Trevor Hogg profiles the career of legendary Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg in the third of a five part feature... read parts one and two.
In the screenplay Night Skies drafted by American filmmaker John Sayles (Passion Fish), a violent space creature has the ability to kill with a touch of its boney finger. One of the alien visitors befriends a farm boy and gets accidentally left behind. When director Steven Spielberg decided to lighten the tone of the story, Sayles left the project and the writing responsibilities fell to Melissa Mathison (Kundun). The end result was E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) with the hostiles being the human scientists seeking to capture the benevolent title character that possesses an endearing child-like curiosity. Featuring a family with an absentee father, Spielberg has readily admitted that the tale provided him with the means to address an emotionally painful event from his teenage years. “My parents got divorced when I was fifteen. The whole thing about separation is something that runs very deep in anyone exposed to divorce, especially when you’re cognizant of what it means not to have a routine – no matter how stressful or antagonistic that routine may have been. The breaking up of the mother and father is extremely traumatic from four up. All of us are still suffering the repercussions of a divorce that had to happen.” The Ohio born native added, “E.T. is a film that was inside me for many years and could only come out after a lot of suburban psychodrama.”
“I wanted the opening of E.T. to be that Mother of the Night,” explained Steven Spielberg. “You come down over the trees, you see the stars, and suddenly you think you’re in space – wow, you’re not, you’re in a forest somewhere. You’re not quite sure where; you might be in a forest on some distant planet. It was Melissa’s idea to use the forest; at first, I thought of having the ship land in a vacant lot. But she said, ‘A forest is magical…there are elves in forests.’” The movie production costing $10.5 million starred an aninamatronic extra-terrestrial cast alongside child actor Henry Thomas, whom Spielberg discovered playing Sissy Spacek’s (Carrie) older son in Raggedy Man (1981). “I asked him to do an improvisation with Mike Fenton, the casting director. The improvisation was so heartfelt and honest I gave him the part right there. You can hear my voice on the videotape before we turned off the camera, saying, ‘You’ve got the job, kid.’ I was blown away by this nine year old…He’s a very controlled, methodical performer who measures what he does and feels what he does and yet broadcasts it in a totally subtle way.” The filmmaker had a tricky time handling his young performers which included his precocious goddaughter Drew Barrymore (Boys on the Side). “I think kids tend to look at adults as just melodramatic excuses for people,” reflected Spielberg. “A lot of kids look up to look down. And I found, even when I was giving Henry Thomas direction, that if I was out of touch with his reality, he would give me a look that seem to say, ‘Oh brother, he’s old.’”
Avoiding his normal tradition of constructing storyboards turned out to be an asset for the director. “Winging E.T. made it a very spontaneous, vital movie,” said Spielberg. “It was much better to start with the personalities and let the personalities suggest where the camera goes as opposed to setting the camera in cement and instructing the actor where to sit, stand, and move because that’s what the doodles suggested.” The technique helped to emphasize a critical cinematic storytelling element. “To me humanity always comes first. If there wasn’t any humanity, nobody would like my movies. I think that every movie that succeeds, succeeds on a humanistic level. You have to like the people of your story; it’s very important, and if you don’t like the people, no matter how technologically superior a film is, it’s just not going to succeed.”
Success soon followed as the picture grossed $717 million worldwide and was awarded Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, Best Sound at the Oscars while contending for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay. The BAFTAs lauded E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial with Best Score as well as nominating it for Best Cinematography, Best Film, Best Director, Besting Editing, Best Makeup, Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Visual Effects and Most Outstanding Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore). The Golden Globes presented the movie with Best Picture – Drama and Best Original Score along with nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay and New Star of the Year (Henry Thomas). The Writers Guild of America handed out the award for Best Original Screenplay to the science fiction tale while it also received nominations from the Directors Guild of American and the American Cinema Editors. The movie was a four-time winner at the Young Artists Awards for Best Family Feature – Animated, Musical or Fantasy, Best Young Motion Picture Actor (Henry Thomas), Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Robert MacNaughton), and Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Drew Barrymore).
