Steven Spielberg’s Taken (TV mini-series)
B Sound: B Extras: B- Episodes: B-
directed Close Encounters of the Third
Kind in 1977, Steven Spielberg had just come off of Jaws and (give or take the temporary box office set back of 1941), was on his way to becoming the
most commercially successful director of all time. When his name was on something, even if he
did not direct it, it was a big deal.
That was a trend that reached its peak in the later 1980s, before his
success inevitably had him juggling many projects and he became a brand name
get anything with his name on it that usually means you expect good
storytelling, middle-to-upper class characters, and a happy ending that is
its characters. More recent years saw a
temporary delving into mature filmmaking (Schindler’s
List, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan) before some very
disappointing, odd, and highly problematic experimentation that is his nadir (A.I., Minority Report, and even Catch
Me If You Can). His new mini-series Taken has ten directors and he is not
among them, but his stamp is all over the place.
episode does everything, including location recycling, to re-remind us of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (aka
CE3K). By rehiring Tobe Hooper, he wants to also
conjure up Poltergeist. Reportedly, Spielberg took over some shooting
of the film, but no one knows for sure and/or how much. Whatever happened, he obviously was happy
enough with him to get him back here. Immediately,
World War II is brought up, something many an X-Files imitator has gone for.
The idea is to connect government conspiracy with aliens and also to
roll back more edgy recent tales about aliens that have suggested Vietnam and Watergate. Remember when everyone was saying WWII was as
bad as Vietnam when Saving Private Ryan was released?
Rollback politics kick in with this kind of nostalgia, whether Spielberg
intended it or extremists and revisionists are trying to hijack it.
Beside X-Files and its inability to finish the
mass conspiracy tale it began, one of the projects of the ten episodes here is
to negate the edge of Roland Emmerich’s Independence
Day, in much the way Poltergeist
goes after George Romero’s original 1968 Night
of the Living Dead. There is some strangely
suspicious violence, part of which seems remarkably misogynistic, that goes
farther than the usual sanctity of Spielberg’s world. This has nothing to do with the fact that
most of the directors here are well known (though I recognize Brian Spicer, but
that’s just me). Spielberg was said to
have been unhappy with the hostile aliens it represented.
has an abduction (the kind that set off X-Files,
but with an A.I. twist), then we get
aliens who can disguise themselves as humans, people with psychic powers,
Dakota Fanning as the latest in a long (and clichéd) line of empowered
children), an overemphasis on the military that feels like an ad campaign and
is never convincing, and soap opera melodrama to stretch it all out. In other words, it is everything we have seen
before, but with digital effects, somewhat better sound and a feel that seems
very dated after the events of 9/11/01.
The digital effects are not even that good, feeling immediately dated.
said, the cast is serviceable and barely identified, like Joel Gretsch,
Catherine Dent, James McDaniel, Matt Frewer, and Ryan Earl Merrimen. Fanning is the only one who got any press, a
sort of successor to Haley Joel Osment or something like that. The Leslie Bohem teleplay throws in
everything but the kitsch-en sink and nothing original. The conclusion is lame and this feels more
like a formula 1980s product than anything innovate or worthy of a
mini-series. Unless you have not seen
this kind of thing in a long time, or really, really like this very specific
kind of thing, you may want to pass on it.
Sure, it is professionally well done, and cleanly crafted, too much
so. Otherwise, skip it, or you too might
feel more than a bit taken.
anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image was shot by Joel Ransom (first five
episodes) and Jonathan Freeman (remaining installments), all of which fit
together because they have the same flat shooting style. Even the darkness feels like day-for-night
revisited, even more so due to the digital work. Effects throughout all of Spielberg
productions (as director or not) have a certain “heavenly” glow that is a wacky
cross between religious-suggestive light and the light of the film projector
re-manifesting itself in all kinds of ways.
Especially in a way to wink at the audience that Spielberg is in
control. By now, at least two
generations have outgrown that one.
Digital 5.1 sound is available in English and French, but is nothing
special. It is clean, it moves, but it
is no match for the likes of other current mini-series like Band of Brothers or From the Earth to the Moon. DTS would not have helped the situation,
while the music by Laura Karpman is very average. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo surround is for
cross-compatibility in PCs and basic sound systems. The extras, which include the usual
documentary, a cast piece, how ten directors had one vision and the usual
effects featurette are included. Too bad
it does not make the actual episodes any more exciting. Nothing was lost in the trip from script to
screen. This is just a reassuring tale
and fable on a long road for a built in audience. Oh well.
- Nicholas Sheffo