Perhaps like me, when you heard Spielberg was re-making West Side Story, you asked yourself… why bother? Movies achieve classic status precisely because they nailed it. I wondered if Steven wanted to take on the challenge because Wizard of Oz was a musical. Being of his generation, I remember West Side Story exploding onscreen in 1961 as a novel departure from that era’s elaborate stage productions converted to film. West Side Story’s transitions from plot action to song and dance numbers in the slums of NYC came off more natural than other musicals did, especially when the ‘juvenile delinquents’ were performing. I could understand why it might be the only musical that fit into Steven’s boyish repertoire.
Right off the bat, the viewer is flown in for an aerial view of the dismal destruction of the Jet’s neighborhood. These homes are not fabled safe havens. They look more like the bombed out villages we saw in Saving Private Ryan. Small-scalewar is a way of life for the displaced inhabitants.
Color is muted to subtle shades of hopelessness.
The first pop of red and yellow comes with the sign for ‘Doc’s Druggist’ where we are introduced to Tony’s safe haven.
Hilariously, he enters his basement quarters by the same means as a storm hatchto a Kansas tornado shelter!
Maria’s bedroom is reminiscent of Dorothy’s, particularly the metal bed with its smattering of old fashioned worn covers. She sprawls across it much like Dorothy does.
The morning after meeting Tony, Maria opens the bedroom door and her family’s apartment is cloaked in a riotous mass of color with hanging fabric of every hue like the brilliant setting in OZ. She is entering a new phase of her life, transformed by falling in love.
Hues of red and yellow abound in the festive Puerto Rican ghetto, costumes as well. The inhabitants are as joyful in their unfettered exuberance as the munchkins ever were.
When Tony and Maria marry themselves before the stained glass window, there is a brief flash of bright backlighting. If you are familiar with Spielberg imagery, you know the significance—this streaming bright light emphatically defines the following scene at the bar when the handgun takes center stage. Danger is imminent. We have been shown both the victim and the means of his demise.
Note the promenade of cop cars before the rumble, echoes of Sugarland Express.
Speaking of promenades, Steven loves a little crowd support. The solidarity of a group having each other’s back is one of his favorite devices. What better venue than West Side Story to feature strength in numbers. My personal favorite procession is when we see the rival gangs crossing the railroad yard…I swear at one point they sound like the witch’s soldiers chanting Oh ee yah, ee oh ah.
As their confederates congregate at the salt shed to rumble, Tony and Chino have to slide under the closing metal door like the tin man, scarecrow and lion make it through the witch’s castle gate at the last moment. It’s been a long time since I watched Indiana Jones or a Jurassic Park but pretty sure that trick might be in those as well.
As long as we’re thinking about the witch’s castle scene in WOO, when Anybodys (the wannabe Jet), peeks over that hill of salt did it remind you of lion tin man and scarecrow peering over the surrounding cliffs? A similar scene appears in Close Encounters.
I could expound on the many creative takes in Spielberg’s interpretation of the original West Side Story (like having Tony and Maria initiate their romance behind the school bleachers, aww, nostalgic) but that kind of critique is not the focus of this website. Still I think it’s pertinent to point out the inherent complications of shooting certain iconic scenes, moments that were the ‘memes’ of yesteryear. I wonder how long he pondered how to cope with “I Feel Pretty”. He ends up garbing Maria in a green scarf at the department store. Green is an unusual color for Steven to emphasize so I right away perk up my antennae. It soon becomes clear with Maria posturing on podiums that she is clowning for her comrades like the Cowardly Lion does in his green cape while waiting for an audience with the wizard. ‘I am king of the forrrrest’ becomes ‘I Feel Pretty.’ Both scenesoffer comic relief before high drama comes back into play.
The minute Anita, swathed in black, is dragged to the morgue to identify Bernardo I visualized the slap that would be forthcoming. Who will ever forget the dead boy’s black veiled mother in Jaws and herslap across the sheriff’s face? Sure enough that resounding slap of death propels Maria into grim reality. Not exactly WOO, but all Spielberg!
