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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Mini-Series > TV > Taken (Spielberg TV Mini-Series/DreamWorks DVD)

Steven Spielberg’s Taken (TV mini-series)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B-     Episodes: B-



When he 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 unto himself.


When you 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 rarely

earned by 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.


The first 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.


The story 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.


With that 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.


The 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.


The Dolby 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


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