kubrick before his death. It makes sense that Kubrick would have asked Spielberg to helm this movie, and for the most part the two style combined well. This vision of the future is melancholy, by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking as we see the lengths to which mankind will go to maintain their humanity – on the one hand, they fill out their dwindling population with robots created in their own image to act as everything from executive assistants to prostitutes, but at the same time the humans seem to fear their uncannily-perfect creations, exemplified by the Flesh Fair, a sort of demolition derby involving outdated or castoff mechas, attended by those who fear being replaced by their mechanical counterparts. A common recurring theme throughout the movie is the nature of love, explored from the respective points of view of David, the child mecha, and Gigolo Joe, a prostitute mecha. In Joe’s mind, humans are imperfect, but he is programmed to make them feel beautiful. In David’s mind, he himself is imperfect, programmed to love unconditionally but apparently rejected for being artificial. The robot effects are excellent, nudging you into the uncanny valley from the human side as the mechas look too perfect to be real when intact, and entirely too human when malfunctioning or in pieces. In fact, Kubrick had sat on this project for about twenty years because he felt that CG effects would be needed to bring his childlike hero to life.

Now for the shortcomings. First off, while a child robot that will love you forever seems like a great idea, in fact it’s a terrible idea, because you’re stuck with this little entity that will be ten years old and dependent on you forever. Whether or not David’s mass production (and that off his distaff counterpart Darla) ultimately led to the downfall of civilization is left unclear, which brings me to my next complaint: the ending. The last half hour felt tacked on for the sake of giving David at least half a happy ending, and just dragged on and on and on like an ex that just won’t let things go, and just made the movie too damn long. Many have proposed suitable moments where the movie could have ended, albeit tragically, and given that this was originally a Kubrick film this could have fit just fine. Seriously – the epilogue takes place 2000 years later. And it keeps going. And going. And going… Making the end product feel just too damn long.

If you’re looking for a futuristic Pinocchio tale with all the trappings and you’re feeling patient enough to sit through your happy ending, give A. I. Artificial Intelligence a shot. Spielberg and Kubrick’s diverse styles largely combine well to offer an ultimately tragic glance at a dwindling future, even if it could have used a bit more trimming at the end.

Minority Report (2002)

04/18/2011 1 comment

Wouldn’t it be great if we could prevent crimes before they were committed? I mean, that’s the goal of any law enforcement agency, because investigation and prosecution of any crime takes resources, and with something like murder there’s no guarantee that things will be made right ever again. Figuring out how to flag people before a crime can be committed sounds awesome… until they flag you for something you haven’t done yet. Then things get a little… complicated.

Minority Report is a sci fi thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the short story “The Minority Report” by Philip K. Dick. It stars Tom Cruise, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, and Max von Sydow.

It is the year 2054. John Anderton is the head of Washington, D.C.’s PreCrime police force, who tracks and pre-emptively stops future murders with the aid of three pre-cogs, mutated humans who can see the future. Anderton has been a bit of a mess since the unsolved disappearance of his son, and while his obsession led him to join PreCrime, it has also resulted in his wife leaving him and his addiction to an illegal psychoactive drug. Pre-Crime’s success in preventing murders means it is poised to go nation-wide, but on the eve of this event, the system is audited by one Danny Witwer from the Department of Justice, during which the pre-cogs predict a murder – to be committed by John Anderton. Now on the run from his own co-workers, Anderton tries to solve a murder he hasn’t committed yet, of a man he’s never heard of, but it isn’t long before he finds himself immersed in another cold case connected to PreCrime. What he finds out about both cases threatens to shake the supposedly infallible PreCrime system to its core…

I am not a huge fan of Tom Cruise. He’s done some good movies, of course, but many of them seem to play off the fact that he’s pretty rather than a good actor. Fortunately, Minority Report is one of his successes. As is generally the case in films adapted from Philip K. Dick, the plot is tight and intricate, and the inclusion of precognition in a law-enforcement setting only enhances the story rather than cripples it. Spielberg took great pains to nudge the future technology over to the “hard” end of the sci fi scale, and many technologies portrayed in the movie (such as the data tiles and the 3-d screens) have since been developed in real life. The near-future portrayed in Minority Report feels real and organic, allowing the plot to gleefully deconstruct the idea of PreCrime in a logical fashion.