“I think I am taken quite seriously as a director,” observed Spielberg. “I feel like I’ve already been accepted, with over forty nominations in technical and creative categories.” Questioned about E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial being overlooked at the Oscars by Ghandi (1982), the director answered, “I think people read too much into that. They think it was more of a blow than it was. Of course it means a lot, winning anything, being recognized for your work – anyone who denies that isn’t speaking from the heart. An Oscar would be wonderful, but for me, not the last goal.” In 1994, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was inducted into the National Film Registry and for its twentieth anniversary in 2002, an extended version with altered special effects was release; at the premiere of the new edition John Williams conducted a live performance of the score and the stars of the film appeared on stage.
“Poltergeist  was something I conceived while I was doing Raiders . I always wanted to make a ghost movie, ever since I was a kid,” remarked Steven Spielberg. “[It] is about my [childhood] fears – of a clown doll, of a closet, of what was under my bed, and of the tree in New Jersey that I felt moved whenever there was a wind storm.” The moviemaker added, “It’s meant to be a thrill a second, with humour. The most important thing I wanted to do with this movie was [show] a simple, suburban American family that has a sense of humour about life and about science. They enjoy science a little too much. The mother becomes too curious about the poltergeist phenomenon for her child’s own good, and then is put into the responsible position of rescuing the child. My favourite part of the movie is from the beginning of the movie until they get the kid back. My least favourite [part] is the last fifteen minutes.”
Selecting the pivotal child who becomes the focus of the paranormal activity was easier than expected. “For Poltergeist, I wanted a ‘beatific’ four year old child…every mother’s dream,” said Steven Spielberg. “While having lunch, I looked across the room and there was little Heather [O’Rourke] sitting there. I kept staring at her. After lunch, I walked over to the table, and I said, ‘Who’s the proud mother or agent of this child?’ And two hands went up – the mother’s and the agent’s. So I pulled Heather aside, and I think we made her a deal the next day. She’s wonderful.” Though he had written the script, the filmmaker handed over the helming responsibilities to Tobe Hooper who had gained international attention by directing The Texas Chain-Saw Massacre (1974). “I lined-produced Poltergeist. That was my production; I was very involved with that from the beginning, the storyboarding through the editing,” stated Spielberg. “It was frustrating for Tobe Hooper [the director], and it was frustrating for the actors, who were pretty much torn between my presence and his on the set every day. But rather than Tobe saying, ‘I can’t stand it. Go off to Hawaii, get off the set.’ He’d laugh and I’d laugh. If he’d said, ‘I’ve got some ideas that you’re not really letting into this movie, I would love you to see the dailies, consult, but don’t be on set.’ I probably would have left.” The suburban ghost story earned $77 million domestically and was nominated for Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score at the Oscars; while the BAFTAs lauded the picture with the award for Best Special Visual Effects and the Youth Artists Awards nominated it for Best Young Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture (Heather O’Rourke). Despite all of the recognition for the film, Steven Spielberg swore he would never again let someone else direct one of his own scripts.
“I’ve always found that science speculation was about the preternatural,” observed Spielberg. “It is more or less what the name implies. It’s elements of nature that we know exist; we’re just not sure how they exist or how to measure their existence. But they’re things that we know are around us in everyday waking life. Science fiction, of course, is just boundless. It’s to the limits of one’s imagination. And so far it hasn’t been discovered where those limits reside.” Teaming with directors John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Joe Dante (Gremlins), and George Miller (Babe), Steven Spielberg recreated two classic episodes and produced two original stories inspired by a classic Rod Serling television series for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). The director was responsible for the second segment called Kick the Can where a group of seniors in a retirement home play the game of kick the can which transforms them back to their childhood selves. Production on the project was seriously marred when a fatal helicopter crash occurred during the filming of John Landis’ portion which led to the deaths of veteran performer Vic Morrow (The Bad News Bears) and two child actors.
