November 14, 2011

Childhood Forever

"Steven Spielberg's films tend to convey a certain "heaviness" with regard to adult life but joy and belief with regard to the children. He is at his most effective in his films that focus on childhood... and in films where the adults act like enthusiastic adolescents..."

Thus begins ‘Childhood Forever’ – the chapter on Steven Spielberg in the book ‘The Director’s Idea’ by Ken Dancyger. The point made by the author appears very interesting and valid to me. If I could summarize the discussion, it would be this:

• Choice of Stories: For Spielberg, plot is the most powerful narrative element, standing above and beyond character. He makes sure not to limit himself with a simple, logical progression of plot, but keeps thickening it, using it to challenge his protagonist, each step being more dangerous than the last. And thus he prefers genres like action adventures, thrillers, and war films.

• Choice of Characters: Generally, the protagonist is ‘ordinary’ and easy to identify with. His actions are elevated to heroic levels because of a powerful antagonist, who often tends to be cartoonish or one dimensional. Women characters have youthful spunkiness and looks compatible with their ordinary-looking male partners. Spielberg always works with children – expressive, energetic, curious, and always creative. These kids are never lonely or troubled with problems of life, but with the conflict of the story. Spielberg also always has at least one larger than life supporting character who provides the charisma lacking in the other adult main characters.

• Approach to the Medium of Cinema: Spielberg, like Hitchcock, is playful with the medium and his joy in filmmaking yields a special experience for his audience. The most obvious result of this is that Spielberg is the single most successful commercial filmmaker in film history.

• The Craft: His use of camera and edit is guided by a simple principle – keep the story clear, moving, and exciting. The narrative clarity is extremely important – what is happening at every moment, as is dramatic punctuation. He also makes sure that we ‘stay’ with his characters and never forget whose point-of-view we are experiencing at any moment.

• Favourite Element in his Films: Spielberg loves pure action. He always creates breathtaking sequences of chase – rendering every moment so clearly that we always know who is winning or losing at what point. He often defies logic to make such sequences more exciting – which also explains every other point mentioned above. His choice of stories and characters, and his perpetual joy to play with the wonderful medium lead to their glorious best in sequences like these.

‘Jurassic Park’ was the first Hollywood movie I saw as a kid. Till date, purely for its nostalgia value, it remains one of my favourite films. I do feel like a child when I think of that wonderland of dinosaurs. Watched Spielberg’s latest ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ this morning. I’m generally not keen on watching animation and/or 3D movies. This was both, and yet, I loved it. The facial expressions and body language of the characters were so genuine that my usual complain with the ‘fakeness’ of animation movies was taken care of. I had not consciously planned to watch it on Children’s Day. It just happened. That’s life’s screenplay for you!


  1. was planning to ignore Tintin (as i never ever read those in school days) but thanks for the tip. will go for it now... :)

  2. another word about Tintin, half way through watching the trailer for the first time, it was only towards its later half that i suddenly realised that it's an animation movie!!!