Just one last minor detail I’d like to mention. West Side Story, 2022’s version, is the first movie I’ve seen in a theater since the pandemic began. It took some strong-armed coercion to talk my Valentine into this holiday date but even the curmudgeon admitted it was the shortest two and a half hours he ever had to sit through. High praise indeed.
In 2017’s political climate, where ‘reporting unflattering portrayals’ got labeled ‘fake news’, this film was rushed for a timely release. As if the punishing deadline wasn’t proof enough of how seriously Steven took the theme, viewers will find only the subtlest references to Wizard of Oz in this piece. Similar to other sober endeavors like Lincoln, Schindler’s List and Munich, Spielberg restrains the urge to get too playful with his subject.
That said…AHA! Discovered a WOO image in this one that makes me want to go back and re-check all the others. It’s all about the stairs.
But let’s set it up before I reveal…
“What makes the muskrat guard his musk?” Much is made in this film of Kay Graham, a woman from the post World War II era, when proper females kept to their assigned gender roles. She must strive for the courage to overcome her lack of confidence as she navigates amidst a storm of testosterone. To paraphrase the cowardly lion, “I’m going in there. Only one thing I want you to do: talk me out of it.” And the guys do try.
Some crucial scenes, not to mention movie promos, feature Kay and Ben Bradlee on the steps of Supreme Court. It struck me suddenly that in Wizard of Oz, key moments of courage and steadfastness in the face of adversity are also set on staircases. Dorothy and her entourage must mount stairs to get in past the guard to see the wizard. The lion sings his famous song about courage on stairs. Toto runs for help down the witch’s stairs. Her friends rescue Dorothy after running up those same stairs. Dorothy bears her dire wait for the sands to run out on a small podium of stairs leading to the crystal ball. Even the mountain on which the witch’s castle is perched is a precipice of rocky steps.
I have pointed out before Steven’s penchant for ascending and descending between levels of reality. Here, the trip up and down the Supreme Court steps represents an awakening — not only for Kay who realizes what she is capable of achieving, but for Ben, jolting him out of his elite social stance with the ‘governors’ back to that of a hard hitting journalist, a champion of the ‘governed’. One must often cross an intimidating barrier to reach one’s full potential.
We experience a fateful wind blowing in the window in one of the very first scenes as Kay awakens. It actually ripples a curtain on the opposite wall to emphasize this main character is about to undergo a huge challenge. I’ve pointed out this connection to Dorothy’s bedroom window in the tornado too many times to count.
When Daniel Ellsberg is shown sneaking the papers out of the Rand offices, note the sinister blue light bathing the set in monotone color. The overhead fluorescent bulb even flickers as in Joe vs. the Volcano. Black and white, sepia tones, and occasionally blue tones as in E.T. are Steven’s way of suggesting an air of hopelessness reminding us of the bleak landscape of Depression era Kansas.
Bright morning sunshine streams in through velvet-dimmed restaurant windows, backlighting Ben Bradlee when Kay meets him for breakfast before the crisis begins. The dazzle of brilliant white light always signals danger ahead for the protagonist(s) in every Spielberg film.
Steven’s favorite color combo of red and yellow makes frequent appearance again, livening up otherwise dull building exteriors and interiors. Note the prophetic Art Buchwald/Uncle Sam poster in Bradlee’s office, Have I ever lied to you? Kay wears a red and yellow silk dress in several scenes. Neil Sheehan sports a red and yellow tie. The camera lovingly dwells upon red and yellow cabs, street signs, drapes and carpets. Watch for it; you’ll find no end of examples. By now, I shouldn’t have to remind you…ruby slippers, yellow brick road.
In the audio cue department, we do hear three bells ring when Kay declares they will publish the Pentagon papers’ content. Twice the typewriter pings and — to punctuate — we hear a third bell ding from the elevator. Steven likes to mark significant plot peaks with a chime of one kind or another à la Glinda.
