Mindfood: Missing Spielberg

Steven SpielbergI had fully intended for today’s MindFood to confess my strange relationship with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, but then something interrupted and took hold of me, postponing said confession for one more week. It was the realization that I miss Steven Spielberg. I miss him like a dear old friend that I haven’t kept in touch with for years despite the fact that they were always there for me as a child.

Of course I don’t actually know Steven Spielberg, but I’m not talking about him as a person, I’m talking about him as The Beard; as a director who, when I was a child, not only made the films that made me love movies, but who has consistently made movies that have reminded me of that child-like wonder as an adult. Oh, it’s certainly easy to say that Spielberg has been gone for years, but I don’t buy into the whole Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull raped my childhood bullshit. Yeah, it’s not a good movie, but it did nothing to make me feel like Spielberg wasn’t, deep down, still one of my most beloved directors.

The trailer for War Horse, on the other hand…

I want to be excited for Spielberg making a movie about World War I. I really, really do, but there’s just something about this movie that bugs the hell out of me. I wish it were just the trailer’s crippling reliance on bludgeoning home the fact that this is without question a Spielberg movie by featuring a heartwarming John Williams score and absolutely gorgeous cinematography that’s always in motion but never out of control, but that’s not it. It all comes down to the story. And yes, I will readily admit I haven’t read the Michael Murpurgo children’s book it’s based on, nor have I seen the stage play that is garnering all kinds of acclaim both in the UK and on Broadway, but I just have a hard time getting excited about a sappy story about experiencing World War I through the eyes of a horse as he gallivants around, touching the lives of men, women and children on the battlefield.

That just sounds like a movie that’s been chemically created in a lab to bait in Oscar nominations. I truly hope that this time next year I’ll be writing about how wrong I was, about how War Horse is about so much more than exploiting the easily-exploited sap index people have whenever an animal is put in danger, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m doubtful because I know I’m going to have a hard time caring about a horse when I’m going to be thinking the entire time about how well over 20 million people, soldiers and civilians alike, died in WWI. And I swear I’m not heartless about animals. You’ll be hard pressed to find a film geek who is more enraptured about the animal kingdom than I am (hell, just this morning I was Tweeting about a transparent eel), but I just have a cynical node in my brain that turns on when I watch non-documentaries about animals. It’s an almost cinematic immunological response that involuntarily makes my brain going, “They’re cheaply trying to get to you! Shields up!”

Unfortunately, though, War Horse isn’t the only Spielberg movie that I’m surprisingly jaded toward. I wish I could say I was more excited for The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, but the spark just isn’t there for me in the trailers:

At least with this film I can chalk up my indifference to my overall indifference to motion capture animated films. I’m all for a world-spanning, rollicking adventure written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Steven Moffat, but it’s those three names that surprisingly disappoint me the most because they’ve made me realize that they’re the real reason I’m interested in the movie. I want to see this because it was written by a trio who, between them, wrote Shaun of the Dead, Attack the Block and BBC’s Sherlock. However, I feel like the primary reason I should want to see something like this is because it’s directed by the guy who gave the world Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and A.I.

But again, and I know I’m a broken record here, Spielberg’s involvement just unfortunately isn’t the driving factor for me anymore. And if I had to pinpoint exactly why that was the case, I think it all comes down to Spielberg having lost a bit of his anger over the years. That’s not to say he ever made angry movies by any means, rather that his films have always had an edge sharp enough that they feel like he’s working out some issues making them. To me his movies have always been like that family member who is cheerful and chipper 99% of the time, but put him in front of a fireplace and get a few drinks in him, and you can see a subtle streak of pain behind those oh so familiar eyes. But ever since the underrated Munich, it seems like Spielberg has worked out those issues completely. And while I’m sure that’s great for him personally, I’m not sure it’s great for his movies.