Tag Archives: Spielberg

Poltergeist #30DaysOfFright

polt1A young family finds they have paranormal activity within their home, it’s a poltergeist (meaning noisy spirit in German).What starts off as something playful soon descends into terror as the children are attacked in their rooms. The daughter, Carol Anne, is taken by the spirits and makes contact via the television – in the film’s most iconic moment – can she be saved and can the family stop themselves being dragged to the afterlife?

What sets Poltergeist apart from most haunted house movies is that it is set in a nice house, in a nice neighbourhood and everything looks normal. There is no Scooby-Doo haunted mansion vibe, no evil eyes like the Amityville house. It could be our house or yours, and that is its power.

polt2We are the Freeling family and that is what Spielberg does best, take an ordinary person or family and put them in an extraordinary situation. Just look at Chief Brody from Jaws, Roy Neary from Close Encounters or David Mann from Duel.

To many Poltergeist was Spielberg’s darkness to E.T.’s light, they both came out in the same month in the US in 1982. He served as writer on this and Executive Producer, although it has oft been mooted he had a closer hand in direction as well, rather than Texas Chainsaw-helmer Tobe Hooper. But that is a whole other blog entry.

All horror films should of course be watched with the lights off but Poltergeist loves the darkness, especially when the strobing effects kick-in. Fittingly, it really drags you into the television.

polt3The good thing is that since the advent of 24 hour television, whether that be rolling news or rolling balls around a roulette wheel, you will never again wake up with a Poltergeist television. There’ll never be that snow dancing shadows madly across your walls.

So the original Poltergeist seems more nostalgic and further away than ever. The film starts on that typical Spielberg world of safety and harmony, the suburbs, and actually the first half has plenty of sunny and light moments. Even the Poltergeist activity is initially treated as a joke and something to have fun with, the moving kitchen chairs for instance. Carol Anne states it is the TV people; I certainly never had that problem with Radio Rentals!

But that is what is great about this film, haunted houses don’t have to be scary and there doesn’t have to be fork lighting. Their home could be our home and that is what makes it so effective, and it’s the same with the more recent haunted house films, such as Insidious and The Conjuring.

There are signposts aplenty though, even the remote control cars that cause the man hulking beer to come off his bike in the opening scene are a precursor of things to come with toys coming to life and causing chaos. The dead budgie, Tweetie, even in its coffin cigar box it warns us of the shape of things to come when it is unearthed by a digger for the swimming pool.

There are even clues on the television, in an early scene the old Spencer Tracey film A Guy Named Joe plays on TV, there are already ghosts in the machine as it’s about a man who dies and comes back as a ghost. It was of remade by Spielberg seven years later as Always.

polt4Robbie and Carol Anne’s room is cool, full of Star Wars posters and toys, although I’m not sure about the Alien poster. The film really taps into those childhood terrors of open closets, things under the bed, thunderstorms, clowns and ominous trees tapping on your window. Ten fold, it could also be seen as an extension of a similar scene in Close Encounters when Barry’s toys come to life as aliens – and again some glorious light, a Spielberg staple – envelop the room and also bring toys to life.

A bit like the spirits at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, at first they beautiful, the spirit from the television that dances round the room before leaving its ectoplasm all over the bedroom wall is as haunting as it is enchanting. 

This is echoed in the sublime score by Jerry Goldsmith, beautiful but creepy, magically dark, especially the haunting dips in sound.

But then the spirits turn with fearful effect. That ruddy tree outside the bedroom window though, the impending thunderstorm marching closer not further away, it still gives palpitations. Then, the tree grabs the son, it’s startling and surreal, but it’s just misdirection so that Carol Anne can be sucked into the closet and to the other side. From here on in as ludicrous as things get, by and large you go with it simply because you are wrapped up in the emotion.

polt-9Crucially, it’s the performance from the mum and dad that really ground it and their efforts to do anything to get their daughter back, it’s the little things like her mum, JoBeth Williams, thrilled to be smelling her daughter after a blast of air travels through her and Craig T. Nelson (Patrick Wilson being a great substitute in the very Poltergeist-like Insidious) forced to get angry with Carol Anne to tell her to do as she is told or he’ll be forced to spank her. Amid all this supernatural fantasy is real, heart-wrenching drama

about a family with a ‘kidnapped daughter’, it just happens to be by a ghost. They are the emotional core of the film.