Of course, throughout the film is an exploration of free-will vs. determinism, similar to that seen in Paycheck: if an agent that can see into the future predicts an outcome, is it set in stone? Are the players in the prediction fated to hurtle blindly towards an inevitable outcome, or can they choose their future? Here, the impetus is more of an emotional one than a logical one: Anderton fully intends to kill the man who took his son, no matter who he is or why he did it. This conflicts with his cop instincts to bring the culprit to justice, but seriously – what parent would not want vengeance on the behalf of their child? What parent would hesitate to kill anyone who hurt their kid? Anderton’s motives are sound and sympathetic, and his moment of truth at the climax will have any parent nodding in recognition.

If you want a thrilling whodunnit film with a new twist, and you don’t absolutely hate Tom Cruise, I suggest picking up Minority Report. It will have you on the edge of your seat from the moment that red ball drops.

Jaws (1975)

04/05/2011 1 comment

Sharks are pretty badass. On their own, many species of shark are the closest thing nature has come to a living chainsaw/garbage disposal combination. They are perfectly suited to hunting in the water, and they’re shaped a lot like torpedoes with teeth. Of course, of all the species of shark that stalk the seas, the one with the most bloodthirsty reputation has got to be the great white, thanks to a little book by Peter Benchley and a little-known director named Steven Spielberg, who combined forces like the Wonder Twins (only less lame) to produce a horror movie that made audiences of 1975 mortally afraid of cellos at the beach.

Oh, yeah, and they were afraid of being eaten by sharks, too.

Jaws is a horror film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and a frequently-malfunctioning animatronic shark named Bruce.

When a swimmer off the shore of Amity Island is killed, torn apart by an unseen force, the new police chief, Martin Brody, finds himself confronted by the possibility that there is a shark hunting the waters off the beach. However, the mayor is reluctant to close the beaches, as rumors of a shark attack will ruin the summer tourist season. The medical examiner reverses his initial ruling of death by shark attack and records it as a boating accident, and Brody reluctantly goes along with it, hoping it was just a freak incident. However, when a boy is attacked by a shark on the beach not long after, the evidence can no longer be ignored; the beaches are closed and a bounty is placed on the killer shark’s head. Brody ultimately finds himself teaming up with an oceanographer and a mercenary shark hunter to try to hunt down a killer great white that’s determined to snack on the denizens of a small island…

As with many horror movie series that started off good and then spiralled off into stupidity, the original Jaws is excellent. The accepted progenitor of the summer blockmuster, Jaws broke box office records of the day and put the fear of Bruce into moviegoers, with the result that beach attendance dropped sharply in 1975. Not bad at all, consider that you don’t even see the shark for the first half of the film. This decision (which legend holds is due to the animatronic shark repeatedly acting up on set) wound of the tension beautifully, to the point that you just about shit yourself when you see the thing for the first time. While nowadays the animatronic shark might seem a bit goofy and fake, nothing quite compares to that initial “OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?” moment.

The core cast was also excellent. Roy Scheider as reasonable authority figure Chief Brody was well-casted, and we share his frustration as he is forced to weigh OMG SHARK against the tourist season (which just proves that mayoral types in 95% of these types of movies just need a kick in the head). Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper makes his role as Captain Exposition fit in well, explaining the ways of sharks to non-Islander Brody as well as the audience. He’s the expert – that’s what he was called in to do. Hooper’s foil is Robert Shaw’s Quint, who also knows what sharks can do (his story about the sinking of the Indianapolis is based on actual history) and thus absolutely hates them. This film is surprisingly character-driven for a monster movie, making the plot every bit as much about the human cast as it is about the killer shark. The logical result is that the shark menace is more convincing – you are actually concerned about the people of Amity Island rather than waiting for a bunch of obnoxious sterotypes to get eaten.

If you’re sick of cookie-cutter monster flicks and just want a tense, engaging thriller, step into the Wayback Machine and check out Jaws. It’s by far the best and the scariest of the series, and the progenitor of the summer blockbuster and the modern monster movie.

