Steven Spielberg Director's Collection - 1941 - Blu-ray Review

'Spielberg regularly spends far too much time setting up a particular contrivance for the sake of one joke, sapping the comedy from the situation and rendering his film unpalatably artificial'.

By the time Steven Spielberg came to direct 1941, he already had both Jaws and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind under his belt, two films regularly regarded as amongst the director's very best. The screenplay comes from Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the writing partnership which would only a few years later craft the script for Back To The Future. So far, so impressive.

The cast too boasts an impressive array of big names: Hollywood veterans Robert Stack and Slim Pickens; international heavyweights Christopher Lee and ToshirĊ Mifune; contemporary star John Belushi, who had spent the 1970s making his name through the National Lampoon franchise; and two comedians at the start of their careers who would spend the 1980s making some of the most memorable cinema of the decade, Dan Aykroyd and John Candy. On paper, therefore, 1941 undoubtedly held the potential to be truly special - which makes it all the more baffling as to how the film became the unfunny mess it overwhelmingly proves to be.

There are occasional elements here which work. Aykroyd and Candy are reliably entertaining, but severely underutilised. Belushi too is his usual anarchic self, although his character here at times proves more irritating than many of his roles in other films. The film boasts some impressive sequences dotted throughout - a dogfight above downtown Los Angeles is a particularly memorable highlight. There are also sporadic laughs, perhaps inevitable through the law of averages when you consider how oversaturated with attempts at humour the whole film feels.

It's one of the key issues within 1941: the film simply tries far too hard to be funny, suppressing any opportunity for organic humour and making the finished product feel strained and overcooked. Many of the jokes feel uninspired, falling back on cheap visual gags or juvenile innuendo. Spielberg also regularly spends far too much time setting up a particular contrivance for the sake of one joke, sapping the comedy from the situation and rendering his film unpalatably artificial.

Fundamentally, however, the majority of the comedy 1941 attempts just isn't that funny. Spielberg feels unsure of the type of humour he's attempting, spending much of the first half aiming for the absurdity of the likes of Blazing Saddles but falling considerably short of the sheer silliness Mel Brooks' style of comedy needs to work. Elsewhere, Spielberg sets his sights on relatively more subtle genre parody (even lampooning his own past cinematic successes at a few points throughout), but again fails in ever making this feel like more than a half-hearted attempt.

Structurally, 1941 is a sprawling collection of uneven narrative threads. Spielberg sets several stories off within his opening hour, leaving a few with only a handful of introductory moments before coming back to them much later on. Those which receive more attention also suffer, lacking the substance and development needed to sustain interest in them. Whilst 1941 is consistently skilfully shot, Spielberg here feels self-indulgent - a fact evidenced no better than through the director's cut that adds an extra half an hour to the already excessive two hour running time of the theatrical version reviewed here.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of 1941 is the overwhelming feeling as you watch that, by this stage in his career, this type of film is simply beneath Spielberg as a director. Having made two of the defining films of the 20th Century, which went on to shape the direction of mainstream cinema for decades to come, 1941 is little more than an extravagant waste of Spielberg's considerable talent.



The Steven Spielberg Director's Collection is available from Monday 13th October 2014.


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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