polt5And when they finally get Carol Anne back it is less smoke and mirrors and more wind machines and fantastic lights displaced by fish tanks. It’s dizzying, effective and so simple. This rescue is headed up by movie-stealing Zelda Rubinstein, who played Tangina, the spirit guide who pronounces the house is clean; she isn’t in the film half as much as you think she is. It is only for about ten minutes duration, but she leaves a lasting impression on both the family and the audience.

After that rescue the Freelings prepare to move out, of course, it turning out that the whole estate had been built on a graveyard, the headstones had been moved but not the bodies and Carol Anne – a beautiful and natural performance by Heather O’Rourke – was the focus of the spirits as she had been born in the house.

After all that went before, they and we think it is all over, and as they pack and play in their rooms they discover it is not. A great ending to the film, complete with mum being dragged up her bedroom wall and ceiling Fred Astaire style and some unwelcome guests in the unfinished pool, but I don’t buy the family not just leaving, and even if I did I certainly wouldn’t be letting my kids play in the room where one of them went missing and another was attacked by a tree. It was the clown that got him this time.

polt6As the dead explode from the ground in their caskets, to great effect, the Freelings do escape; thankfully complete with dog, E Buzz, by the way is a great dog actor as well with some brilliant expressions. Checking into a motel, this time they aren’t taking any chances and leave the TV outside. It’s a wryly observed ending to a satisfying and emotionally exhausting tour de force of emotions and effects.

Whether it’s a product of the publicity machine or not, Poltergeist came with that horror film staple, the curse. They said it happened with The Omen, with The Exorcist and now this. 

polt-7Rumours were rife that actual skeletons were used in the swimming pool scene and the murder of one of its stars prior to release didn’t help matters, nor did major players dying after parts 2 and 3. The remake seems to have bucked that particular trend – unless you count its death at the box office.

You know what though; I enjoyed the updating, such as the family having little choice in moving to the once aspirational suburbs. It didn’t add anything particularly new or did anything better but I certainly found it suitably creepy if not as visually memorable as the original.

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Gremlins #30DaysOfFright

grem1To describe Gremlins as a kid’s film would be like describing the Bates Motel as a swell place to stay.

Cutesy in a typical Spielbergian world at the very beginning, sure, but it is soon revealed that we, the audience, and indeed the Peltzer family are sorely mistaken and have somewhat misread the situation in the ultimate ‘always heed the instructions’ moment in cinematic history

grem5An animal is for life, not just for Christmas, such is the number one life lesson that we can all learn from the Spielberg Executive Produced, Joe Dante Directed, Gremlins. Rounding out this trio of talent is then scriptwriter – later Harry Potter Director, Chris Columbus – who was on something of a roll after penning scripts for both The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes around the same period. This ‘E.T. with teeth’ captivated and entertained and still stands tall as a comedy horror Christmas classic, and you don’t get many of those.

Originally a spec script by the young Columbus the feature was set to be a very different ‘beast’ with the Gremlins being even more dark and twisted, with the irresistibly cute Gizmo turning into Stripe, Barney the dog getting hung and Billy’s mum’s head rolling down the stairs!

Being a Joe Dante film it is a veritable reference of film and cartoon delights, from a cameo by the legendary animator Chuck Jones to a blink and you’ll miss it Steven Spielberg disappearing in The Time Machine.

grem6It’s a deliciously wicked and rich film, even until this day and has an almost timeless charm about it like that other 80’s classic Back to the Future, which also shared the Universal backlot as its main set that created the town, Kingston Falls, and it does so spectacularly.