I was amused at a new take on the “Run, Toto, run!” concept. Usually Spielberg shamelessly employs the ‘Run’ line to amp up action and empathy for a beleaguered hero. But in this case, when Kay decides to ‘run’ the story, running involves taking offensive rather than defensive action. Fun twist on Steven’s incitement to excitement.
I will admit I was shocked at the lack of a bicycle in a movie about newspapers, particularly in the scene when the Post’s big headline hits the streets. So shocked, in fact, I’m willing to bet the farm there was a newsboy cameo that landed on someone’s editing floor. OUCH, Amblin, who prevailed and why? Too cute? Too retro? Not D.C.-ish enough?
No matter, Steven squeezed in plenty of cyclonic motion with the printing press machinery, shaking desks, rolling pencils, truck tires, helicopters.
Which leads me to the final WOO parallel — the pageantry. Spielberg loves to showcase the bystanders, especially when they stand behind the protagonists as did the munchkins and the citizens of Emerald City. And there’s plenty of eye smarting support to be had in this film, (the protestors, the other newspapers), just as in other powerful pictures like Schindler’s List, The Terminal, Empire of the Sun, Sugarland Express to name a few.
Freshest WOO moment: “I am your humbug servant,” says the word-bumbling BFG to the Queen of England. We all remember this scornful accusation hurled at the great and powerful Wizard of Oz when Toto revealed he was nothing more than a humble little man ‘behind the curtain’.
The film and trailers showcase an open window, the curtain blowing inward, the tempting light and Sophie’s irresistible urge (despite sensible warnings to herself) to peek out. She spies what she ought not to have seen, resulting of course in the giant being forced to abduct her.
They fly in soaring leaps against the moonlit blue sky recalling shots from E.T. Transcending reality by means of flight to enchanted lands is standard Spielberg/WOO fare.
I was amused by the scene where the squadron of British helicopters must follow BFG to the land of giants. In other Spielberg projects such aerial armies hearken back to flying monkeys. Here he reverses himself and they are portrayed instead as a promenade of solidarity for Sophie’s cause. Natch—flying monkey references always denote evil.
This seems like a good time to point out Spielberg’s essential theme: Sophie’s overwhelming desire to return ‘home’, complicated by the conflict that ‘home’ is no longer safe from marauding giants.
Leading of course to the requisite ‘quest’, to stop the evil giants.
Steven’s mysterious recurring green goo gets another cameo as Sophie emerges from the snozzcumber.
The set for BFG’s house is whirring with cyclonic motion, spinning water wheels, circulating wheel barrels, even Steven’s beloved bicycle re-tooled as a hand mixer to whip up the ingredients for the queen’s dream.
Finally I must point out yet again prodigious use of red and yellow, (Steven’s homage to RG color space?) I noted it first with the little red jacket Sophie turns inside out to spare BFG his painful memories. Its subtle tones of scarlet and ochre enhance her chameleon goldish-red glasses and her blushing lips. Later I detected that even her shabby nightgown was sporting a faded pattern of red and yellows. The pigment duo boldly moves to multiple repetitions of crimson and gold at the queen’s palace: the guards, servants, walls and carpets.
If you haven’t seen this in a few decades like me, it’s worth re-watching. Somehow I mis-remembered it as a Smokey and the Bandit farce—which it definitely is not. Great character development throughout.
Spielberg wrote the script based on an actual event. Did the project appeal to him specifically because it centered on an individual quest that attracted a huge procession of followers, even well-wishers? Check out two scenes: one where Lou Jean asks for hair curlers etc. and the one where they drive through the center of town’s impromptu parade. This pageantry echoes back to Munchkinland and Emerald City, both of whose populations cheered Dorothy on to her adventures with the same pomp and enthusiasm. See The Terminal, Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister, The Color Purple, Catch Me if You Can for other calvacades.
By the way, there is a small sign outside the parade town that reads Val Verde, Spanish for Green Valley…symbolizing Emerald City?