“The original story was about a haunted house in Scotland,” stated filmmaker George Lucas (American Graffiti) regarding the initial concept for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). “But Steven said, ‘Aw, I just made Poltergeist, I don’t want to do that again.’” During the spring of 1982 a four-day story conference occurred in India with Lucas, Steven Spielberg and screenwriters Willard Huyck (American Graffiti) and Gloria Katz (Howard the Duck) to rework the concept. “George said that it was going to be a very dark film,” remembered Spielberg, “the way The Empire Strikes Back  was the dark second act of the Star Wars trilogy. So George came up with this idea along with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck that it was going to be about the Kali cult, with black magic and things that I personally find very spooky. In many ways the visual style of the film was conceived when George first told me the story which was a very rough sketch of the movie he wanted us to help him construct. I heard a couple of things – Thuggees, temple of death, voodoo, and human sacrifices – so what came to mind immediately was torchlight, long shadows, and red lava light. I wanted to paint a dark picture of an inner sanctum.”
“George’s idea was to start the movie with a musical number,” stated Steven Spielberg. “He wanted to do a Busby Berkeley dance number where Willie Scott would come out singing.” The sequence also enabled the moviemakers to explore the nightlife of the adventurous academic played once again by Harrison Ford (Presumed Innocent). “I looked at a lot of possible Indy girls. I really wanted to bring back Marion [Karen Allen] but George and I discussed it. We ultimately decided there should be a different Indiana Jones lady in each of the three films.” The director soon found his leading lady as well as his second wife, Kate Capshaw (A Little Sex). “I thought she was absolutely Willie. She wasn’t the character in real life but she had the energy for the girl. I remember taking the tape over to Harrison’s house that night and saying, ‘Look I’ve got about twenty girls on tape. But I only want to show you one.’ And I put Kate in, and he said, ‘She’s the one.’” Another significant casting decision was the role of Indy’s adolescent sidekick which was filled by newcomer Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies). “I saw his videotape and the search stopped at that moment,” enthused Spielberg. “I just loved his personality. I thought he was like a fifty year old man trapped in this twelve year old’s body. He had an old soul. He had ancient eyes and a beautiful smile and a great willingness to do it all.”
“The actual Temple was a huge set,” remarked Steven Spielberg who was impressed with the work of cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Julia). “When I walked on it for the first day it looked like an opera hall. It was just one of the biggest sets that I had ever seen. Dougie did the most ingenious lighting for it. He lit the pit with a lot of lights with red gel on them, to give the effect of fire coming up.” There was one movie sequence featured in the $28 million production that the director really enjoyed. “The spike room was one of my favourite sets. That scene was my flagrant homage to the old Republic serials, and I wanted it in the story very early on. I had so much fun directing the scene because it was a race against time with the spikes coming down and Indy screaming at Willie to reverse the mechanism. I also liked the little coda that I added at the end after they finally come out, when Willie leans over and her butt hits another device and the whole thing starts over again – and they have to throw their bodies through one of the doors that’s quickly closing – and the last thing was Indy retrieving his hat. God forbid it should stay behind.”
“Johnny Williams saw the film and I think he reacted appropriately,” remarked Steven Spielberg of his veteran collaborator. “His music is beautiful for Willie and Indy. I love the trek score where the elephants are going across India. That was some of the most beautiful trek music I’d ever heard. Then he got really dark and strange with the all-male chorus inside the Temple of Doom itself. John did an amazing score, which really brought the movie up in my eyes.” Grossing $333 million worldwide, the prequel was far less critically acclaimed than its predecessor. Variety’s film review declared, “In one quick step, the Raiders films have gone the way James Bond opuses went at certain points, away from nifty stories in favour of one big effect after another.” At the Oscars, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom won for Best Visual Effects and contended for Best Original Score; while the BAFTAs awarded it with Best Visual Effects along with nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Sound. For his performance in the action adventure, The Young Artists Awards nominated Ke Huy Quan for Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. “I look back and I say, ‘Well, the greatest thing that I got out of that movie was I met Kate Capshaw,” reflected Spielberg. “We were married years later and that to me was the reason I was fated to make Temple of Doom.”