We get suckered into the cute, furry routine just like the Peltzers. It’s a family movie alright, but more about a families survival than in the traditional sense of the word. As such it caused such shockwaves Stateside and was one of two films that year, 1984, that helped create the PG 13 rating in America, the other film being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

grem4For all the Gremlins’ attacking from a Christmas tree, driving a bulldozer into the Futterman house, causing mayhem in the streets it’s a very low key scene that lingers in the memory and proves to be the most distressing, that classic monologue by Phoebe Cates on why she hates Christmas, a chilling story of them finding her dead dad stuck up the chimney dressed as Santa Clause. Inspired and perhaps only pipped by the SS Indianapolis story speech by Quint in Jaws for its powerfulness. And it is creepy as hell.

grem3The set pieces and the imagery, their swirling lights of the swimming pool when Stripes throws himself in at the deep end, the tension of the death of the college tutor scene played against the rapidly beating heart on the projector, on par with anything in The Howling. Not to mention the discovery of the pods and the classic kitchen scene culminating in death by microwave.

It’s a shame that Dante went for out and out comedy in the sequel as it would have been an interesting study in terror to see them go really, really dark. Of course, a remake or reimagining has been mentioned but it really does remain to be seen whether the Gremlins would hold the same appeal us knowing that they were merely pixels. The Gremlin creations by Chris Walas (who went onto win an Oscar for the effects on The Fly) are pretty much pitch perfect in design, that other unsung hero of the film is also Jerry Goldsmith and his blistering score that manages to be both comical, touching and scary in equal measure.

grem7It really is a nasty piece of work, and is all the more beloved and beautiful for it. Full of great energy, Dante clearly has great fun letting the Gremlins run riot in the usual Spielberg-like world, albeit one full of B-movie horror high jinks, and it all works wonderfully thanks to the film’s humour and the charm of its young leads. It maybe a special effects lead film but it’s the story that drives it, just like Back to the Future.

grem2Alien is often mooted as the monster sci-fi movie of reference but for me it will always be Gremlins, for me it will always be a great big little monster movie.

 

Close Encounters of the Four Designs: inside the BFI Spielberg posters

 

“Spielberg had to sign off the artwork himself. The reaction was very positive.”

Steven Spielberg, his movies have not just changed Hollywood but shaped our lives. Throughout June and July the BFI have been spoiling us with an amazing season celebrating the films – and some television – of Steven Spielberg, covering everything from Duel (released theatrically here in Europe) to Amazing Stories and of course his summer blockbusters. Close Encounters, Indiana Jones, E.T. and the granddaddy of the modern summer blockbuster as we know it, Jaws.

To accompany such a breadth of work, the BFI commissioned four pieces of work promoting the season utilizing striking and iconic imagery that is ingrained not just in film culture, but that of popular culture. Images were chosen from Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, each riffing on a Spielberg classic that celebrates both the man and his movies.

As a lifelong-Spielberg and Jaws fan, I, Dean Newman (DN), took the opportunity to interview its designer, Kyle Robertson (KR), who works for the BFI as part of their in-house design team, he’s also a senior digital designer and illustrator.

I took the opportunity to speak to him about Spielberg’s films, the changing face of film posters and tips for anyone wanting to get into film poster design

Raider of the Lost ArkDN: The four designs are simple yet inspired, how difficult was it coming up with a new take on such classics?

KR: The main objective of this campaign was to capture the iconic films of Spielberg. We decided to feature his well-known summer blockbusters; E.T, Jaws, Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wanted to design a suite of posters that would show these well-known movies in a new light, but also take people back to their childhood memories of seeing these for the first time.

DN: Were you given these four films as design options or did you have any say? Was it only these four or were any others in contention, such as Schindler’s List or Close Encounters?

KR: There was a long conversation over the titles we were going to feature. In the end we settled on his summer blockbusters due to the fact we were screening the season in the summer and wanted to create a lighter mood than say featuring Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan.

DN: Jaws, Jurassic Park, Raiders and ET, classic films, classic scores but also classic posters. How did you approach these film posters and associated imagery that are so ingrained in our pop culture?

KR: I started by watching the films again, doing a lot of reading and image research. Looking at the classic film posters, book covers, fan art, and everything else out there. This gives you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. While designing the early sketches I would even listen to the soundtracks. The goal was to capture the essence of the film that everyone knows and loves, but come at it from a different angle.

