Terminal, The

September 9th, 2004 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring; Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta Jones, Stanley Tucci, Chi McBride, Diego Luna

We’ve suspected it for a long time, now it’s official. Steven Spielberg has grown up.

After he blazed onto the scene with Jaws in 1975, he was Hollywood’s Peter Pan. The reason his movies were so successful (and so good) is because he took us all back to our childhoods with every single one.

He dreamed on celluloid. What kid doesn’t imagine having his or her own dinosaur theme park, or of a mass UFO landing, or helping a stranded alien get back home? What kid at heart doesn’t want to carry a gun and whip and travel the earth fighting the bad guys for archaeological relics and get the girl every time?

Even his lesser efforts — The Goonies, Hook, the episode he directed for The Twilight Zone movie — were about the adventures we dreamed up in our heads or loved as kids.

In fact, many of his protagonists themselves were children, often seeing the truth adults couldn’t, clapping their hands to say they believed in fairies.

And then there was Spielberg the filmmaker, as opposed to Spielberg the dreamer. The biggest director in the world, an A-list star himself, able to cram cinemas the world over, studios hundreds of millions at him, and he used it to craft some of the most memorable scenes ever committed to film, thanks to new technologies he either created or allowed full flight. As such, every movie he made was an unparalleled cinematic event.

There were signs early on that he’d mellow and want to concentrate on straight drama rather than adventure, like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun (the latter however, still incorporated his breathtaking sense of vision).

So while adults and Academy Award voters loved films like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, the kids of the world (even the grown up ones) could look forward to the next trip second to the right and straight on ’til morning.

Somewhere along the way however, he’d forgotten how to do it. He fumbled the ball badly with both AI and Minority Report, then bought us the uninspiring story of a kid who pretends to be a pilot, doctor and lawyer.

And now, a guy who has to live in an airport. This from the man who invented the modern blockbuster?

Where Spielberg has done himself a disservice is spending so many years being the best event movie director alive. Now, he can’t seem to better himself anymore, and films that any other director would do as good a job of seem wasted in his hands.

So, like Catch Me If You Can, The Terminal isn’t a bad movie. It’s just that a romantic comedy of this pedigree is more Garry Marshall than Steven Spielberg. And what’s with the obsession with airlines and airports?

Eastern European traveler Viktor (Hanks, doing as good an acting job as he’s ever done with the accent and sense of not belonging) arrives at New York’s international airport to be told by snide security commissioner Dixon (Tucci) that his country, thanks to a military coup during the flight, is no longer recognised by the US, and as such he can’t set foot on American soil.

So the premise of the movie is of a guy who has no money and can’t speak the language having to live in the airport terminal. He makes friends, finds work, falls in love with beautiful but emotionally screwed up flight attendant Amelia (Zeta Jones) and ekes out something of a life over the next nine months, while all the while Dixon is desperately trying to get rid of him even though he has no means to do so legally.

A lot of the movie is alluded to in the trailer; we see Victor sleeping in an abandoned gate lounge, giving it as his address in an interview for a job in a terminal store, etc.

And a lot of the film is more of the same while the emotional entanglement with Amelia and the backstory of Viktor’s trip slowly come to the fore. He collects trolleys to get the 25c refund to pay for food, gives the public phone near a store as his phone number, and helps a baggage handler win the affection of an immigration official.

One thing The Terminal does have that’s been missing from the Spielberg body of work for a long time is genuine laughs. Hanks and his small posse of friends play it for straight comedy throughout the film until a climax that feels sappy and out of place.

One area where the film is outstanding is in the sets. Together with production designer Alex McDowell, Spielberg created an entire working airport terminal complete with three sets of escalators and all the store franchises seen in the film in an abandoned hangar. The crowd scenes (while not quite up to David Lean standards), are technically impressive and signify Spielberg’s continued talent.

If only he’d drop such weekday midday movie fare and concentrate on bigger stuff. There’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon as he enters production of 2005’s War of the Worlds remake with Tom Cruise in the starring role, but we were that excited about Minority Report, too.

Then again, maybe only a director as powerful as Steven Spielberg could do a film like The Terminal. Any movie that deals with US Customs, airport security of the Department of Homeland Security is just asking for heat from Washington.


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