Adapting author Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Color Purple (1985) about a black woman struggling to survive in the American South during the early twentieth century, served as the next project for Steven Spielberg. “I really wanted to challenge myself with something that was not stereotypically a Spielberg picture,” stated the director who switched from his usual “fast-paced, energetic entertainments” to a serious tale which allowed for more character development and for him to exercise “a different set of muscles.” The filmmaker was following in the footsteps of an illustrious group of social conscious storytellers. “I wanted to work in the same arena as directors liked Sydney Lumet [Serpico] and Sydney Pollock [Out of Africa], and Paddy Chayefsky [Network], in terms of what he’d done as a playwright and writer.” Spielberg commented further, “The big difference in The Color Purple is that the story is not larger than the lives of the people.” However, despite all the differences from his past efforts, Steven Spielberg feels that there are also similarities. “It links to my previous movies in that it portrays an urgency to fulfill a dream. Celie [Whoopi Goldberg] has an urgency to fulfill her own destiny, to discover the things that belong to her self.”
“I didn’t sit down with my associates and say, ‘Find me a people project,’” said the Cincinnatian. “Kathleen Kennedy, my partner and associate who runs my [production] company, came to me and said, ‘Here’s something you might enjoy reading,’ and slipped me the book. If she had presented it to me as a potential project, I think I’d have felt challenged and defensive. But I started reading it and I couldn’t stop. I came away very much in a love with Celie.” As much as he wanted to bring the novel to a wider audience, Steven Spielberg wanted to remain true to the source material. “Alice [Walker] was a spiritual presence throughout the movie. She was there [on set] half of the time. A couple of times we’d go over to her, and say, ‘We’re adding something here and we’d like to ask, could you help us?’ and she’d write a line or two.” Asked if being white made him an unlikely choice by the author to bring her best-selling novel to the big screen, Spielberg replied, “The issue was not the colour of my skin, but whether I’d make a good movie out of the book.” Responding to accusations that he toned down the homosexual overtones between Celie and the bisexual blues singer Shrug (Margaret Avery) to get a PG-13 rating, the filmmaker remarked, “It was an artistic decision. I didn’t categorize it as a lesbian relationship so much as a love relationship of great need. No one had ever loved Celie other than God and her sister [Akosua Busia]. And here Celie is being introduced to the human race by a person full of love. I didn’t think a full-out love scene would say it any better.”
“This movie is about the triumph of the spirit, and spirit and soul never had racial boundaries,” clarified the director. “This was not a movie about race or racial issues, we did not feel that we needed to give equal importance to white characters. The few white people in the film are part of the storytelling process. They are people representing circumstances.” A controversial casting choice was the selection of talk show host Oprah Winfrey (Beloved) as Celie’s friend Sophia. “Oprah convinced me that she was this character in our very first meeting,” stated Spielberg who did not regret his decision. Variety’s film review stated, “Overproduced, overly manipulative, Steven Spielberg’s drama is saved by outstanding performances”; the picture features the acting talents of Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon), Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix), and Willard E. Pugh (Toy Soldiers). Worldwide The Color Purple earned $143 million and received eleven Academy Award nominations including Best Actress (Whoopi Goldberg), Best Supporting Actress (Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey), Best Art and Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay. At the BAFTAs, the movie contended for Best Adapted Screenplay, while the Golden Globes awarded it Best Actress (Whoopi Goldberg) along with nominations for Best Director, Best Picture – Drama, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actress (Oprah Winfrey). Steven Spielberg won a Directors Guild of America Award, and the Writers Guild of America nominated the script co-written by Alice Walker and Menno Meyjes for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Returning to television, Steven Spielberg directed the first two episodes of a Twilight Zone inspired anthology; called Amazing Stories [1985 to 1987], it aired on NBC. In the half-an-hour long installment Ghost Train (1985), Roberts Blossom (Home Alone) tells his grandson, portrayed by Lukas Haas (Witness), that a steam locomotive is coming to take his soul away. And in Spielberg’s second contribution The Mission (1985) a young World War II aircraft gunner and aspiring cartoonist finds his animated drawings taking on a life of their own while he is trapped in the belly of a B-17.
