In our Blue Filter series, we are inviting our writers to reflect on the films that they have connected with through challenging or upsetting times, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and before. In the first entry of the series, Libby Briggs discusses how the films of Steven Spielberg have provided her with escapism and reassurance during the past year.
2020 was one hell of a year. Having read and listened to so many stories over the past months about the hardships people have faced in such a fearful time, it seemed selfish to dwell on the way my own world was flipped. Yet, the opportunity to say thank you to the people and things that have made everything more bearable is one of the few good things to come out of lockdown. More specifically, I owe a thank you letter to an animatronic shark, a few CGI dinosaurs, and Steven Spielberg; a director who cured my lockdown loneliness with an all-encompassing, welcoming style that has come to define blockbuster cinema.
Movies has always been a form of escape for me, as they are for so many others. But the list of recommendations feels never ending. At a time where films have become so readily available and watching them is all pretty much anyone can do, my Twitter feed began to overflow with articles containing ‘this-year’s must see’ and ‘the best film of the year.’ I didn’t think it was actually possible to have over twenty best films of the year, but here we are.
When lockdown first started, a little part of me was thrilled I could start working my way down my ever-growing Letterboxd watchlist. Though I didn’t realise it at first, this would only come to make things worse. Not only did ticking another one from my list begin to feel like a chore, but the types of films I was watching weren’t exactly suitable for my state of mind. The streets were empty, the news looked like something out of a dystopia, and the first film I decided to watch was I Am Legend. You know, the apocalyptic-thriller in which Will Smith is the lone survivor of a plague that killed everyone around him? Granted, it was my own fault, but given I’ve always been a sucker for dramas, the others choices weren’t much better; Boy Erased, City of God, and Moonlight. All incredibly important and powerful films, but not at all relaxing.
At some point in the middle of lockdown, I was subjecting my flatmate to a teary-eyed description of The Florida Project when I noticed a film playing in the background. I recognised it immediately as Jurassic Park III (I know, the worst of the franchise). I had been obsessed with the Jurassic Park films for as long as I could remember, and yet my old box set was collecting dust.
The subsequent, joyful binge-watching of those original three dinosaur flicks wasn’t solely nostalgic. I can’t name a single person who doesn’t get excited hearing John William’s at his best as Sam Neill dramatically pulls off his sunnies. Every scene is as thrilling as the last, but without the weight of any real-life threat. The last thing I expect is for a dinosaur to come bursting into my flat, but even so the films never let up with the suspense.
Of course you could delve pretty deep into his endless back catalogue, but often the villains in Spielberg movies are rarely things you could ever fathom, let alone encounter (Schindler’s List being a pretty big exception). In Jaws, it’s the great white (or Bruce to give him his proper name). In War of the Worlds, it’s aliens. In Jurassic Park, it’s that dreaded T-Rex. I had spent so long watching films with heavy topics, I’d almost forgotten that other films exist which are just as exciting but come without real-world anxiety attached to them.
There’s a reason Spielberg has become one of the world’s most-loved directors, someone who is able to transport you to amazing places during the loneliest times. My personal favourite, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a perfect example. On the surface, it’s very simple; alien gets stranded on earth, boy meets alien and decides to help him. But it’s so much more than that. With its humour and heart, E.T is a magical story that feels as though you’re being wrapped up in a warm blanket, no matter your age, or whether you’ve seen it once or a million times. Naturally, unless you’re a ten-year-old boy whose parents are going through a messy divorce, it makes for the perfect escape. It is two delightful hours inside an innocent, childhood dreamworld, albeit one that leaves me sobbing by the end of every watch. One of my favourite moments is when young Elliott very cockily retorts to his older brother’s friend, “this is reality, Greg,” because, god, I wish it were. Spielberg’s realities are fantastical and enveloping, but emotionally they feel so sensationally real.
If there was one thing Spielberg’s films do during these uncertain and isolating times, apart from distracting me, they are a huge source of comfort. Whether it’s Lex and Tim trapped in a kitchen with raptors, Elliott flying through the sky on his bike, or Indiana Jones stuck inside a tomb full of snakes, I find solace in the fact that I know how any Spielberg adventure will end. Good will beat evil, justice will be served, and everyone (near enough) will live happily ever after. Far from feeling uninspired or stale, it feels like the only way these stories can end.
Even now, as lockdown eases and things slowly begin to creep back into normality, I know what to do whenever things get a little too much; make a cup of tea, crawl into bed, and press play on a Steven Spielberg film. As long as I see his name at the beginning of the credits, I know everything is going to be okay.
Words by Libby Briggs
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