JawsDN: Once you had the fin, dinosaur head, Indy’s head etc, were there several options for main images to be included in them? Any spring to mind?

KR: We were limited in terms of imagery as we only used imagery from our own BFI Image Database, with exception for the Jurassic Park still which we got from the studio directly. We wanted to use iconic imagery that creates a certain mood. A good example was Jaws. Using the image of the woman in the water screaming within the shark fin shape stirs up all kinds of fear and emotion. We used these themes across the four designs. Fear for Jaws, wonder for E.T., Adventure for Raiders and Thrills for Jurassic Park.

DN: Four posters for one season, normally I’ve only ever seen one, was it unusual to have so many?

KR: It is quite unique to do several pieces of artwork for one season. Ordinarily we use just one poster for a season. But for big seasons which span several months there was an opportunity to do several.

DN: Did you have to pitch for the job with the design we see or do you do a lot for the BFI?

KR: Pitching for the work was not necessary as I work at the BFI as an in-house designer.

E.TDN: Which one are you most pleased with and why? My personal favourites are Jurassic Park and Jaws.

KR: I like the concept of Jaws, but E.T is probably my favourite due to it being one of my favourite films and the colours work well.

DN: Do you have many alternative designs/sketches/scamps that weren’t used? 

KR: Sorry, not allowed to share these designs, but yes many were created. Some photographic, some illustrative.

DN: Have you heard any reaction from Spielberg himself, or anyone associated with him re the designs?

KR: We worked very closely with Spielberg’s production company and Steven Spielberg had to sign off the artwork himself. The reaction was very positive.

DN: You mention ET as being one of your favourite films, why that film?

KR: It’s just a one-of-a-kind film that has everything; adventure, excitement, laughs and takes me right back to my childhood. I saw it recently at the BFI on the big screen and it still gives me chills watching the bikes take off with that amazing John Williams score.

Jurassic ParkDN: What was the first Spielberg film you saw at the cinema and how old were you?

KR: Jurassic Park was the first film I saw on the big-screen and I must have been 11.

DN: There have been lots of great designers and artists work on Spielberg posters, such as Drew Struzan (Indy), John Alvin (E.T.) and Jaws (Roger Kastel). As a designer what’s your favourite Spielberg film poster and why?

KR: The Drew Struzan posters for Indy are great. His style is so amazing and when you see his work you know it’s a Drew Struzan poster immediately.

DN: What’s been the reaction across social media to your work?

KR: The reaction to the work has been great. A lot of people making nice comments about it reminding them of their childhood and going to the movies which is great to hear.

Jaws Tube BillboardDN: The designs have an immediate impact, how was it seeing them writ large on the giant billboards?

KR: I cycled past the Jaws billboard in Shoreditch and nearly fell off my bike when I first saw it. It’s a great feeling to see any artwork on a big scale, but the Jaws artwork looked very cool.

DN: The posters – like many film posters today – rely heavily on photographic images, do you miss the era that the likes of Alvin, Struzan and Kastel were working in with their detailed artistic designs?

KR: A lot of the BFI posters are based on photographic elements due to the nature of us portraying film and the moving image. We still do illustrative design work such as our current ‘Architecture on Film’ series. I am a big champion of the illustrative style and feel when handled correctly it can make a big impact.

DN: I guess it’s the same with the James Bond posters – I loved the likes of The Living Daylights, the last of the art designs. It all seems to be Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop these days.  Do you lament what some people see as the dying art of film posters?

KR: I think it’s inevitable for methods and practices to change regarding this. In my experience this is mostly due to time restraints. To illustrate a poster takes a lot of time and what you have to remember about film season artwork is that it is hugely political and involves a huge amount of people’s input from many departments.

So unfortunately there just isn’t the time to do this. We quite often pencil sketch concepts roughly and then take them into the Adobe suite to design and artwork. This gives you a huge amount of flexibility and freedom to work.

DN: Any tips for anyone wanting to design posters?

KR: You have to have a love of film naturally and spend most of your spare time watching films! You should also have a good knowledge of different design techniques and treatments. I try not to design the same thing twice.

