Steven Spielberg Spotlight: From Page to Screen

Reposting an older piece from my other blog.

 

This post is part of the SPIELBERG BLOGATHON hosted by Outspoken & Freckled, It Rains… You Get Wet, and Citizen Screenings taking place August 23-24 2014. Please visit these host blogs for a full list of participating blogs.
Spielberg is a wonderful storyteller. I’ve known this since I was four-years-old and my parents showed my sister and me Jaws for the first time. Don’t worry, they were diligent and covered our eyes and ears at the scary parts. Unfortunately, later that week when our grandmother was babysitting us, and we had picked it as the film we wanted to watch, she did not know this. I’m pretty sure I have permanent psychological damage, seeing as I have a deep fear of the ocean to this day.
While there are a great many things Spielberg excels at, telling stories is what he does best. Nowhere is this more clear than in the films he has made that have been adapted from others’ stories. I know that there are several films in his catalog that are adaptations but for the purpose of this post, I am focusing on Jaws, Jurassic Park, and The Lost World.

 

jaws

Though I may be scarred from having seen Jaws at such a young age, it has also been my favorite movie for the last twenty-two years. I have never read the book, nor do I have any plans to in the future. Various people have told me that because of my love of the film, I would not enjoy the novel. However, I know enough of the plot of the book to know that Spielberg took a great concept but slightly convoluted story and turned it into a masterpiece. Many things tend to get lost in the move from page to screen but the mark of a good filmmaker is in keeping the most important story elements. Of course, we can’t have a discussion about the adaptation of Jaws without giving credit to both Peter Benchley, the author of the novel, and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb. Benchley came up with an incredible concept, and Gottlieb did an outstanding job with the screenplay. However, it was Spielberg’s direction that tied the two together, and managed to create a masterpiece, despite troubles with the script before and during shooting, issues with the mechanical shark, and a seasick cast and crew.

 

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I actually just read Jurassic Park, and can now fully appreciate just how well the story was adapted. The movie and the book are pretty close as far as the plot. There are a few additional characters in the book, and the ending is slightly different (in Spielberg’s version there are a couple of extra characters that make it off the island). The things that are left out, while interesting to read, would add too much complexity to the film. Spielberg keeps the concept, and focuses on a couple of solid characters and a smart idea to tell a story. Again, we must give credit where it is due. Michael Crichton did a good job with the novel, and David Koepp helped make the screenplay successful. It is Spielberg though that carries the story through. He directs his actors to great performances, demands groundbreaking special effects, and delivers a film that defined an entire generation of future filmmakers’ childhoods.

 

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I also recently read The Lost World for the first time, and it is the example from the three I have chosen where Spielberg’s influence did the most to change the story. There are very few similarities between the book and the film. There are dinosaurs, a Site B, and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is one of the main characters. That is about where the similarities end. While Crichton deserves acclaim for creating the world that this story takes place in, the novel consists of a series of episodic-like events that don’t hold much logic in the context of the story. For example, in the book the group on the island keeps returning to the trailers, and then sets out again to investigate some new issue. In the movie, the group has to move through the island to get to the center where the radio is, and as they travel, they keep bumping into dinosaurs, rather than seeking them out. Again, David Koepp helped with the screenplay but it was Spielberg’s direction that created an exciting thrill-ride that kept audiences on the edges of their seats. While the novel and screenplay provide the base and blueprints for the film, Spielberg is the contractor that saw brought the vision to life. He knew exactly how to build the tension, and turn the film into a chase. It is a much more satisfying experience. The novel has some interesting elements but it gets lost in some of the scientific language, and is too quick to go from action scene to action scene, without worrying how you get there. The movie is tighter and feels very much like a rollercoaster, going from high excitement to building anticipation, to high excitement again effortlessly, an indication that its director knew what the audience wanted, and how to deliver it to them.
Steven Spielberg is my favorite director. I have seen all of his feature films, and he is the only director I have done this with. I am more likely to see a Steven Spielberg directed film simply because his name is attached to it, than I am to see any film because a certain actor is attached to it (although Keira Knightley comes close). I have been fascinated by film since my first viewing of Jaws and that is due in large part to Spielberg’s excellence as a visual storyteller. Spielberg recognizes a good story when he sees one, and he understands that film is a very different medium than books are, and each needs to be approached with a specific vision in mind. I enjoy reading almost as much as I enjoy watching a good film, and I know it is impossible to please everyone with an adaptation but Spielberg comes pretty darn close.