Early on is the favorite backlit moment when innocent Baby Langsdon opens the front door of the Sugarland house. Interior of house is dark and shadowed, outside is brilliant….alluring but full of danger. That is the classic image of how Dorothy enters OZ. Langsdon’s father will be fatally shot right out there. The scene is repeated later with grownups at the door: however, they perceive the threat and begin to collect the fragile vases. See Saving Private Ryan, Close Encounters, 1941.
After the massive police car pile-up, Lou Jean suddenly realizes her errand is no longer just a personal mission. All the hoop-la will not fade away once she’s accomplished what she set out to do. “Clovis, honey, don’t do no good runnin’ from a tornado,” she prophecies. There will be no safe place for them, just as getting home was not enough to prevent the twister’s power from sucking Dorothy up into its maelstrom. See WOO, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can, (1941) for other instances where ‘home’ did not live up to its illusion of safety.
Steven’s love of kids and bikes is spotlighted. At one point, a bunch of mischievous boys ride through the center of a roadblock despite the cops’ protestations. At another, the vigilante complains when he finds his flashers have been commandeered to adorn the handlebars of his son’s bike. See Munich, Adventures of Tintin, Amistad, 1941, Always, Super 8, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun,The Goonies, Sugarland Express, Jaws, Inner Space.
There is a predominant color palate in this film of red and yellow. Clovis has red hair, Lou Jean blond. Clovis wears a red and yellow plaid shirt. The interior of the Sugarland house is done in red and yellow. Red and yellow fringe decorates the Car Dealership’s lot where they spend the night. The motor home is red and yellow, inside and out. The TV/radio van that inspired all the publicity is red and yellow. Before they enter the downtown parade, there is a lingering shot of the yellow traffic signal with its red light shining. As they proceed, the interior of car is aglow with red roses juxtaposed against yellow gold stamps. Many shots of crowds show extras dressed in stand-out reds and yellows. Just before Lou Jean, Clovis and their hostage crash the final time, you see red road signs against golden turf. The entire film features gold and red sunset skies. One of the enduring images of WOO is the close-up of Dorothy’s ruby slippers with the yellow brick road as the backdrop. Schindler’s List, Jaws, 1941, Joe vs. the Volcano, Twister, Inner Space, Jurassic Park, Used Cars, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Do I even need to point out that the entire caper is to get Baby Langsdon home to his real mother where he belongs? See Empire of the Sun, A.I., Hook, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Catch me if You Can, The Color Purple, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park (to Grampa) and WOO (to Auntie Em).
NOT WOO BUT… Let me urge you to sample this early Spielberg if for nothing more than to check out the scene where Lou Jean points out Roadrunner playing at the drive-in next-door. Clovis provides his own soundtrack for her amusement. When Coyote takes his final dive, Clovis foresees his own demise. Absurdly awesome.
Professor Marvel’s (AKA Wizard of Oz) hot air balloon has a cameo role as the rounder upper of expendable robots for the flesh fair’s show.
Gigolo Joe with his tap dancing on road and curb—not to mention his clever patter—brings off a respectable homage to Scarecrow’s, Tinman’s, Lion’s best song and dance antics.
Going to Rouge (red) City to ask Dr. Know=going to Emerald City to ask Wizard (rouge alternative to ruby as in slippers?) See The Terminal, Minority Report for other quests to find ‘wizards’.
‘All roads lead to Rouge City’=Follow the yellow brick road
Dr. Know appears in explosion of light, however only his head and hands show up. The Great Oz too appears as a talking head. Both are tricky fellows who don’t play fair all the time. Dr. Know counts off the first bogus question unfairly and his answers to the others aren’t quite correct. Professor Marvel/OZ was a manipulator/showman pretending to know more than he did. See See Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can. Schindler’s List for tricksters.
Teddy is as loyal a companion to David as Toto is to Dorothy. Like the little dog, he is occasionally very helpful getting David rescued—like at flesh fair.
