As Steven Spielberg’s old pal George Lucas once said: “Emotionally involving the audience is easy. Anybody can do it blindfolded. Get a little kitten and have some guy wring its neck.” By my count, someone threatens the life of the horse (in War Horse) roughly every half an hour. That’s a lot of mortal jeopardy. Cynics will argue that Spielberg endangers the animal for the sake of the box office. But I don’t think cynics should be allowed to see this film. For while it may well be corn-fed sentimental hokum, every bit as contrived as Lassie Come Home, there’s something undeniably moving about War Horse. Spielberg is fascinated by our capacity for good. He might be a sap, but my God he knows how to make a movie.
Hello Kitty doesn’t make coffins. And for good reason: it’s wrong to sentimentalize death. So why does Hollywood succumb so often? Why is Ghost the template for talking about the afterlife? (Wherein: the dead are dead… but not really). Why? Because you make more money that way. If you make it palatable, they will come. But to prettify death is to empty the coffin. That’s why Peter Jackson’s version of The Lovely Bones is doomed. Here is a story about death. The point of the story is not the narrator (a dead girl), but the fact that she is everywhere and nowhere for her family. It’s about grieving.
George Lucas is a moron. Sure, the man had two good ideas for movies in Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but even those gems were tarnished with crappy sequels (I refer to all three new Star Wars movies, most of Return of the Jedi, everything in Temple of Doom after Shanghai and that horseshit trailer for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles which masquerades as the opening 20 minutes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Sure, back in the 70s, when all the other nerdy weirdos were doing their best work (Spielberg, Schrader, Scorsese et al), Lucas seemed invincible. But if there’s one thing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull makes clear, it’s that George Lucas should’ve stopped in ’81.