Area 51 gives off more movie ammo than a storage room filled with AK47’s. Just about everyone who is anyone in the science fiction realm has touched upon the Nevada military base with their own story; their own theory into the existence of aliens and the trouble associated with this highly secure area of desert. Super 8 (sneak preview screenings today), one of the summer’s most highly anticipated films, will be crashing its way into theaters this Friday, complete with an array of disappearances, unexplained events, and the inhuman creature that has left moviegoers guessing for months. Though director/writer JJ Abrams’ vision has yet to be seen, one can only wonder what really did come out of that train wreck, praying that it’s more exciting than Cloverfield.
However, it’s not just Abrams who brought this picture to life. Legend Steven Spielberg is right alongside as producer, adding his own element and brutal sci-fi knowledge into the mix, making for an interesting take on an alien invasion. Over the years, Spielberg’s name has become synonymous with greatness- everything from his role as writer on Poltergeist, to the powerful Schindler’s List, Spielberg is a master at not just terror, but entertainment. Hollywood, in a lot of ways, wouldn’t be what it is without his influence and mastery.
And it has nothing to do with the fact that his IMDB profile is longer than most senior thesis’.
“You’re going to need a bigger boat.” Police Chief Brody – Jaws (1975)
Three mechanical sharks, two haunting music notes, and more than a few budget overages later, Jaws has become one of the most frightening displays of oceanic horror, and, arguably, one of the scariest films, to ever grace the silver screen. Jaws has, single handedly, been responsible for society’s perception of sharks and a fear of entering open waters. The film is so popular the last thing I’m going to do is waste time on yet another plot fueled rant. The fact is if you haven’t seen Jaws, you don’t belong on a horror website reading about Spielberg- you should just rent the damn movie.
With a series of smaller films as his support, Spielberg took on the novel adaption after two directors had been passed over. Once the script was in place, casting began, with Spielberg focusing on maintaining an even range of talent, keeping in mind that the shark was the star of the film. Even after mechanical failures, the ever-known presence of the shark is the reason the film exists- from a skinny dipping teenager being jerked below the water by an unseen assailant, to that iconic dorsal fin circling its prey, Jaws is a mind-fuck in its presentation- it keeps you guessing until the very end. And that’s what made it so beautiful- and absolutely terrifying.
Despite budget struggles and rumors that, due to Spielberg’s 100 day overage, his career was over, the film flourished and went on to win three Academy Awards, even garnering a nomination for Best Picture, admirably losing to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The ridiculous spinoffs soon followed- everything from Piranha to the recent Sharktopus mess, just about every sea-based thriller has some sort of innuendo aimed at Jaws. Now that’s something Spielberg can be proud of- that and the fact he had nothing to do with the mediocre sequels that followed. It’s incredible that such a great career flourished off of a New England beach and an underwater, bloodthirsty fiend.
Extraterrestrial Love Affair
“You could be happy here; I could take care of you. I wouldn’t let anybody hurt you. We could grow up together,” Elliot – ET (1982)
From his writing/producing stint on the original Poltergeist (1982), to producing everything from Arachnophobia (1990) to Twister (1996) and, of course, his directorial genius behind prehistoric jewel Jurassic Park (1993), Spielberg’s cinematic influence runs the show. He’s the go-to guy for everything from flying cars to friendly ghosts, and loves tugging at heart strings with his epic war dramas, but on a site like this, it’s his love affair with extra terrestrials that pops. The overwhelming desire he has to portray as many different types of aliens that can be developed is a true talent.
After all, one can only take so many little green men with gigantic heads.
Unless you’ve been living in a basement for the majority of your life with no access to general cable or the Internet, Spielberg’s obsession with outer space and its inhabitants is no secret. It all started with Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, a project he took fresh off of shark infested waters, and has made its way into not only Super 8, but also his involvement in the presentation of Cowboys and Aliens due out on July 29th. The fact of the matter is, Spielberg is a master at alien life- and we’re fortunate enough to reap the benefits.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind was another high budget feature, one that Spielberg was afraid to film on location after the woes he experienced with Jaws. Ultimately he decided on a few select, integral locations and moved forward into production with a great cast, including Jaws‘ Richard Dreyfus. The movie tells the story of Roy Neary, a man whose life is changed after encountering a UFO, and takes the viewer on a wild ride into alien visitation and influence. One of the film’s most memorable scenes is when the mother ship lands on Earth, returning a group of abductees. Star Wars had already given the public a glimpse into alien transportation, but Spielberg wanted to instead focus on the luminescent look of the objects, giving a more mystifying glimpse at UFO’s. CGI was a new technology and too expensive to use, so he opted for constructing models instead. In fact, the mother ship model is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum. You can find information on the display here.