The Best Movie Ever

Reposting an older piece from my other blog.

 

When I was four years old my parents showed my sister and me Jaws. They edited it for us though, telling us when to cover our eyes and ears. Later that same week when our grandma was babysitting us she asked us which movie we wanted to watch. We told her we wanted to watch Jaws. She was a bit reluctant until we mentioned that we had already seen it. She said okay. Of course, we forgot to mention that we had covered our eyes and ears at the bloody parts. I had nightmares for a month.

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Soon after this event Jaws became my favorite movie, and it continues to be to this day. I think a person’s taste in film can say a lot about their personality. Knowing Jaws is my all time favorite film could indicate that I like to be scared. I was the first time I saw it in it’s entirety. I think that may be why I became fascinated with it at first. Most people classify it as a horror film. It’s not. It is most definitely an adventure film. And, it is the composition of the film as an adventure story that kept it at the top of my list.

 

Every aspect of the film seems to fall nicely into place, especially considering how every piece of the filming seemed to not fall into place, and in fact fell out of place or went wrong. The music is perfect, the actors are perfectly cast, even the choices they had to make about implying the shark was there when the mechanical one didn’t work end up making those scenes and the fear factor perfect. What you can’t see but know is there is most times the scariest thing because you’re left to your own imagination.

 

There have been countless articles and documentaries done on the production of Jaws and it never ceases to amaze me how much went wrong in that time and that even with the way things went, they still managed to turnout an incredible film. I think it demonstrates that the people making the film were exceptionally talented and good at what they do. I think it’s also a testament to Steven Spielberg’s brilliance that the film was marketed the way it was. I know there were a lot of people involved in that process but the consumer product line that was created for this film exudes Spielbergian concept.

 

Now, putting the marketing and production aspect of this film aside, the story is great. The setup is explained in the poster. It’s a movie about a shark that attacks people. Add in some profits-driven politics and you’ve got yourself the first hour’s conflict. Once they actually get out on the ocean though, the real adventure begins. I think the character development is really what makes this movie so great. Brody is incompetent when it comes to anything sea related and he even falls short with some of his duties as a father and husband. This is a classic Spielberg element. Having a father that has yet to prove himself, and is still childlike in many ways is something he includes in many of his films. Brody does end up being the hero of the film but not without some help along the way. Hooper comes in to educate Brody on the most important details of their enemy and to eventually provide him with part of the weapon that will destroy the beast. Roy Scheider plays Brody well, making sure to highlight his nervousness in the delivery of his lines with a higher pitched and quivering voice, until he delivers that famous line right before he destroys the animal. Once it gets to that, his voice is hardened and angry. He is ready for this thing to be dead and the whole ordeal to be over. Hooper is also played marvelously by Richard Dreyfuss. He has his signature nasally voice to help him play the young and full-hearted Matt Hooper.

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It is Robert Shaw though that steals the movie and provides the perfect performance for the best character. I’ve already written a post analyzing his performance in the U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue scene but I’m going to give another brief review of his performance. His first appearance in the film is one of the greatest character entrances of film history. He starts off with scratching the chalkboard and then goes into this speech about killing the shark and how terrifying it really is and they need to recognize that it won’t give up so they must kill it. He knows a thing or two about these creatures and feels a sense of revenge against them, the cause of which is revealed later, in his most famous scene. I’ve already picked apart that scene but I have to say once again how wonderful his performance is. I still can’t get over how expressive his eyes are and how understated his overall performance is.

 

This film had everything going against it. The didn’t have a full script when they started shooting, the mechanical shark wouldn’t work, and everyone kept getting seasick. Yet it ended up redefining the summer blockbuster. It really did change they way movies were made and marketed and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.