DN: What do you think makes a great film poster?

KR: A simple but effective idea. Keep it fairly minimal. The more you add, the more the impact is lost from the design.

DN: Are you working on any other exciting projects?

KR: I am currently working on a big campaign for the BFI celebrating black talent in film.

 

The Steven Spielberg season continues into July with cinematic delights to offer everyone, whether its Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Lincoln, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Amistad, Minority Report, The Terminal, Munich, Bridge of Spies, The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn and War Horse.

E.T Tube PosterOther highlights include a whole day devoted to the Indiana Jones films – Saturday 9 July – although they can also be caught individually across the month on other days as well, and there is also a very special screening of E.T. on Sunday 26 June which features a Q&A with producer Kathleen Kennedy – her first producing credit – and director Edgar Wright, who collaborated on Tintin. Access the remaining programme here.

If your reaction to the Spielberg season posters designed by Kyle Robertson is as positive as the director himself, then you are in luck as you can now buy copies of the designs from the BFI Printstore.

Credit belongs to the British Film Institute (BFI) for all images that appear in this article.

Jurassic World: a raptor-ous return

3039097-inline-i-2-jurassic-worldFirst things first, Jurassic World is not a remake or a reboot or a reimagining, it is a continuation, some 20 years down the line, of events post the original Jurassic Park. In the ensuing years let’s just say that the Park, now World a la Disney, Sea and er Peppa Pig, has evolved somewhat in the last two decades to become a giant tourism monster which now needs even bigger monsters to ensure the return of punters.

Jurassic World, like the two sequels to the original before was never ever going to be able to play the sense of wonder card of the original Spielberg blockbuster, but it knows it and that actually forms part of the plot. In a sense, in part, it is a love letter to the original and perhaps that is why it has struck such a chord and made more money than expected, After all it is 14 years since the last Jurassic Park and that is a whole generation that has only grown up with it on TV.

jw2And the ethos of the park: having bigger and newer monsters to pull in the punters, is something not lost on the writers and filmmakers for that exact reason, Not only have there been three previous Park movies but we’ve also seen the return of Godzilla (twice) and King Kong take on a pair of T-Rex, not to mention a whole plethora of creatures in the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, so the film has to pull something out of the bag that we haven’t seen before either…with a brand new dinosaur.

The scope and scale of this entry into the series practically makes the original look like a small independent film, the original in comparison was a more intimate affair on a smaller scale,if such a thing could ever be said about the still impressive Jurassic Park. World certainly ups the spectacle with a fully operational park with nods aplenty to SeaWorld with its Mosasaurs attraction (nice touch with it essentially eating Bruce the Great White), DisneyWorld with its take on Main Street – where at one point it’s as if we hear echoes of Dr Ian Malcolm’s laconic wit from the first film when he says ‘but the pirates of the Caribbean don’t start eating the public’ when things start to go very, very wrong – and the giant escalators that reminded one of Universal Studios Hollywood.

It’s like the Park you dreamed of visiting as a child. And as with the original you do get the oh and ah of all the delights the new World has to offer, mostly seen through the eyes of Gray (Ty Simpkins), whose excitement we readily share. And because we know the dinosaurs the wonderful Jurassic Park theme reprise, amazing work by Giacchino, is utilised not for the introduction of a dinosaur but fr the wonder of the very park itself. And there is wonder and wow factor to be had as we see the park in all its splendour, even though we know it is going to end way out Westworld.

Of course the musical theme is as much a part of the Jurassic series as the dinosaurs, I couldn’t get it out of my head for at least the next day, but that isn’t the only footprint of Jurassic Park. Story wise it is essentially a retelling of sorts, writ large in every single way imaginable, but then so has pretty much every James Bond film. There are plenty of nods and winks to the first film though, that really celebrate and embrace it with confidence.

