19 Dec 2009

Steven Spielberg: Top 5 Worst Endings

After a career spanning over four decades, and box office receipts totaling several billions, Steven Spielberg now occupies a position as one of, if not the most powerful players in the film industry. His films have touched generations, and the indelible images he has brought to the screen have made him one of the most commercially successful filmmakers of all time. In spite of all this though, a cursory glance at his filmography reveals a startling occurrence that plagues nearly all his work. This guy really, really sucks at endings.

The 5 Worst Endings To Steven Spielberg Movies

1. War Of The Worlds 

This may well be one of the worst movies that Spielberg has ever directed, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t numerous moments of truly breathtaking filmmaking to be found within it. For all his desire to be seen as a more worthy director, and the equal of his more celebrated contemporaries (Coppola, Scorsese, De Palma etc), this is the man who pretty much wrote the blueprint for how to make a summer blockbuster with Jaws back in 1975, and who will never be more in control of proceedings then when serving us up big budget blockbuster entertainment. For ninety minutes this is pure Spielberg; a dysfunctional family is plunged into extraordinary circumstances by external forces, and lots of stuff gets blown up (the first appearance of the Martians as they lay waste to New Jersey is truly astonishing, especially as the manner in which they incinerate whole buildings has eerie precedents in our post 9/11 society) which is what makes the offensively stupid ending all the more frustrating. Not only is the manner in which the aliens are defeated ridiculously trite (Terrestrial diseases? Really? NB…if you need narration at the end of your movie to explain what the fuck just happened then somebody isn’t doing their job right) but after the devastation we witness in the first brutal hour of the film, to make us believe that Tom Cruise’s entire family could have survived undermines almost everything that came before it.

2. Saving Private Ryan 

The first half hour remains one of the most extraordinarily visceral sequences ever 
committed to film, but it is hardly controversial to say Saving Private Ryan has a lot of problems is it? For all its flaws though, I could still love it if it wasn’t for the scenes of an elderly James Ryan visiting a cemetery with his family that start and end the movie. By book-ending it with these truly nauseating sequences, particularly the exchange between Ryan and his wife (“Tell me I’m a good man”), not only does it further enforce the notion that only American lives are worth saving according to Spielberg’s vision of warfare, and is a textbook case of Spielberg emotional manipulation but it literally doesn’t make any sense either. How can he recall events that had absolutely nothing to do with him? If the flashback structure of the film truly made sense then surely it would have to start with Captain Miller and his men finding Ryan? How can he have a flashback that starts with Omaha beach if he was hundreds of miles away in France at the time? Guh?

3. Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom

I’m going to let this one speak for itself. As underrated as I feel Temple is (I defy anyone not to get a rush from the breathless opening scene in Club Obi-Wan), pretty much everything that I hate about this movie (Kate Capshaw constantly whining, Short Round being offensive to Asian people the whole world over) can be summed up in this turd of an ending. Warning, reading this may lower your IQ by several points…

Indiana Jones: Anything can happen. It's a long way to Delhi.
Willie: No, thanks. No more adventures with you, Dr. Jones.
Indiana Jones: Sweetheart, after all the fun we've had together?
Willie: If you think I'm going to Delhi with you, or anyplace else after all the trouble you've gotten me into, think again, buster! I'm going home to Missouri where they never feed you snakes before ripping your heart out and lowering you into hot pits! This is NOT my idea of a swell time! [to native] Excuse me, sir. I need a guide to Delhi. If you could...
[Indy snaps his whip around Willie's waist and pulls her back]
Willie: Oh...
Short Round: Very funny. Very funny.
[Indy and Willie start to kiss]

Short Round: Uh-oh!


4. A.I.

The second production on A.I. commenced it was always going to be a bit of an oddity. For those unfamiliar with the protracted history of this particular film, Stanley Kubrick had been interested in adapting Brian Aldiss’ short story Super Toys Last All Summer Long since the seventies, getting deep into pre-production in 1994 before abandoning it after a series of disastrous screen tests. Kubrick felt the story was more suited to Spielberg’s sensibilities and attempted to convince his friend to make it. After Kubrick died in 1999, his wife Christiane and brother-in-law Jan finally got him to agree to make it, and for me this is when the troubles started. If Kubrick had been alive and wearing his Producer hat as he had always intended, I’m sure it would be a better movie than the one that exists today. As it is though, Spielberg was too in awe of the master to fully imprint his own vision on it, so we get the rather odd spectacle of Steven Spielberg attempting to make a Stanley Kubrick film, and there are no two filmmakers more diametrically opposed than the cold and clinical Kubrick and the sentimental and earnest Spielberg. In spite of this though, A.I. is breathtaking to look at, contains some truly brilliant moments, and while by no means a masterpiece is certainly worth watching, in spite of the disastrously schmaltzy epilogue that feels tacked on. I’m positive that had his friend been alive and Spielberg had proposed the idea to him it would have only taken one glare from Kubrick to consign the awful idea of giving David his “everlasting moment” to the dustbin of film history

5. Minority Report 

As a fully-fledged Dickhead (to the uninitiated that means I’m a lover of the works of Philip K Dick, the finest science-fiction writer of all time) I’ve had to put up with a dearth of quality cinematic adaptations of the great mans work. Blade Runner remains the closest anyone had ever come to accurately representing Dick’s frighteningly large imagination up there on the screen, and while Minority Report doesn’t quite scale those impressive heights, its still has so, so much in it to recommend; an intense Tom Cruise wacked out on drugs and slicing up eyeballs after one of the most gruesome transplants scenes imaginable, Max Von Sydow as a brilliantly cast villain (he plays the wise mentor character for the vast part of the movie so well that when we eventually find out that his character Burgess is the elusive murderer it is all the more effective), astonishing production design, as well as Janusz Kaminski’s gorgeous, blue-filtered cinematography. The most frustrating thing here is that while AI needs at least thirty minutes chopped off the end to save it, Minority Report only needs about thirty seconds to be cut to prevent Spielberg making such a horrible misstep at its conclusion. After wrapping things up surprisingly neatly in one of the darkest films in his career, the completely irrelevant scene of the three pre-cogs all wearing sensible jumpers and reading mystery novels in some log cabin that came straight out of a Werthers Original advertisement feels like a smack in the face. 

The exception to the rule: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

I am of the opinion that despite all the Oscars Schindler’s List won, it is Jaws that should be regarded as Spielberg’s undisputed masterpiece, and that to this day it still represents one of the finest achievements in American motion picture production, but at the end of the day it is still an adaptation, albeit a masterful one, of someone else’s material, namely Peter Benchley’s novel. Spielberg’s finest achievements as a screenwriter came when he made Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and gave it an uncharacteristically downbeat ending. Finally confronted by the alien life forms he has searched so passionately for, Roy Neary abandons his wife and children and follows them onto their spaceship. Spielberg, who viewed Neary’s obsessional quest for perfection and enlightenment as the ultimate metaphor for filmmaking, completely understood his decision as a young man, but says that if he remade the movie now, as a father and husband himself, he would change the ending and have him stay behind on Earth. I literally can’t think of anything more indicative of how Spielberg has allowed sentimentality to effect his work and his decision-making process in the latter stages of his career than this anecdote. 

Matthew Kleebauer

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