Transformers (2007)

04/01/2011 2 comments

This is a story about a boy and his car.

Of course, that isn’t all. It also has giant transforming robots, a massive interplanetary civil war, car chases, fight scenes, explosions, tangles with shadowy government organizations, and the human race held in the balance as two powerful factions fight for dominance.

In other words, this is a story about a boy and his car, directed by Michael Bay.

Transformers is a sci fi action film directed by Michael Bay, based on the Transformers toy line. It stars Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, plus the voices of Peter Cullen and Hugo Weaving, and a buttload of CGI effects detailed enough to melt several processors.

A civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons has destroyed their homeworld of Cybertron. The key to restoring life to the dead planet is the Allspark, which has the power to infuse machines with life. However, the Autobots wish to use it for peaceful purposes, while the Decepticons wish to use it for conquest. Complicating matters on both ends is the fact that the Allspark has been lost, last seen on a little blue planet called Earth. One of the denizens of said little blue planet is impending high school graduate Sam Witwicky, a simple guy with simple goals: get a car, and get a girlfriend. One of his plans to acquire capital for said car is selling some artifacts from his great-great grandfather’s fateful expedition to Antarctica in 1897, a trip that left him blind, insane, and raving about ice monsters. Little does Sam know that his simple quest for a sweet ride is going to throw him into the middle of the abovementioned civil war…

This was another one of those movie announcements that had nerds all over the world perking up their ears, particularly we children of the 80s, who grew up surrounded by the Transformers. Steven Spielberg has done great sci fi and fantasy work in the past, making him the ideal producer, but Michael Bay had initially balked when asked to direct, dismissing it as a “stupid toy movie”. He learned how wrong he was when he visited Habsro and learned about the MASSIVE mythology behind the toy line, but in true Michael Bay fashion he averted the possible kiddie-ness of the movie by adding more to the military subplot (read: more shit blowing up). The CG-created Transformer characters were intricately detailed, with special attention being paid to making the transformation sequences look like they obeyed the laws of physics and conservation of mass: a robot that is this big as a vehicle must be this big as a biped. As a result, the titular Transformers looked great, and I could actually believe that the human cast was being threatened by twenty-foot-tall robots.

As for the human cast, LeBeouf fared decently well as Unlucky Everydude Sam, and Kevin Dunn and Julie White were suitably embarrassing as his parents, from whom he’s trying to hide facts like his ’74 Camaro being alive and wanting to recruit him for an interstellar war. Megan Fox’s Mikaela tries so hard to be a well-rounded character, but in the end is just the Hot Gearhead. John Turturro is more or less every character he’s ever played, and deserved to get a swift kick in his self-importance, contrasting with Jon Voight as Secretary of Defense John Keller, a surprisingly reasonable authority figure once he gets a handle on what’s going on. However, while the story focuses mainly on the human perspective of OMG GIANT TRANSFORMING ROBOTS, when the Transformers themselves show up and a Michael Bay movie ensues, the human subplot is very nearly lost amid the car chases, downtown battle sequences, robot fu, and massive property damage.

In the end, the robots looked great, the battle sequences looked great, and the paranoia fuel of transforming robots was applied just enough to offer a human perspective on the franchise. In the end, though, Transformers mainly runs on special effects and awesome, with a fair amount of plot to contain it all. If you’re a fan of the Tranformers franchise and/or you’re looking for an exciting sci fi action movie, check this one out.

Jurassic Park (1993)


“You did it. You crazy son of a bitch, you did it.”

When Steven Spielberg announced that he was going to make a movie called Jurassic Park, about a theme park populated by dinosaurs, every nerd in the world perked up their collective ears. Spielberg had already established himself as an influential director that doesn’t make a habit of settling for half-measures, and every human being is hard-wired to get excited about dinosaurs. Put the two together, and it sounded like a match made in heaven.

Guess what? It was.

Jurassic Park is a science fiction thriller based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton. It stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, and lots of really awesone-looking dinosaurs.