The quest imposed by Dr. Know on David to find the Blue Fairy (to become real so Mommy will love him and let him come home)=Dorothy’s quest to witch’s castle to fulfill wizard’s bargain to get her home. For more quests, see Always, Amistad, Joe vs. the Volcano, Tintin, Poltergeist, Twister, Sugarland Express, Lincoln, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, The Goonies, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan, Munich, Jaws, Inner Space, The Terminal, Schindler’s List, Super 8, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Catch me if You Can, Always, Twilight Zone the Kick the Can episode,
Home references abound. “If I become a real boy, can I come home?” “After I find the Blue Fairy, then I can go home.” “Teddy, we’re Home!” almost verbatim Dorothy’s, “Toto, we’re home!” “Mommy, we’re home.” See Jaws, War Horse, The Terminal, Sugarland Express, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Super 8, 1941, Amistad, Minority Report, Hook, Poltergeist for other characters anxious to get home to safety.
The Blue fairy’s gentle voice is so reminiscent of Glinda, good Witch of the North. With creepy, modulated kindness, both sorceresses pound in nail-hard facts. Your mommy’s dead. The witch is after you. The road is long. You had to find out for yourself.
David sleeps at the end, home at last with Mommy dying. He goes to a place ‘where dreams begin’. Dorothy sleeps as tornado strikes, then after clicking heels of ruby slippers, wakes up at home, ‘her dream ended’. Where is home really? Here in physical world or there in dreams? See Joe vs. the Volcano.
Tinkling wind chimes in a window signify magic is coming…David will find Mommy waking up. This pre-magic moment (or significant change coming moment) presaged by a tinkling sound appears in many Spielberg films. You will remember that we always knew Glinda was coming when we heard the chimes begin. See Always, E. T., The Color purple, Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs the Volcano.
Check out the Gone with the Wind scenery look-alike when Gigolo Joe is silhouetted next to a tree as robots scavenge for parts in the dump. (see War of Worlds, War Horse). For a long time I attributed this scene and several others in various Spielberg pictures to GWTW. Recently though, I realized the small bridge where Scarlett shelters in creek with horse as the Union army crosses is awfully similar to one seen in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy runs away to Professor Marvel. Victor Fleming directed both films so it seems plausible that he found a double use for that particular bridge…and maybe the set with the tree and split rail fences as well? I realize King Vidor directed much of WOO, especially Kansas scenes, but does that preclude possibility that Victor and he occasionally shared sets? Is Steven purposely doing the same thing?
Hello, Cyclone! You will see a cow(or two) flying by mooing just like in Dorothy’s version and a boat—minus the fisherman. In fact, producer Spielberg’s tornado is chockfull of good stuff. I think I even spotted the insane tractor trailer from Duel! See War of the Worlds, Super 8, Poltergeist for more cyclonic ‘clinking, clanking, clattering collections of caligenous junk’.
The intro shows a defining moment in Jo’s childhood when a tornado unexpectedly strikes in the middle of the night. On her bed is a Toto-like terrier named Toby who, despite scampering at Toto-speed, almost doesn’t make it into the storm cellar. See The Adventures of Tintin. Also see War of the Worlds for another unsafe storm cellar!
Is it me or does Jo’s old farmhouse sport that ‘air of grayness’? Re-occurs when Bill prepares ‘Dorothy’ in the hailstorm; there is a shot up the curving, hilly road with fence-posts. The color washes away to black and white and—for a moment—viewer is back in Kansas. The absence of color hints things may get a bit hopeless. See E.T. the Extraterrestrial, War Horse, Schindler’s List, Twister, Joe Vs. the Volcano, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Poltergeist.
The telemetrical prototype is named ‘Dorothy’.
Looked to me like the footbridge Jo and Bill cower under during first tornado was identical to Victor Fleming’s old fave in WOO and GWTW. See A.I. for more detail on similar sets.
