Recurring WOO images weave a distinguishing weft and warp through all of Spielberg’s pet projects. That’s why I’ve spotlighted some of the more dominant threads. Although their pattern helps you recognize his use of a WOO leitmotif, the real strength of its haunting refrain can be found in Steven’s preference for stories that hit hard on a handful of specific themes. Guess what? They’re all covered in OZ.
- “There’s no place like home.” Think about it. How many of Steven’s movies are about main characters who need to get home safe again? I shouldn’t even have to list them!
- As a slight variance to this mantra, Steven mercilessly examines whether or not ‘home’ is in actuality a ‘safe’ place. His characters are naïve enough to believe in sanctuary but his director’s viewpoint instead reveals their utter vulnerability. Is home safe? Watch how many times the camera shows you from above what a silly notion that is!
- Let’s sidestep again to mother-child reunions, a key component of security and hominess. Steven is sentimentally fond of moms. Even if you doubt Mommy (or Auntie Em) can ‘make it all better’, who doesn’t feel the tug on the old heartstrings?
- Tempted by the light. Oh man, don’t do it, don’t go there… But of course, there can’t be a happy ending without that perilous adventure as Dorothy finds out when she steps into Munchkinland..
- All you gotta do is make it across this field. Unfortunately, the poppies’ test of character will not result in our heroes reaching their ultimate goal. The protagonists will still have to face many challenges, but here in the ‘field’ buds the bloom that will eventually bear soul fruit.
- Transcending the layers of reality/realization by means of flight. One of my personal favorite Spielbergian themes is all this flying! It doesn’t really matter to me if the character or the camera is doing the soaring. I love the feeling reminiscent of flying in my dreams. And I love the moment of discovery, when by ascending or descending I suddenly—physically— ‘get the point’.
- Promenades of solidarity. We’re not alone. In so many of his films Steven rejoices in the fact that no matter how beleaguered you feel, your fellow humans are ready and willing to pitch in, link arms, and help you on your way.
- Abandon all hope: the dreary air of greyness. I’m still not sure if I should count Steven’s frequent Kansas ‘palls’ as imagery or theme. Since he usually manages to inject some color back into the direst situation, I will re-phrase: Don’t abandon all hope despite the dreary air of greyness. I don’t know about you but that smacks of theme to me.
- “We’re off to see the Wizard.” So the quest begins. There is nearly always a quest or layers of quests in Spielberg’s works. My daughter once chided me that it was an audacious stretch to count the universal ‘quest’ as a specific Spielberg WOO device. She was implying that it was like cheating in Scrabble, I guess. But I stand by my claim to it nevertheless. I’m telling you—all Steven’s strongest projects involve someone setting out on a quest.
- “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” The importance of the trickster. Over and over again this charming or crazy oddball will pop up in a Spielberg saga. His/her manipulations prove to be the catalyst enabling the protagonist to succeed. Steven likes to mess with you though, often disguising then revealing the goodness concealed beneath roguish mischief. God’s great plan supersedes man’s limited vision.
There you have it. Steven Spielberg’s ten commandments for a legendary block-buster. Just sayin, “if ever a wiz there was…”
You can call my theory a ‘billowing bale of bovine fodder” but let me take the liberty to paraphrase for you non-believers: In the final analysis, you are judged by ‘how much you are loved by others’. What’s more basic than following a beloved recipe? What talks louder than box office sales?