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

'Spielberg clearly wants to say something about grieving, acceptance and moving on, but too often cannot resist getting in his own way by cluttering his film with unnecessary fantasy clichés'.

Considered at the time of its release as something of a departure from Steven Spielberg's usual brand of cinema, one need only look at the films chronologically either side of Always in the director's back catalogue to see in hindsight just how comfortably it fits within his late eighties and early nineties output. Squarely before Always (and released in the same year) came Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, a film which revealed Spielberg's interest in religion and spirituality perhaps more than any of his previous work. His next film would be 1991's Hook, dealing with personal relationships through an overtly fantastical style and tone.

Despite being considerably different in both its story and intended audience, Always feels closer in execution to Hook than any other Spielberg film. The director in fact follows a remarkably similar narrative pattern in both films, firmly establishing a real world subtly tinged with fantasy through his opening act before letting the fantastical elements loose in a big way from act two onwards. Always' first half an hour proves to be the film's strongest, opening on an adrenaline-fuelled plane sequence and establishing a pleasing timeless quality to the narrative through the characters and settings introduced.

Spielberg based Always on Victor Fleming's 1943 film A Guy Named Joe (with which I'm entirely unfamiliar), updating the original World War II US Air Force backdrop to 1980s firefighting pilots, but retaining much of the classic Hollywood feel. Initially at least, the director sets out to tell an old-fashioned love story in an old-fashioned way, and his film is all the better for it. The foreshadowing elements Spielberg includes throughout his opening act leave little doubt as to what will happen to Pete (Richard Dreyfuss) before very long, but the director's expert craftsmanship ensures the film's events are no less tragic or emotional because of this.

Unfortunately, Always can't sustain the same level of success once the fantastical side of the story comes into play. Spielberg increasingly allows his film to become overly sentimental as the narrative progresses, disappointingly forcing the quirky and genuine relationship established between Pete and Dorinda (Holly Hunter) during the first act to become cheesier and cheesier. Spielberg clearly wants to say something about grieving, acceptance and moving on, but too often cannot resist getting in his own way by cluttering his film with unnecessary fantasy clichés.

Despite its flaws, what continually makes Always work as well as it does is the strong cast assembled by Spielberg. Dreyfuss and Hunter are superb throughout, as is John Goodman in a supporting role which, despite starting off the film as comic relief, develops steadily to allow the actor several opportunities to really show off his capabilities. Audrey Hepburn's appearance as the ethereal Hap is also a welcome piece of casting, making the actress' final role in a feature film here both unusual and memorable. Whilst on balance Always ends up amongst Spielberg's less impressive efforts, it nonetheless presents enough imaginative ideas, accomplished performances and enjoyable elements to make it worth seeking out.

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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