At the drive-in, Bill’s new girlfriend is in her room when a gust suddenly blows the window curtain inward. This is a classic Spielberg sign that life is about to radically change for her as it did for Dorothy after the bedroom window knocked her out cold. Sure enough, Melissa breaks up with Bill moments later. See Empire of the Sun, Catch Me if You Can, Hook, Twilight Zone the Movie Kick the can Episode, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
We glimpse Judy Garland on the TV at Aunt Meg’s house before the F-5 hits.
Aunt Meg’s artwork consists of giant whirligigs that chime conspicuously to warn us the Big One is coming. When Jo gets the idea of how to make the measuring devices inside ‘Dorothy’ fly, we hear chimes. Chimes sound again when the pinwheels fly up inside the twister. WOO always forewarned us of Glinda’s approaching magic with chimes. See Always, A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
At one point, in F-5 you will see an exact replica of Gales’ farmhouse roll by on its side—an amusing twist on the classic shot of its rooftop from above shown in WOO and other Spielberg films. See Minority Report, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Close Encounters.
The main characters dash on foot through a field of sunflowers…a sure sign they will prevail over trials ahead. Certainly the WOO companions did after surviving the poppies. Fields test characters and generally mark turning points in Steven’s works. See Always, Saving Private Ryan, The Color Purple, Lost World Jurassic Park.
Interesting references to Sugarland Express: the entourage of rival black SUV’s that dog Bill’s company echo back to that long line of cop cars.
Also a repeat of the red and yellow color scheme can be found at the drive-in. See Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,Schindler’s List, Jaws, 1941, Joe vs. the Volcano, Inner Space, Jurassic Park, Used Cars, Sugarland Express, Poltergeistfor other homages to the red and yellow commercial for Technicolor devised by WOO.
Also Jo and Bill defy Lou Jean’s opinion that ‘it don’t do no good runnin from a tornado‘ by doing exactly that! See Minority Report, War Horse, WOO for references to “Run, Toto, run”.
Despite the utter destruction wreaked by the F-5, the conclusion shows a family’s home unscathed. The haven untouched. Sanctuary. See See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, The Color Purple, Munich, Poltergeist, The Terminal for safety of home.
Viktor Navorski meets and befriends three steadfast companions in this nether world between Krakozhia and New York City just like Dorothy did in Oz. Mulroy, Enrique, and Gupta represent the qualities of Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion. Enrique searches for his heart (love of Dolores). Paranoid, fearful Gupta searches for the courage to return to his family in India and face imprisonment. Mulroy is the brainy one. He keeps Gupta’s silliness in line—much as Scarecrow reigns in Lion—and he imparts savvy hints to Viktor to help him survive in this often hostile environment. See Goonies.
Of course Frank Dixon plays the Wicked Witch of the West, trapping Viktor out of sheer meanness and his own desire for power/promotion.
Viktor’s goal is to find a ‘wizard’, in this case the virtuoso jazz musician whose signature will complete his father’s collection. See A.I., Minority Report
Gupta uses a mop to delay the Krakozhia flight, affording Viktor time and opportunity to get his wish and go out into NYC. You will recall the witch’s broomstick was the tool required by Wizard as compensation for the companions’ wishes to be granted.
As Viktor promenades down the center of airport toward his exodus, he is encouraged and cheered on by his companions and bystanders, again much like Dorothy in Munchkinland and Emerald City. See Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister, The Color Purple, Catch Me if You Can, Sugarland Express, Used Cars.
In the climactic parade scene, on the upper level, the camera flashes upon a distinctly yellow floor like yellow brick road. However close-ups do away with the pigment.
At the end, Frank’s security guards—like the witch’s soldiers in the castle—are only to happy to defy previous orders and former protocol. They let the captive go free.
Gupta triumphantly reassures Viktor from tarmac that everything is okay; he is returning home. See WOO, A.I., E.T., Super 8, Jaws, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun, War Horse, Saving Private Ryan, Sugarland Express, Hook, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can for other characters’ touching faith in safety of home.