While Close Encounters of the Third Kind focused on the whole of the alien race, E.T.– The Extra-Terrestrial focused on one little alien. The world fell in love with E.T. when Spielberg launched the project in 1982, surpassing Star Wars‘ financial success. Film critic Roger Ebert said it best: “This is not simply a good movie. It is one of those movies that brush away our cautions and win our hearts.”
The film first introduces us to the lovable ball of wrinkles when his family accidentally leaves him behind while fleeing the meddling government officials who interrupt their visit to Earth. Protagonist Elliott, on his way to get pizza, discovers the alien and leads him back to his house with an unconventional, yet seemingly useful tool- Reese’s Pieces. Elliott fakes being sick to stay home and his adventure begins. E.T. made audiences laugh by drinking beer and literally living through young Elliott, which results in an awkward kiss with his young lady love. But it’s the tears that were shed when viewers connected with E.T. and his young friend, when audiences thought the alien was dying and instead came alive to be reunited with his own family that really made the film what it is. This film wasn’t just about aliens- it was about the human dynamic adapting to extraordinary circumstances. It was also a heartfelt look at the parallels between an actual alien and an alienated young boy. No matter how it’s spun- E.T. is in every way a modern fairytale, only with flying bicycles instead of pumpkins.
Gremlins, with adorable Gizmo and his evil brothers in tow, came along in 1984, quickly followed by a slew of miscellaneous films- everything from The Money Pit (1986), to Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and even Hook (1991), paved the way for Spielberg’s return to alienation with Men in Black in 1997. Serving as Executive Producer, Spielberg launched the highly successful space comedy with great response. The back story comes from a comic book about mysterious men in black suits who work for unknown organizations bullying UFO and paranormal witnesses to keep them quiet, the movie stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as a pair of bumbling agents protecting the world from aliens. It’s a simple concept that launched a franchise and further cemented Smith’s career as a world class alien fighter. The talking Pug alien alone is worth the hour and a half spent watching the movie from start to finish. Spielberg returned to Men in Black for the second installment in 2002, and is set to produce Men in Black III, due out in 2012.
Transformers, the films based off of the alien-robotic toys that those of us from the 80’s grew to love, caught the attention of Spielberg in 2007 when he took an Executive Producer position on the film. He has since latched onto the franchise and continued with his role on the sequel in 2009, rounding it out with this year’s Transformer flick, out at the end of June. In between other projects, Spielberg also directed War of the Worlds (2005), starring Tom Cruise in an adaption of the famous Orson Wells’ radio performance (though I dispute the use of tripod machine aliens with great aim).
Super 8 is predicted to be yet another summer blockbuster for the Hollywood icon, further solidifying his recognizable influence in the industry. The film is set in the late 1970’s and follows a group of young witnesses to a mysterious train accident who begin noticing the strange things going on around town- and decide to further investigate. Some have compared the film to E.T. meets The Goonies (appropriate enough considering the obvious connection) while others are just hoping that the alien-reveal is much better than past experiences. With the secrecy surrounding the film, curiosity has been sparked and only time will tell if Super 8 lives up to the expectations that have been set.
“Who knows? Maybe you will survive… maybe they’ll take you as a pet or something. Teach ya how to do tricks.” Ogilvy – War of the Worlds (2005)
There’s no denying that Spielberg is `the man.’ He’s done it all- from tear jerkers to original horror, Spielberg is, without a doubt, one of the most successful, original and greatly respected filmmakers in the industry. He’s continuously cited by fellow filmmakers as not only an icon, but someone to look upon with respect, loving how he handles himself, his family life, and his professional advances. His work screams originality- something that has been lacking in recent years. His true love for his work shines through- and that’s what makes him stand out. That’s why they pay him the big bucks.
Cowboys and Aliens, is, well, about cowboys fighting aliens, and will be Spielberg’s latest addition to the outer life form series that he has created for himself. Spielberg is also a producer on Real Steel, a boxing-themed sci-fi movie starring Hugh Jackman and some awesome robots, and is directing the World War One film War Horse, as well as the highly anticipated biopic Lincoln.
Pretty much, judging from both past experience and the projects Spielberg has lined up for himself going forward, I’d say he’s set for life. If not longer.
There’s no one person greater than another in the filmmaking field. Everyone who is anyone has made a name for himself with his or her own vision. Quentin Tarantino uses beautifully violent induced chapter storytelling, while James Cameron shoots for high concept, over the top visual displays. Movie goers find their own niche and go to the movies that they enjoy watching. Be it action, horror, comedy or big budget drama, it’s the audiences that speak volumes. And even as Spielberg moves onto different projects, dabbling in a variety of different genres and fields, the audiences stay the same- in tune with his vision, his judgment, and his career. It’s nearly impossible to list every project Spielberg has been a part of, but there’s no denying that aliens caught on film wouldn’t be what they are without his influence. Even when not directly involved with a film, directors, writers, producers and even actors channel his conception, asking themselves, “What would Stephen do?”
READ MORE FROM ANDREA ON HER BLOG, THE ALBIN WAY