Throwback Thursday: You Got the Spielberg Look

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.

I was having a pretty crappy weekend recently due to some health issues and didn’t feel motivated to do anything. So, I decided, like any good sick geek will, to put on comfort movie E.T. I’ve reviewed it before, so I won’t go through all the reasons why it’s an awesome film, but watching it got me thinking about one of the things Steven Spielberg does so well: that is, the look of wonder. You’ve seen it in countless films—it’s the moment in which the protagonist sees something off camera that they just can’t believe. We believe what those characters believe before the camera even shows us what they see.

The three siblings staring in wonder at E.T.

E.T. really is just off camera.

Spielberg captures that moment perfectly in film after film. We’re fully invested in that shark, alien, or dinosaur.

Roy Scheider glimpsing Jaws.

The shark is just off camera

In the above scene from Jaws, Chief Brody sees what he’s been after the entire film. Actor Roy Scheider sells us that fear and nervousness perfectly: you’re legitimately scared for him.

Sam Neill spotting a dinosaur in Jurassic Park.

A dinosaur is just off camera.

Here, Sam Neill as Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park gives the audience excitement crossed with nervousness and childlike innocence.

laura dern

Okay, a lot of dinosaurs are just off camera.

Laura Dern as Jurassic Park’s Dr. Sattler balances wonder with fear in her face and eyes.

Spielberg doesn’t make it all about fantastic dinosaurs and aliens, though. The simple act of coming out of our shells in our ordinary lives can create wonder, too. Having been beaten down her entire life The Color Purple’s Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) goes to a juke joint for the first time. She sees people dressed up in their finest and living in the moment away from the cares of the world. This new world makes her excited, scared, nervous, and full of wonder.

Whoopie Goldberg taking in a juke joint in The Color Purple.

Couples dancing are just off camera.

These moments make Spielberg a world-class director. He can give any genre of film a believable viewpoint. He finds the humanity and humanness in the moments. He makes us believe that an alien can be friends with a boy, that a Brachiosaurus exists in our modern world, that a bad-ass archaeologist is afraid of snakes, and that racism and bigotry can be overcome.

For these moments and more, I want to thank Steven Spielberg for letting his audiences feel that sense of wonder and for helping us to dream of a better tomorrow.

Almost all of Spielberg’s films can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. Most are currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below what your favorite looks are; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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