Viktor initially complicates matters when he refuses to confirm he is ‘afraid to go home’. Pure at heart and untouched by Frank’s evil influence, or those overthrowing his country’s government, he can never accept that home is anything but a safe place for him. Dorothy shares the same viewpoint despite events to the contrary like Miss Gulch and the tornado. See above notationfor characters with equally naïve notions about the sanctuary of home. See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, The Color Purple, Munich, Poltergeist
The film’s finale has Viktor confidently answering the cabbie’s request for a destination, “I am going home.” If he doesn’t exactly close his eyes, he certainly narrows them. See WOO Dorothy’s ‘no place like home incantation’, Empire of the Sun, A.I.
Krakozhia: some say the country is named after Krakow…maybe…but is also pseudo-anagram for Kansas and Oz.
The Nazis brandishing eagle topped staffs and banners are like the witch’s guards with their lances parading in front of her castle gate.
The pet monkey all dressed up reminds you of witch’s flying monkey troops in costume. This little beast proves equally untrustworthy; he betrays Marion’s hiding place and leads to her capture. For more flying monkeys, see Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Minority Report, The Lost World of Jurassic Park, The Adventures of TinTin
Marion is trapped inside a basket like Toto.
The weird spirits inside the Ark of the Covenant appear in smoke and are sort of human, sort of scary, like Oz’s head in great hall. See Lincoln
The cover of the Ark—when it finally falls back on top to trap the spirits inside— twirls down exactly like Dorothy’s spinning house did when it fell from sky. Check out camera angles from above.
Nazis get melted after looking at the power inside ark— evil departs world— witch melts in WOO. See Lost World of Jurassic Park
In this film as in Super 8, Indy infiltrates enemy territory by appropriating an enemy uniform, the WOO trick to get Lion, Tinman and Scarecrow through witch’s gates. Note how a hat flies up during struggle; clothes did this in WOO too. See Catch Me if You Can, Super 8
Indy ducks out of soldier’s marching line. Super 8 dad does same… as do WOO companions after getting over drawbridge.
Indy reminds me of Scarecrow in the scene where he crawls under moving truck and is dragged. His body is as delightfully indestructible as the pratfalling straw man’s. Spielberg jokes about this afterward in the ‘what part of you doesn’t hurt?’ scene. Remember Dorothy asking Scarecrow about his injuries after she gets him down off the post? And how Scarecrow bounces back after being ripped apart by monkeys? Apparently Indy’s aches and pains aren’t as bad as he makes out, since he and Marion end up doing more than sleeping together. Young Indy is presumably conceived?
Alex’s mother appears in the midst of the harbor’s competitive chaos. Everybody in town is debarking. They hope to win a fabulous bounty for catching the man-eating monster. Mrs. Kintner is dressed all in black. Like the Wicked Witch of West, she cleaves through the center of crowd. You recall how the Munchkins hailed Dorothy in raucous celebration until witch sucked their joy away? The bereaved mother has same effect here. With vitriolic demeanor, she confronts Martin in an angry threatening speech, beating him down as the witch did Dorothy.
