AT LONG LAST! TIME TO TRASH '1941'
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In this, the New Era of people asking what went wrong, what went so horribly, horribly wrong, it can only be the cue for a time for self-reflection. That, and a good excuse to review 1941 which I saw a while ago. I didn't see the director's cut, but I think I got the point anyway. I heard it does make a handy gift...
Academy Award Nominee for Best Cinematography William Fraker (Apocalypse Now won instead, go figure...), Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. More interesting than the film itself is its unique place in history. One of the major film critics said that Raiders of the Lost Ark was the film that world renowned director Sir Steven Spielberg had to make. In the spirit of America's Freedom of Speech I strongly disagree, and I won't even lean back on that new tried-and-true of insisting that the other guy is denigrating our troops and probably French, as I think that 1941 was the film that Spielberg had to make, and for two reasons: one, to get Buzz Feitshans into the biz, and two, because they say that you learn the great lessons from great failures. While some will debate that 1941 is just that, you still can't complain too much if your next feature is something like Raiders. Right?
As you can see, all involved learned valuable lessons about character development from the process, because when you see the film you can't help but try to figure out what's wrong. As a co-worker said to me, "You just knew that ferris wheel was gonna blow!" There's no character in the movie to pull you in to the 'story'. The closest is perhaps Bobby Di Cicco. Somebody throw him a bone, for God's sake! For Spielberg, the scale of the comedy's too big, even sentimental at times (often wrong for comedy), and tends to exclude the characters; also a tricky proposition. It wants to be It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but it didn't give the characters enough to do after introducing them. For screenwriters Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, you can see the stem cells that would later develop into Biff Tannen, in this case Treat Williams' character who really hates eggs, and probably also manure but the film doesn't explore that, and of course the big dance, not called Enchantment Under the Sea in this case.
Big action comedy setpieces you gotta like: the house falling at the end (9 cameras!!) and the tank crashing through the paint store. Also, although it wasn't probably intended as a big-laugh sequence, I don't recall that many a film that got such a spectacular shot of the Grand Canyon, except maybe America's Heart & Soul, but the election's over so I don't have to watch that crap, n'yah n'yah!! Not so much: the La Brea tar pits sequence. More of a screenplay school lesson, or Big Landmarks 101. Then again, the makers of Last Action Hero didn't learn the lesson either. That and never open a film against Jurassic Park; what were they thinking? Note of course the poignancy of the scene with Frank McRae and John Candy inside the tank. For a better movie with Frank McRae watch Used Cars. Also, they use the term 'jap' a lot, but in the vintage wartime racist context of course.
Spielberg learns self-reference, or self-consciousness, vis a vis the sly jab at Jaws at the beginning. Incidentally, if you don't count Battle Squad or the strange WWII-related re-appearances in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this is his first exploration of World War II, fiction or otherwise, which goes without saying becomes kind of an obsession later on. Also, note the soft-light technique of the outdoor sequence where the big bomb rolls to a stop. Hasn't been used so much since if I recall correctly. Also, Spielberg throws a bone to the snake woman from Duel when John Belushi first appears.
I think that's about all the points we can cover. But let us close as they do in Animal House in order to highlight 1941's place in cinematic history, and give a brief outline of where they are now; it's pretty well known at this point, anyway:
Steven Spielberg, perhaps facing a populist backlash with 1941 at the time (every success story gets turned on at some point), bounced back and became, without a doubt, the most successful director of the go-go 80s, a critical success in the 90s, and ... a successful producer of the new oughts. He's the S in DreamWorks SKG, for God's sake!
Robert Zemeckis is of course the most successful of the Spielbergian directors, with Chris Columbus in third place, and perhaps Gore Verbinski fourth, I don't know. There's a board in Hollywood somewhere with these things posted on it, I guess. Anyway, The Polar Express is a few days off and will make back some of its budget in the first weekend.
Bob Gale is doing pretty good.
John Milius, too. No director fought the Commies harder in the 80s than did ol' John. Anyway, apparently Conan 3's coming up. Should be a good-un!
Michael Kahn is still editing for Spielberg. He tried his hand at producing here as well; guess it didn't take.
Deborah Nadoolman became costumer designer for John Landis and company. How did she get to do this one? And why doesn't anyone else hire her?
John Landis has a brief cameo here, but in this period of time directed some of the best pictures ever made: Animal House, The Blues Brothers and his own An American Werewolf in London. And remember! See You Next Wednesday!
Lorraine Gary is doing fine. After Jaws, she and Spielberg almost had a Susan Sarandon / Tim Robbins kind of thing. Or is it more like a Juzo Itami / Nobuko Miyamoto kind of thing? Okay, Joel Coen / Frances McDormand, that's what I was getting at. Guess not.
Eddie Deezen is one of those one-in-a-million people. Some might call him a nerd; if so, he's the mold. Things were a little lean between 1987 and 1990 for him, but that's all in the past, and he's not running for President, so never mind. Also memorable in WarGames, and his brief role in The Longshot, but most might know him more for his work as Mandark on Dexter's Laboratory, and actually he has a role in the upcoming Polar Express! Kevin Bacon!!
Frank McRae didn't have much of a part here, but there are only small actors, not small parts, right? He tears up the screen in Used Cars, though (John Milius is credited with the line "Jesus Palomino!"), and appears in Red Dawn and Last Action Hero. And go figure, he's the star in Licence to Kill.
Steve Boyum has clawed his way up in the biz from humble stuntman on 1941 up to director of such fine features as Meet the Deedles and the upcoming Supercross.
Buzz Feitshans is that rare beast of producer-turned-cameraman. After the likes of Total Recall and Die Hard 3, he has moved on to shoot pictures like Vampires: Los Muertos and the upcoming Joe Killionaire. Mazel tov!
Stick around for the end credits, too. Someone didn't fix the explosion cannon from slight leakage.
Motifs: Inside the submarine, the camera is placed at seemingly a child's viewpoint. Pretty effective! Also, there's something about that plane flying into the sun over the valley, as it's used twice in the film, maybe three in the director's cut.
Crossroads: Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Used Cars, Apocalypse Now (shout out for John Milius)
-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan
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