Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spielberg and Horror

A conversation about Poltergeist today reminded me of something I’d been meaning to post about for a while. A couple of months ago I went through a Steven Spielberg binge – partly for this essay on his development as a political filmmaker, partly because, hey, Spielberg. But as I went back over his earlier work, it struck me just how much Spielberg’s filmmaking language owes to horror. Obviously, several of his earliest films – Duel, Something Evil, Jaws – actually are horror films. But I’m intrigued by how many of his other films rely on horror tropes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - A Galaxy Not-So-Far Away

One thing I always found interesting about George Lucas's Prequel Trilogy was the way he expanded the Star Wars universe by going back to his original well of inspiration for the first film: the popular movie genres of his youth. So if the first Star Wars (aka A New Hope) was an homage to old sci-fi serials and Westerns, then The Phantom Menace was a Biblical epic (complete with a chariot race), and Attack of the Clones a combination of noir and syrupy romance and sword & sandal flick, and Revenge of the Sith a gangster movie. Watching Lucas try and bring such oddball genre elements into his otherwise fairly well-defined sci-fi world was fascinating, even endearing -- and it's one of the reasons that I don't hate the Prequels like many others do. Though they're wildly uneven, they're still dazzling feats of imagination, and even their very unevenness feels like a result of a directorial personality at work.

J.J. Abrams, who directed The Force Awakens, comes from a different generation than Lucas, and he most likely didn't grow up with those genres. The good news is, he evidently grew up watching Star Wars. So, in his own way, he’s made a movie that homages the film genre of his youth. In other words, The Force Awakens feels very much like a Star Wars movie -- maybe even more so than the Prequels. It doesn't expand the universe so much as indulge in it.