What Steven Spielberg might be saying is that 1941's choppy narrative and sensory assault are ideal for people with short attention spans who enjoy pretty colors and loud explosions.
Recently released as a deluxe laser disc set, 1941 deals with American paranoia after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the fear of a coastal attack on California by Japanese forces. It features a shitload of stars, including several cast members from "Saturday Night Live," "SCTV," "Laverne & Shirley,: and Animal House, in eight or so story fragments that are all tied together (kind of) at the end of the film. This kind of story conceit has been used in several films with varying degrees of success. It worked in Jonathan Demme's Citizen's Band, but it failed miserably in 1941 and Nashville.
The main protagonist is played by Bobby DiCicco (Who? Exactly.), a zoot-suiter who just wants to dance with his girl...I guess. He's as undefined as the rest of the characters and really gets lost in the shuffle.
Casting proved to be one of the bigger problems of 1941 since Spielberg was getting big stars for small roles and decided to beef up these near-cameos with extra scenes that weren't in the original Bob Gale/Robert Zemeckis script. For some actors (like Slim Pickens) it worked, but for others (like John Belushi) it didn't.
When I saw this movie as a nine year-old, I was going for John Belushi but even then I was disappointed. His character was an annoyance since I could never get a grasp on what he was doing (and I had some trouble understanding what he was saying, too). Like a lot of characters, Belushi's role felt out of place with the rest of the film and could have been removed entirely.
However, instead of cutting down, the new discs restore something like twenty minutes to the theatrical version which fails to enrich the story and only serves to prolong the agony. 1941 is like Stanley Belt in The Patsy, trying desperately to win over an audience and failing miserably.
One gets a sense of how hard Spielberg was trying -- at the strain to make people laugh -- but, instead of better jokes he opted to include more explosions - damn, aren't things blowing up hilarious?
Maybe it was the choppy editing ruining the timing of the jokes, but it seems that the idea of basic joke-telling was lost on this film. I actually had to read jokes into the movie that simply weren't there, like a tank driving through a paint factory and then through a turpentine factory. What I assume is that the tank would be covered with paint after the first building and then washed clean in the second, but I never got a clear shot of this happening. I think the word I'm looking for is "half-baked."
I fully understand why critics rightly ripped apart this film. It wasn't just that it was a slight disappointment coming on the heels of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. No matter what the context of its release, this movie is a jumbled mess of lame jokes and uncharismatic characters.
I think Spielberg places too much emphasis on when it was released and is hoping that a second chance, fifteen years later, will spur some revisionist retractions to comfort his bruised ego. But, if anything, the passage of time and release of other hit films has only made this movie look even worse. It's strange to watch the documentary that follows the film and hear Spielberg defending the film one minute and then contradicting himself in the next breath.
It is an interesting watch, though. It's like an experiment in disaster. And, historically, it was important because it let the American public know that Steven Spielberg, cinematic wunderkind, was not infallible. It paved the way for such classics as Always, Hook, and the second and third installments of the Indiana Jones trilogy.
It's pretty obvious why I wouldn't care for The Temple of Doom, what with Kate Capshaw running around like a screaming mimi after having such a cool female character of Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark and fucking Short Round (Jonathan Ke Huy Quan), the Cousin Oliver/Scrappy Doo of the Indy series. But I despise The Last Crusade on a myriad of levels.
Using Nazi's and a religious icon was about as original as building another Death Star. But, if you're creatively bankrupt enough to simply retread elements that worked in the first film, you might want to at least know why they worked.
The Last Crusade is one of those sequels that makes one feel that the people involved never watched the preceding film(s). The best example of this is the characters of Marcus Brody and Sallah. The Last Crusade versions of these two have the same names as two characters in Raiders of the Lost Ark and are even played by the same actors but they are not the same characters!
Marcus, once the cool professor and fitting "partner-in-crime" for Indiana returned as a dolt who often got "lost in his own museum." Huh? And Sallah, the calm catcher of poisoned dates and best digger in Cairo became a camel-trading buffoon. Why were they transformed into bumbling boobies? Did they have to be sacrificed in the name of comedy relief? Couldn't two new characters be created or would that actually mean that screenwriter Jeffry Boam (who also gave the world Lethal Weapon 3, another gem of a sequel) might have to do a little work and figure out what characterization means instead of taking the easy way out and using two familiar faces in unbefitting roles?
Even the character of Indiana Jones was boiled down to a collection of quirks and accessories. Even though River Phoenix did a bang-up job portraying Indiana Jones, capturing all of Harrison Ford's subtle mannerisms, the brief duration of his adventure reduced the Jones character to a whip, a scar, a hat, and a fear of snakes.
So we are to believe that Indiana Jones' entire persona was created in that one half-hour event? With a better hair-cut I would have enjoyed seeing a full-length film with Phoenix as Jones. And, if they could keep the history lesson crap to a minimum (which killed any fun that the "Young Indiana Jones" TV show might have had) it could have been a unique and exciting film. Well, I guess you'd need a better screen-writer too...
A lot of The Last Crusade's downfall rests on Boam's shoulders, but, ultimately Steven Spielberg should have realized what was going on and put a stop to it. Maybe Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was simply ahead of it's time and that in some peculiar future I'll realize that it's best to dumb down material and only give the public more of what they seem to enjoy.