A British child separated from his parents while Westerners flee Shanghai during World War II is the subject of an autobiographical book by J.G. Ballard called Empire of the Sun; the big screen version of the story was helmed by Steven Spielberg in 1987. “From the moment I read the novel, I secretly wanted to do it myself,” confessed Spielberg who was initially asked by legendary British filmmaker David Lean (Lawrence of Arabia) to purchase the film rights for him. “I had never read anything with an adult setting – even Oliver Twist – where a child saw through a man’s eyes as opposed to a man discovering through the child in him. This was just the reverse of what I felt – leading up to Empire – was my credo. I discovered very quickly that this movie and turning forty happening at almost the same time, was no coincidence – that I had decided to do a movie with grown-up themes and values.”
After the audition of four thousand performers for the role of Jim Graham, thirteen year old Welsh actor Christian Bale (The Dark Knight) was selected for the part. “There was something about Christian that was purely intuitive, and that’s how I work too. We really got along on that level. We didn’t do a lot intellectualizing.” Spielberg has a flexible attitude when interacting with his adolescent performers. “With Henry Thomas during E.T. we would play video games for the entire hour. With Christian, I brought him a radio-controlled racing car so every lunch hour we would go with our cars and have races.” The director could relate well with the on-screen character’s fascination with flight. “As a child I used to build model airplanes and I was attracted to flying the way Jim is.” There was a family connection to the tale. “I’m closer to the Forties’ personality than the Eighties’. I love that period. My father filled my head with war stories – he was a radioman on a B-25 fighting the Japanese in Burma. I had identified with that period of innocence and tremendous jeopardy all of my life. I collect documentaries and I think I have every one made on that period.”
“I wanted to draw a parallel story between the death of this boy’s innocence and the death of innocence of the entire world,” revealed Steven Spielberg. “When that white light goes off in Nagasaki, and the boy witnesses the light – whether he really sees it or his mind sees it doesn’t matter. Two innocents have come to an end and a saddened world has begun.” The director quickly added, “I don’t think I have made a dark movie. But it’s as dark as I allowed myself to get, and that was perversely compelling to me.” The moviemaker sought to balance the tone of the picture. “I’m always trying to infuse humour into any situation. The more dramatic the situation, the more fun I have trying to find a lighter side to the darkness.” Reflecting on the story, Spielberg remarked, “The whole idea of being taken away from your parents and forced to adapt to a new routine – I’m not good with change, personally speaking. Possibly that’s why it has taken me so long to get out of the habit of just trying to appeal to audiences between the ages of six and fifteen.”
Starring in the first Hollywood production to shoot in Shanghai since the Maoist revolution are John Malkovich (In the Line of Fire), Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game), Nigel Havers (Chariots of Fire), Joe Pantoliano (Memento), Ben Stiller (Zoolander), Leslie Phillips (Venus) and Masato Ibu (Yureru). Grossing $22 million domestically, the picture was not a financial disappointment for its director. “I knew going in that Empire of the Sun... wasn’t going to have a broad audience appeal,” admitted Spielberg. “Yet some things need to be done regardless of the commercial return.” Empire of the Sun received Oscar nominations for Best Art and Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Original Score and Best Sound while Spielberg was presented with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for “creative producing.” At the BAFTAs, the wartime drama won Best Cinematography, Best Score and Best Sound while contending for Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Adapted Screenplay; the Golden Globes nominated it for Best Picture – Drama and Best Original Score. Steven Spielberg received a Directors Guild of America nomination and at the Young Artists Awards, the movie won Best Family Motion Picture – Drama and Best Young Actor in a Motion Picture (Christian Bale).
Coming up with a story idea to turn the Indiana Jones movie franchise into a trilogy was a laborious challenge. “After three and a half screenplays had been written and the third was about to be about to be abandoned, I said, ‘Look, I’ll direct it, but it’s going to have to be a father-son story,’” recalled Steven Spielberg who was at creative odds with the originator of the swashbuckling archeologist, George Lucas, over the idea of centering the tale around the quest for the Holy Grail; a compromise was reached with the two men agreeing to incorporate both ideas into the script. “When it came down to casting, I said to George, ‘There’s only one person who can play Indy’s father and that’s James Bond.’” For the role of Professor Henry Jones, the filmmaker contacted the Scottish actor who was the first to play the suave and lethal British secret agent. “Steven Spielberg contacted me and made an offer, and I was absolutely delighted,” stated Sean Connery (The Untouchables) who was an active participate in the screenplay development for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). “Sean had a lot of ideas for his character,” remembered Spielberg. “He would come over to George and me and say, ‘Look, anything Indy does in the context of this story, I have done better. When he talks about sleeping with Elsa [the German double agent], you have to write that I slept with her, too.’ And it was Sean’s idea that they should be tied back-to-back in a chair.” Connery explained his reasoning. “One wanted the relationship between Indy and his father not to be so harmonious in the beginning. Sleeping with the same woman was a bit of anathema for George, but he eventually came around because it was possible and funny. And we played up the fact that Indy told his father that he never took any notice of him when he was a kid. I reply, ‘You weren’t interesting until you were nineteen.’ That was a terrific formula. It makes for good comedy.”