JURASSIC-WORLD-8Both the children in the original and World have a family that is breaking down (a Spielberg staple, here Executive Producer) and are only on the island to take their minds off it, well at least it does do that. There’s a lovely moment where the eldest son, Zach played by Nick Robinson, is in denial but the youngest, visibly upset, has googled his mum and dad’s lawyers and discovered they are divorce lawyers. it was very well handled on a monorail, where one of the passengers is reading a Dr Ian Malcolm book, Jeff Goldblum’s character. Later it is nice to see glimpses of a John Hammond statue, as well as cameos by Mr DNA (voiced by the film’s director Colin Trevorrow) and also a delightful moment from a Dilophosaurus, the spitting dino that killed Dennis Nedry.

And then there’s the more obvious, in a wonderful sequence, where the boys find the old Jurassic Park centre and the auditorium which housed the ‘when dinosaurs ruled the earth exhibition’, even coming across the infrared goggles that get discarded, a fantastic example of the audience knowing more than the characters. It was a genius idea that the boys find the original JP jeeps and get one of them working, In a way it was Jurassic World: Parks of Future Past.

There is also some fabulous juxtaposition in the scene where there is a field of decimated dinosaurs, there’s a real sense of dystopia and negative as opposed to the hope and positivity of when we first glimpse the vista of Jurassic Park after Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) see their first dinosaur. It’s also the scene where these aren’t just dinosaurs (or CG or animatronics for that matter) you care for them and you are sad when the dinosaur breathes its last. It evoked memories of Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend and the death of Littlefoot’s mum in The Land Before Time, the latter also executive produced by Spielberg.

Empathy built we also start to care and have feelings for other dinosaurs, especially when it comes to a major scene with the raptors where they are given their moment to shine as man’s beast friend.

For all its boom and bang, of which there is plenty and often, the film also relishes its smaller moments of focus or dialogue that also reminds one of the cleverness of the original and makes it just more than a bloated summer blockbuster lurching from one set piece to another. That Spielberg dust has clearly been strewn to ensure some of those little moments and nuances are just as remembered as the big and noisy ones.

The only returning character we get from the original series is Dr Wu, who is clearly as rubbish as he was in the first film but is played with relish by BD Wong, best known for being good on Law and Order: SVU, although he really does think what he is doing is not wrong. Last seen with an attaché case of specimens he will surely feature in any sequel, and at some point will end up being devoured by one of his creations.

Chris Pratt cements his position as a viable A-lister, and it is perhaps his biggest calling card for the part of one Dr. Jones, certainly he has the presence, likability and delivery. Pratt is a man of action in this, with a neat touch being that he is essentially a velociraptor whisperer and despite all the dinosaurs the ‘money shot’ of the film is definitely Pratt on his motorbike flanked by raptors. It works, is delightful and just brings joy. It may as well be us up on that bike exuding McQueen like cool.

He doesn’t really grow as a character, he’s been right all along like Charlton Heston in Earthquake, but he is something of a loner, he’s friendlier with dinosaurs than people but does become part of a family unit, with Claire, Gray and Zach by the climax.

Bryce Dallas Howard also impressed, as Claire, she saw the biggest change in terms of (limited) development of character and effortlessly switched from almost robotic towing the party line to all out Lara Croft protective Aunt.

There was lots of nice interplay between Pratt and Howard and they really fizzed, the sort of polar opposite dislike that you get in Raiders between Marion and Indy and original chalk and cheese, Hannay and Pamela, in The 39 Steps.

It’s Jurassic World, it was never going to be a deep and meaningful character study and to be honest we didn’t want it to be. We want a roaring dino romp and on that it delivers.

Ultimately this film is about working together as one, as a team, on several levels, as will become apparent to anyone seeing it. And ultimately that message is a deeply satisfying one, both from a human and dinosaur point of view.

I did miss Grant or Malcolm, perhaps next time we’ll get to see Pratt call on their services, and after a $500 million opening weekend, and the world’s fastest film to smash the $1 billion barrier, we won’t be waiting 14 years for the next instalment.

T-Rex_DigitalJurassic Park ended with the roar of the T-Rex as the banner proclaiming ‘When dinosaurs ruled the earth’ drops to the floor. With that opening weekend, the biggest in history, and it being the number one film in the 66 countries it was released in and the fastest film past the $1 billion barrier, that time is now.