Spielberg and Lucas on Ark of the Covenant traditions

It’s been up on YouTube for almost three years now, but last week, for some reason, a vintage TV special on the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) began making the rounds on the internet.

I don’t believe I had ever seen it before, though I do recall a friend at school telling me about it and describing one sequence in it, in which Steven Spielberg tries to give Harrison Ford a passionate summary of where the story is going, only to have Ford abandon him mid-story to put some mustard on his hot dog or whatever.

I mention the special here because it includes a clip of Spielberg on the set of the film’s climax, explaining to some of the extras what the supernatural concept behind that climax is — and I was intrigued to hear Spielberg suggest that the film might actually differ from the traditions surrounding the Ark as he understands them.

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He played Jesus, now he might play Moses.

Yesterday I passed along the news that Exodus, Ridley Scott’s version of the life of Moses, was “gathering steam” at 20th Century Fox, even as Steven Spielberg had dropped out of directing another Moses movie over at Warner Brothers. Well, now comes word, via Deadline, that Fox and Scott are talking to Christian Bale — who landed one of his first acting gigs in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun (1987) before growing up to star in the Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012) etc. — about playing Moses himself. This would not be Bale’s first biblical role; he previously played Jesus in the TV-movie Mary Mother of Jesus (1999), and he briefly considered taking the starring role in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah as well. Bale passed on that role in the end, and he might pass on this one too, but still, it’s another sign that the studios are very keen on making another big-screen movie about Moses — the first such live-action film in almost 60 years.

Spielberg out, Ang Lee in, for life-of-Moses movie?

First Ang Lee won the Oscar for Best Director that many people thought Steven Spielberg would get last month; now there are rumours that Lee might direct the life-of-Moses movie that Spielberg has been attached to for over a year.

Deadline reports that Spielberg has decided not to direct Gods and Kings, the “epic-sized” Moses movie that Warner Brothers has been developing since at least 2010. Spielberg — who already alluded to the Moses story in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) before proposing that the first DreamWorks cartoon be The Prince of Egypt (1998) — was said to be “near commitment” to the project in January 2012, but apparently the deal was never finalized, and now never will be.

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A teaser for Lincoln, and a flashback to Amistad

Nobody just releases trailers for movies any more; now, thanks to the Twilight franchise (and others, perhaps), we’re starting to see trailers for trailers — and the latest trailer-for-a-trailer to hit the interwebs is this 44-second clip from Steven Spielberg’s film about Abraham Lincoln. There’s not a whole lot to comment on here, but I did think this would be as good a time as any to re-post an article I wrote for Books & Culture back in 1998 on the last Spielberg movie that dealt with the Civil War, i.e. Amistad (most of which takes place about 20 years before the war, but there are some clear foreshadowings of it, and, if memory serves, the film does include a brief shot of American soldiers meeting each other on the battlefield during the epilogue). You can read that article here. (And, wow, 1998 seems so long ago now, like it was a whole other century. Oh, wait, that’s because it was.)

Indiana Jones and the Deadly Blather / Notes on the devolution of a franchise.

“Didn’t any of you guys ever go to Sunday school?” So said Indiana Jones to a couple of bemused military intelligence agents in Raiders of the Lost Ark, easily the top-grossing film of 1981 and one of the greatest action movies ever made. And thus producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg seemed to make explicit what had only been implicit in the handful of films that they had made over the previous few years — films that had captured an entire generation’s spiritual imagination.

Lucas, of course, had helped to revive interest in the power of myth with his space-opera throwback, Star Wars (1977), and its sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980); the latter was particularly heavy on the spiritual development of its hero, Luke Skywalker. Some Christians, keen to capitalize on the franchise’s popularity, even went so far as to draw extensive analogies between the first movie and the biblical narrative; the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi was betrayed by his disciple, and died, and continued beyond death as a counsellor to Luke was, of course, key to their interpretations.1 Spielberg, for his part, had directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, re-edited and re-released in 1980), a film about aliens that spoke very strongly to the longing for enlightenment from above; in both images and dialogue, the film even made indirect references to the story of Moses and his encounter with God on Mount Sinai.2

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Review: War of the Worlds (dir. Steven Spielberg, 2005)

Has it really been two centuries since H.G. Wells wrote The War of the Worlds? Well, no, not quite, but he did write it in the late 19th century, and in it, he criticized the European and especially British imperialism of his time; just as the world’s colonial superpowers had wiped out the dodo, the bison, the aboriginal tribes of Tasmania, and others, so too they would now feel what it was like to live under the brutal domination of an advanced civilization, albeit one from Mars.

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