Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Blogathon: Spielberg's Kids

One of my favorite year end lists is the MSN “Moments out of Time.”  I love to see if the moments in film that I’ve fixated upon make the list, plus there’s the added bonus of discovering new ones.  So many films in their entirety are aggravating at worst and boring at best, but there’s almost always at least one or two moments that catch the breath, or tingle the spine, or jolt the gigglebox.  When I think of Spielberg, I tend to think of those transcendent moments almost as disconnected from the surrounding film.  This is not to say that his films do not hold up, on the contrary, Spielberg has a remarkable stamina for making whole artworks.  However, he also has an ability to find the perfect moment and lock it down for posterity.   

Against the old industry conventional wisdom, he works with kids.  I review a lot of children’s theater, so I see a huge range of performances from the barely holding it together to the uber-professional showkid who advertises every moment.  Spielberg gets the kid characters right, and he gets the right actors.  To be clear, I'm not saying these are the best Spielberg moments, but when it comes to the kids, here are a few of my favorites.  

Elliott Discovers E. T. is Alive:   
Young Henry Thomas is phenomenal in E. T., from his initial terror in the cornfield to that infamous classroom liplock.  What an acting tour de force when poor Elliott, still mourning his friend, his house invaded by astronauts, sees that telltale heartglow.  He switches from despondent to ecstatic, then manages to cover up E. T. by FAKING crying so that he can later rig an escape.  Makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time, too.
UPDATE:  Here is a link to an AMAZING Youtube vid of young Henry's audition.  It will knock your socks off.

Short Round Catches Indy Cheating:   
Ke Huy Kuan nabbed the role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when he auditioned this very scene.  He wasn’t as consistent as Henry Thomas was in E. T., but he might have had a tougher job to do acting in an action film.  Short Round catches Indy cheating at cards redhanded and looses a stream of kid-invective wild enough to make you look for your seatbelt.  The kicker for me, though, is when he waggles his finger at Indy as if Short Round were an 80 year old grandma.  “Play with you no fun!”

 Jamie (Jim) is Reunited with His Parents:   
Young Christian Bale gives us a glimpse of the talent and torment that audiences are so familiar with in the adult version today.  In Empire of the Sun, Jamie is a privileged Brit in China when the Japanese invade, and separated from his parents he is transformed into a savvy street kid willing to do what it takes to survive.  He’s even renamed Jim by the American hustlers he falls in with.  All our hopes for him come true when his parents appear in a camp meant to reunite the sundered families, but Jamie doesn’t even recognize them.  Then, embraced by his mother, his eyes are empty and unfeeling.  When he returns the embrace, does he really, or is it exhaustion?  It’s a sucker punch to the soul, for 12 year old Jamie may be already damaged beyond healing.

In Jurassic Park, Lex runs screaming through the kitchen with her arms straight ahead of her.  I don’t know what it is about that physicality, but something about it cracks me up and gives me a chill at the same time.  I think that’s what real terror might look like--it’s as if she could grab something ahead of her and pull, she could make herself go even faster.

What are the Spielberg moments that stick in your brain?


S. Porath said...

Not child-related, but one the instantly came to mind was from 'War of the Worlds', when the mob attacks Ray's car. The shot at the end -of a man staring down at a gun- is as chilling a shot as any that film offers, and sums up a great deal of it, as well. I wish Spielberg had chosen not to show what happens next- that man looking at that gun tells the whole sad tale.

VenetianBlond said...

Exactly-sometimes a single moment can encapsulate much of the film, as you say.