“I wanted to bring back the spirit of the original Raiders and have some fun with it,” revealed Steven Spielberg who intentionally moved away from the dark tone of the second installment. “I wanted to bring the cast back, which I missed in Temple of Doom, so Denholm Elliott [A Room with a View] came back, and [John] Rhys-Davies [The Lost World] as Sallah.” For the prologue featuring the young Indiana Jones, the director recruited a rising star who later died tragically from a drug overdose. “I loved River Phoenix’s work, especially in Stand By Me ,” said Spielberg. “He very seriously studied Harrison in all of his films, his vocal inflection and his physical style. He made the part his own, but incorporated enough of Harrison that you could really see a young Indiana Jones underneath the Boy Scout uniform.” As for his own time spent as a Boy Scout, Spielberg chuckled, “I was pretty inept. I couldn’t cook. I couldn’t tie knots well and I sliced open my finger while demonstrating axe sharpening to about five hundred scouts during summer camp.” To portray the manipulative Elsa, a role the filmmaker initially wanted to incorporate in Raiders of Lost Ark, a young Irish performer was chosen. “Alison Doody [A View to Kill] played a part that many actresses played in the 1930s movies, where femme fatales turned out to be more fatale than femme. That character was a homage to a lot of those Alan Ladd [This Gun for Hire] pictures where you never could trust a woman.”
Keeping to the spirit of the previous two pictures, Spielberg made use of a creepy nonhuman adversary lurking beneath the catacomb tunnels. “In order to have rats that aren’t infected with some virus or disease, you have to basically cultivate them from birth,” remarked the moviemaker. “So our animal handlers gave birth to something like two thousand rats. I put snakes around Karen Allen’s [Scrooged] neck, I put bugs in Kate Capshaw’s hair, and rats in Alison Doody’s. I had no shame. We also had a lot of mechanical rats because we had to light them on fire. I may have no shame, but I do draw the line somewhere.” The inclusion of the tank action sequence was to accommodate a creative request. “George wanted an old World War I tank and I basically wrote the scene in storyboards.” Harrison Ford was a willing collaborator. “The notion George and Steven had about putting my father in the tank and me having to stop it gave us the opportunity to come up with a lot of physical stunts and gags. As for the hat having to stay on, I’ll tell you what helps a lot is a good sweat.”
The quest for the Holy Grail and the father-son storylines dramatically collide into each other. “When Donovan [Robert Watts] turns the gun on Henry and shoots him right in the stomach, Indiana has a finite amount of time to discover the Grail,” said Steven Spielberg. “And that’s when you know a story is working, when you have that kind of drama.” Observing the shifting family dynamics between father and son, the director stated, “The whole film he tortures him by calling him Junior. But for the first time when his son is hanging on for his life, he says, ‘Indiana.’ And that stops Indy. Indy looks up at his father and then takes his other hand, and is pulled to safety. That was the bonding moment between father and son.” Movie audiences bonded with the $55 million action-adventure production which grossed $474 million worldwide; it won Best Sound Effects Editing at the Oscars while contending for Best Original Score and Best Sound. At the BAFTAs, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Sean Connery), Best Sound and Best Special Effects; it also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor (Sean Connery).