It sounds like a great idea: use revolutionary genetic analysis techniques to clone dinosaurs from blood samples gained from mosquitoes preserved in amber. Billionaire eccentric John Hammond thinks so, anyway, and he has decided to build a dinosaur theme park of Isla Nublar, a small island 87 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, populating the exhibits with his cloned dinos. However, after one of the dino handlers gets shredded to hell by a velociraptor a minor incident with one of the dinosaurs, Hammond’s investors get spooked and send in their lawyer, Gennaro, to check things out. Hammond agrees to send two experts on a tour of the park. He invites paleontologist Alan Grant and his wife/fiancee, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, for the privilege, offering to fund their research for the next three years in exchange; they agree and join the tour group, along with chaotician Ian Malcolm, Gennaro, and two of Hammond’s grandchildren, dino enthusiast Timmy and computer nerd hacker Lexi. Hammond hopes to prove to Gennaro once and for all that the park is absolutely safe. After all, he spared no expense.

Little does he know that his head computer programmer, Dennis Nedry, is an under-the-radar employee of BioSyn, a corporate rival of Hammond’s company InGen that has paid Nedry a king’s ransom to acquire some of Hammond’s dinosaur embryos. As the tour starts, Nedry sets his plan in motion, using a program he wrote to disable the entire park’s security systems – after all, he designed them. By the time anyone realizes what Nedry has done, the automated Range Rovers carrying the happy tourists through the park have been halted in their tracks, leaving their passengers stranded near the T-Rex paddock. What was going to be a nice outing in a theme park full of cloned dinosaurs is rapidly turning into a terrifying fight to survive in a theme park full of cloned dinosaurs, as Our Intrepid Heroes try to get to safety and get the security systems back online…

I saw this movie in the theater the summer it came out, and I was left with the impression that Steven Spielberg + Stan Winston = GOOD THINGS. The dinosaurs were a seamless combination of animatronics and CGI, and even the CG dinosaurs seemed to have real weight to them, especially the skyscraper-sized Brachiosaur that served as the viewer’s first look at OMG DINOSAURS. The velociraptors showed a chilling level of cunning, particularly as they chased Timmy and Lex through the visitors’ center, that matched up well with game warden Muldoon’s apparently genuine admiration and fear of them. And the T-rex, the first major predatory dino the visitors encounter, looks like he really wanted to chase you down and eat you. There were difficulties, of course: scenes with the animatronic rex in the simulated rain had to be stopped again and again, as water soaking into the rex’s rubber skin gave it the shakes. And a few liberties had to be taken with some of the “star” dinos for the sake of pure awesome (and because this was what we knew of them at the time): the velociraptors were built on a scale closer to that of the much larger Deinonychus to make them more scary, but that was made okay with the discovery of Utahraptor. The dilophosaur probably didn’t have a frill, but Nedry really needed to have that final OH CRAP moment. Dozens of animal sounds were mixed together to creature unique calls for all the dinosaurs, and all the elements mixed together extremely well, helping the audience believe that the dinosaurs were real.

The human cast also did very well, here, both in discussing the potential problems of the dinosaur park (only Malcolm descended into the filibustering that would become Crichtons unfortunate trademark in later books) and in acting and reacting against the dinosaur effects. Neill and Dern as Grant and Sattler convinced me that they knew their respective fields well, while Jeff Goldblum, as always, plays the deadpan twitchy genius Ian Malcom. Richard Attenborough plays Hammond as more of a child-friendly Walt Disney expy than the greedy bastard he was in the book, only wanting a nice diversion for the kiddies (and therefore he is spared the book’s death-by-zerg-rush). Bob Peck as Muldoon was pretty much the great white hunter, knowing full well how dangerous the raptors were, while Wayne Knight is every character he has ever played, making me want to give him a swift kick in the face regardless of his intended corporate espionage. The actors really made the dinosaurs work, though, and without them and the tight plot this movie would have just been a crapton of flashy effects without any real substance to them.

In conclusion, while the special effects are easy to take for granted nowadays and certain dinosaur portrayals are now out-of-date, Jurassic Park remains a fun, eye-popping roller-coaster ride through the dreams of a wealthy entrepreneur, forced to watch his vision turn into a nightmare. This movie will be one of my favorites for a long time.