There are several clinking, tinkling interludes in this movie that warn you the shark is coming, like the WOO signal that let you know Glinda was on her way. Unlike the soundtrack music that tricks you sometimes…this prescient clinking is never wrong. The buoy rings as the girl goes for her dip, a warning the shark is going to get her. Before Alex and Tippett get chomped listen to the background music for orchestral chimes. Those two won’t escape. There are no chimes in the famous roast beef scene because the fisherman escapes, but you will hear them at the pond when the helpful man falls out of his boat and becomes shark bait. Listen for a flat drumming knell when Hooper dives around Ben Gardner’s disabled boat before he finds the gory corpse. Even when Orca’s crew is chasing and being chased, despite music implying danger, suspenseful clicking of fishing pole, beeping of monitor, you only hear the chimes to verify doom. No chimes when shark initially toys with broken boat but when they tie on three barrels, Jaws gets mad. He goes after them and then the chimes sound. Someone is going to pay. When he eats Hooper’s cage the chimes are silent; Hooper will survive. When the ship is sinking and the bell tolls, Quint will soon be a dead man. The bell rings again right before Martin shoots the gas canister that blows the shark to smithereens at which point you will hear a profusion of happy chimes while pieces sink! See Always, A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
I have seen this film dozens of times, two or three at the movie theater when it first came out. It is one of a handful that never fails to suck me in as I try to click by. I thought I had noticed everything WOO until recently I became aware of the heavy use of red and yellow color scheme: Amity’s billboard, beach decor, costumes the extras are wearing, Ben Gardner’s boat scene, the man’s red and yellow dinghy on the pond, Alex’s yellow raft covered in blood, yellow barrels, red lifejackets, the Orca herself. And here’s an interesting detail: the Orca’s paint job changes frequently. Watch how she starts out with yellow letters on a red transom. Then she goes to an all red stern with black hull…perhaps as a better backdrop for yellow barrels? At one point before the boat burns, the stern even seems to turn yellow! WOO, one of the first color films ever made employed its eye-popping hues to best advantage, most notably ruby slippers against the yellow brick road. See A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Always, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
On the 4th of July an army of bicyclists debark from the ferry. See E.T., Munich, Adventures of Tintin, Amistad, 1941, Always, Super 8, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun,The Goonies, Sugarland Express, Inner Space, Used Cars. If there’s a way to squeeze a bike in, Steven will find it… even in a film that is set primarily on water!
Quint, of course, is the lovable trickster. His methods are questionable, especially when he destroys the radio that might have saved them all. But Martin’s quest to kill the monster would not have been fulfilled without Quint’s maniacal manipulation. SeeEmpire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can.
The happy ending shows our survivors coming in sight of home as they swim. See references to safety of home, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can, Amistad, The Terminal, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, Poltergeist etc.
Repeated over and over are the wind chimes tinkling, preceding every important moment of change in Celie’s life. We hear clinking or tinkling signaling magic, danger, change in so many of Spielberg’s films. The device is inspired by WOO’s Glinda. Unlike the witch who shocked and frightened children each time she appeared, Glinda politely let you know to expect her arrival with a recurring fanfare of chimes. See Always, A.I., E. T., Jaws, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist
Shug dances from the speak-easy to her father’s church with a parade of born-again sinners coming down road behind her. The scene brings to mind many instances where WOO crowds follow Dorothy and her entourage. We see such accompaniment repeated inThe Terminal, Joe vs.the Volcano, Twister, Catch Me if You Can, Sugarland Express, Used Cars.
Shug is the trickster, a bad woman, a sinner, who nonetheless shows the meek Celie how to fight for what she wants. Her courage and indomitable spirit transcend her mischievous behavior and inspire and push our protagonist to achieve her goals. See Wizard of Oz, See Empire of the Sun, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can. Schindler’s List, Used Cars, Joe vs. the Volcano for other examples of tricksters.
The girls running and leaping through the field of flowers evokes the same pure joy and camaraderie Dorothy and pals experience upon reaching the poppies outside of Emerald City. The act of a protagonist crossing a field often precedes a major plot point in Steven’s films. See Twister, Saving Private Ryan, Lost World of Jurassic Park, Always.
Celie inherits her family’s former house when her raunchy stepfather dies. This windfall marks a turning point in her life. She finds security, autonomy, peace, and eventually joy after she returns ‘home’. The WOO promise! See Twister, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Catch me if You Can, Minority Report, Amistad, Munich, Poltergeist, The Terminal for other examples of home as the sanctuary.
Mother is finally reunited with her children, a slight variance to the definition of ‘home’. See Empire of the Sun, A.I., Sugarland Express, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, Catch me if You Can, Poltergeist, Jurassic Park (to Grampa) and WOO (to Auntie Em) for reunions of children with loved ones.