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1941 – Tale of a Confused Movie

I review Spielberg’s 1941 through the scope of "30 years later"

I watch this and I think that Speilberg must have just seen a Mel Brooks and a Jon Landis movie and decided that was the trend he needed to follow. I quite enjoyed it, but not for the reason that Steve intended I imagine.

The movie begins with a parody of Spielberg’s own film, Jaws, (”how delightfully arrogant”), moves to two teenaged boys acting silly, a poorly done bar-room brawl and then Jon Belushi acts crazy (not in the Hollywood wacky guy way but the genuinely delusilonal, dangerous if he was let out kind of way). It was funny because the jokes were bad copies of Mel Brooks’ jokes and I wonder if that’s how it looked back then. The cast was, as previously mentioned, a callback to Landis’s “Animal House” and a portent of future Jon Candy appearances in Landis films.  The longer I watched, I saw Hollywood history came into focus.  It was funny in that way.  I saw much of Spielberg’s future genius in the film.  Moments that reminded me of ET, seeing Dan Aykroyd in basically the same role that Tom Hanks would later play in Saving Private Ryan, the imagery and use of location from films like Jurassic Park, the Indiana Jones films and Hook.  When it’s not trying to be funny, it’s actually really good.  But then truly clever jokes that might have felt at home in a more dramatic film are here too subtle to be in the same film with jokes like:  “an anachronistically nerdy weirdo with a ventriloquist dummy” and “Ned Beatty ruining Christmas with an ant-air gun blast through the living room”.

What’s weirder, he was trying to be accurate to the time period, so as a result many of the anachronistic jokes were either stupid-bad (the trucker with a victrola in his passenger seat, helped only by Slim Pickens’ portrayal) or just plain offensive, when Jon Candy said something racist but was then one-upped by the black guy who then makes a Rosa Parks joke. As if Spielberg’s winking at the audience.  I’m not sure how many people would have even thought about the fact that the German General is speaking German and understands when the Japanese Admiral is speaking Japanese, and vice versa.  The believable use of blue screen shows just how seriously he wanted to create a sense of realism for the big action sequences.  Only to be followed again by two idiots (and a ventroloquist dummy) stuck on the top of a ferris wheel that’s broken off it’s pegs and has begun rolling down the boardwalk.

The funniest jokes were as great as the parodies that inspired it, but then Robert Stack would do a less funny version of his character in Airplane and bring it right back to Spielberg poorly copying Mel again.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big-budget comedy and I think this movie is proof, or at least suggestive, that they shouldn’t be quite so epic.  It was weird seeing Academy Award winning details surrounded by National Lampoon jokes.

Maybe it would have been better if I saw it before Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List.

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