27 November 2007
The Sugarland Express - Steven Spielberg's First Feature Film
I had always somehow managed to steer myself away from this film for a long time and even when it appeared on late night TV I still refused to watch it. I think part of the reason probably lay with the fact that Spielberg's reputation as a director had yet to be confirmed, and also I just couldn't stand Goldie Hawn, well, I still can't stand Goldie Hawn even today; she is the simply the most unfunny person working in cinema today and also she cannot act. She isn't even a competent performer. Anyway, having got over my Goldie Hawn phobia I was able to finally watch Spielberg's big screen debut, The Sugarland Express, and I have report that it was actually a pretty good film, considering it was Spielberg's second film. (Duel was his first unofficial film but in America it was considered a made for TV movie whilst in Europe it got a deserved limited release; I still think Duel is one of the his greatest films). It is effectively a road movie but at the same time a chase movie, and feels quite similar in tone to Jaws and Spielberg's other 70's films. One of the drawbacks with the film is the dialogue scenes which are overplayed by the actors, revealing Spielberg's early difficulty with filming scenes of intimacy between characters. The film's strengths lies within it's adherence to a tragic and unconventional Spielberg ending which culminates with the death of one of the central protoganists. Considering this film was made in the 1970s and that Spielberg was working very much within the confines of the road movie genre, the outcome seems quite inevitable, so I am not sure if this surprising in terms of the narrative and characterisation. The story follows an American couple who hijack a police officer and make their way across what seems like most of America to get back their baby son who has been taken into custody by social services. Spielberg's early use of the widescreen potential of the frame is hugely impressive and the chase sequences still seem fresh and bursting with energy. This was also the first time Spielberg would colloborate with Vilmos Zsigmond who does a remarkable job filming the American landscape through sunsets. Spielberg also seems to be criticising the apathetic nature of an American society in which the nuclear family had more or less become a symbol of 1970s apocalypse. What this film proves to me is that Spielberg has always been a genius film maker and more importantly has consistently challenged himself, having successfully mastered the major genres of American cinema. The Sugarland Express underlines the simple truth that Spielberg has extraordinary range for a director who even today is sometimes dismissed as a mainstream hack.