It’s no secret that during the holidays sometimes genre viewing must take a backseat to less desirable stuff as logistics allow, and sometimes that transition can be unpleasant to get through, after all, sometimes football loses its appeal, and how many times can you watch those stop-motion-animation classics again? What’s a Science fiction fan to do? The answer to this annual holiday hurdle is as simple as uttering two words: Steven Spielberg and the situation takes on a whole new nature with several enjoyable solutions made to order.
Spielberg is one of the American film industry’s most critically successful filmmakers, with deserved praise for his directing talent and versatility, and has won the Academy Award for Best Director twice. He’s also the world’s best know creator of family-friendly-fare. The name Spielberg is synonymous with warmhearted. Some of his movies are also among the highest-grossing film of all-time, while his total work, unadjusted for ticket-price inflation, makes him the highest-grossing film director in history. Spielberg was born on December 18, 1946, in Cincinnati, Ohio, His mother, Leah (née Posner, later Adler; January 12, 1920 – February 21, 2017), was a restaurateur and concert pianist, and his father, Arnold Spielberg (born 1917), was an electrical engineer involved in the development of computers.
Before moving on to the specific remedies for the solution of this yearly conflict, and at the risk of alienating some readers, I would like to delve briefly into the history of genre films for a moment to more clearly illustrate the genius of what Spielberg did to change science-fiction movies forever.
Unlike the primarily “B” movies that populated the genre population of films before Spielberg’s arrival, these films, mostly preoccupied with creatures affected by atomic radiation, also often featured cliched types like an academic (or scholarly) type, a military type, and a damsel in distress the same formula a lot of genre narratives still cling to today. By not just introducing the burbs and their inhabitants of the period into his films and introducing family groups into the stories, but by shifting the focus to them and what they are going through as much as keeping the focus on the creature or monster in question. By basing the characters in his films on more realistic people he made his audience the stars of his movies, and his real-life audience ate it up, and why not? Suddenly they were the stars of the films they were going to see.
Not only did the stories keep pace with the changing face of America, and of how our country was evolving and growing, by completely changing what the story’s primary focus is, it turns the whole approach the film takes in a fundamental way that revolutionized genre films forever. By including the mainstream families more fully into the narrative, it made them the stars of the movie by making them a more significant part of the story and make it more interesting, instead of just victims; Genius.
Not only that, but add in the magical and heartwarming nature of the narratives that Spielberg’s movies brought to life and the universal message that speaks to all children everywhere and it makes him unique already. Plus, add in his legendary, well-documented, magical touch with child actors, and there’s ample evidence to build a case to support the notion that Spielberg may have more than a casual acquaintance between him and a gentleman that lives in the north that shall remain unnamed.
So try these out on the family this year for a change of pace:
Jaws (1975): Although not technically a holiday film, there’s no disputing the universal family appeal of Jaws and it’s hungry, uninvited guest. Is there any doubt this movie will keep everyone riveted even restless kids?
Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977): Spielberg’s take on alien visitation is an incredibly powerful and beautiful film that speaks to the human condition as much or possibly more than any other genre film I can think of at the moment. The story is not only brilliant; it doesn’t stop at anything to make a point, even making use of what starts as an amusing scene, that Spielberg deftly turns on its ear into the frightening specter of mental illness; The film doesn’t stay there long though; Like most of Spielberg;s films this one has a happy ending. He’s the King of happy endings too, without a doubt.
1941 (1979): One of my personal favorites, this underrated film has some genuinely funny moments and includes a hilarious degree of arbitrary and wanton destruction alone that makes it memorable and fun. It’s got several of Spielberg’s trademark film techniques he developed and used later in his career. Unfortunately, it’s a sad fact the movie completely wastes its use of John Belushi. 1941 is a historically exciting film because being made long before today’s strict standards were put into place, its completely lacking in political correctness and It’s just naughty enough to be okay for the kids (who love any chance to see “that” stuff anyways) and at its core, it’s a heart-warming story suitable for -you-know-who.
ET: The Extraterresrtrial (1982): Naturally, I saved the best for last. Where do you go next after a family-friendly visit from another world? Why back to this one of course; the unofficial sequel to Close Encounters, ET: The Extraterrestrial is pure movie magic; listen, any time you want to make a movie with a mainly all-kid cast it’s a gamble at best, one you’re most likely to lose, but Spielberg pulled it off and created an immortal movie classic. (again, magic)
So, there you have it; a Spielberg Christmas enough to put even the most stubborn Grinch in the Holiday Spirit. Happy Holidays from the Sci-Fi Movie Page and Happy Viewing from me, the Sci-Fi Nerd.