Acknowledging the similarities between Always (1989) and a Hollywood classic which stars Spencer Tracy (Inherit the Wind) as a killed fighter pilot who serves as a guardian angel to a young flyer, Spielberg stated, “I think the film owes a great inspiration to the 1943 Victor Fleming film A Guy Named Joe. But it’s not really a remake. It was the basis for a new story.” A major change was in the setting of the picture which involved the main character being airplane pilot who fights forest fires in present day Montana. “I did not want to go back and make a World War II story. I wanted to make a contemporary story. I was afraid that if I set it in a period, people would say, ‘Well, that’s just how people thought back in the old days. People don’t feel like that way in modern times.’ I wanted this to be applicable to this generation. It took a long time to adapt it to 1989.” Summarizing the storyline, the Ohio born filmmaker remarked, “Always is about love after death, but it’s not a downer. It essentially says that true love survives death and can come back to haunt you in both good and bad ways. It’s a story about a man who had a chance to say everything important to the one person he loved and didn’t say it until it was too late. And now that he is gone, his mission – so to speak, even though he doesn’t know what his mission is – is to come back and say all the things he was never able to say as a living human being.”
Working once again with Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters of the Third Kind) as his leading man was a welcomed reunion for Steven Spielberg. “I found with Richard there was less verbal communication because we’ve worked together twice… I could just make a little gesture – almost like a conductor with a baton – just raise my hands or lower them and Richard would know exactly what I was talking about.” Two newcomers to a Spielberg production were inadvertently reunited on set. “I loved John Goodman and Holly [Hunter] in Raising Arizona , but I completely forgot they were in it together. I cast John Goodman after having already cast Holly. It only dawned on me later that they both shared a set.” The director was impressed with the work ethic of Hunter who plays the grieving lover of Dreyfuss’ character. “Holly plots and builds her character like someone would build a house from the ground up.” As for the cinematic chemistry between his male and female leads, Spielberg did not regret his casting decision. “I was fortunate to find these two people who were very right for each other. They have an edge, both of them, when they act together. That’s what makes the relationship interesting. It’s not a roll-over-and-play-dead relationship; it’s a real sassy, saucy kind of rapport they have with each other. They do a lot of needling both on and off camera.”
Overshadowing the appearance of Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter in the picture was the big screen return of Oscar-winner Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s). “I fully expected her to turn it down for various reasons – mostly because she is so involved with UNICEF and travels the world,” confided Spielberg. “I know her time is precious, but she loved the script, she made the time and that was the biggest compliment she could have given any of us.” The Hollywood legend was well suited for playing the part of a deity. “I thought whether she is interpreted as being an emissary of God or Mother Nature or God itself, it just seemed right to me. I never thought twice about it when I decided to cast her in the movie. She has a lot of compassion about her; and Pete, the character played by Richard, needs a lot of compassion, because he is a single-minded, ornery type of guy. He needs all the help he can get to put his priorities in order. I would say Hap is his conscience. She is like the conscience of people everywhere.”
When it came to creating the forest fires featured in the movie, Steven Spielberg had to improvise. “We wanted to shoot actual forest fires but we didn’t want to start any new ones,” stated the director. “The special effects people went in and rigged the trees that had already burned. Once they’re burning again you can’t tell that they’re not green.” There was also a lot of advance work involved with the production of the film. “In a lot of scenes where Richard and John Goodman are flying over the fire, that’s actually Yellowstone burning below. We sent our crews out over two and half years ago in preparation for this movie.” Assessing the risk of reworking previously released material, Spielberg conceded, “It’s always a little more risky doing something based on a novel, a movie or a play because the original source material is represented and suddenly you are being compared to someone else’s work.” Earning $74 million worldwide Always was not the highflier the director had hoped it would be at the box office.
Often compared to the boy who never wanted to grow-up, Steven Spielberg decided for his next project to star the seminal fantasy character created by British playwright J.M. Barrie.
Continue to part four.
Read the unproduced screenplay for Night Skies.
TheRaider.net is your source for all things Indy and for more on the making of the films be sure to check out J.W. Rinzler's The Complete Making of Indiana Jones.
Visit the official Dreamworks website here.
Five Essential Films of Steven Spielberg
Short Film Showcase - Amblin' (1968)
Movies for Free! Duel (1971)
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.