Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Not many box sets feature dinosaurs, sharks, aliens, and evil trucks, but that’s what you’ll find in this diverse array of Steven Spielberg movies. The first collection officially approved by the man himself contains eight of his Universal-produced films – four classic blockbusters (Jaws, E.T., Jurassic Park, The Lost World), and four lesser-known movies making their Blu-ray debut (Duel, The Sugarland Express, 1941, Always). You’ve all seen and loved the first four, so let’s have a closer look at the others…

Duel (1971) was made for TV just as Spielberg was moving into cinema, and is a real gem of a thriller. On a long desert road, a man overtakes a slow-moving truck. Then the truck driver attempts to kill the man, and a ninety-minute chase sequence ensues. You’ll be on the edge of your seat for all ninety. Spielberg directs tense action like no one else and this early road rage movie screams of a director who’s going to make it big.

The Sugarland Express (1974) feels less blockbuster and more New Hollywood, with a freewheeling road movie sensibility in the Badlands-esque script and in Vilmos Zsigmond’s unflashy cinematography. The true story of a couple on the run and the policeman they take hostage is rich in character and subtlety, but as the cop bonds with his captors, a police captain is hot on their tail.

While many Spielberg films are funny, they’re rarely full-blown gag-ridden comedies. 1941 (1979) is the exception, and, well, it’s a good job he soon returned to what he’s good at. Even with a stellar comedy cast including Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and John Candy, the gags just aren’t funny enough to forgive the lack of narrative focus or character depth, with too many jokes relying on big things exploding – though one set piece involving an artillery cannon being fired inside a house is impossible not to laugh at.

Always (1989) - a remake of the 1943 drama A Guy Named Joe - stars Richard Dreyfuss as a fire-fighting pilot who returns from the dead to help his girlfriend move on and teach a new recruit to fly. It’s hampered by Dreyfuss’ possessiveness tipping over into creepiness and by overly melodramatic dialogue, but worth it for John Goodman’s supporting role; his sublime, hilarious bromance with Dreyfuss and his heartbroken look when he sees his fellow pilot’s plane up in flames really stick in the mind.

Then there are some other films with dinosaurs and sharks in. They’re pretty good, too. Sure, some other classic Spielberg movies may be missing from this set, but it’s a real treat to see a few you may be less familiar with, and even the weaker films here have a lot going for them. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be shocked and you’ll be enthralled.


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