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Steven Spielberg

David Roche

Spielberg, Genre & Creation

Creation as Recreation: Spielberg and the Remake

Andrew Stubbs

Texte intégral

1This chapter proposes a formal analysis of Spielberg’s two remakes: Always and War of the Worlds. The first is a remake of A Guy Named Joe (Victor Fleming, 1943), the second a re-adaptation of H.G. Wells’s 1898 novel and a remake of Bryon Haskin’s 1953 film. Taking remaking to be a form of intertextuality alongside adaptation and allusion, I consider Always and War of the Worlds as part of Spielberg’s broader practice of recreation. As a result, I explore how creation as recreation can inform and shape understandings of a single authorial profile, while analyzing the implications for remaking as a form of cultural practice.

2As several scholars have noted, remaking “has been treated as a less than respectable Hollywood commercial practice” (Forrest and Koos 2) and “a sign of Hollywood film having exhausted its creative potential” (Verevis 4). Thomas Leitch, however, argues that Adaptation Studies’ traditional emphasis on fidelity has treated source texts as “canonical authoritative discourse or readerly works,” and posits that we must instead move towards a conception of “internally persuasive discourse or writerly texts” (Film Adaptation 12–13). Dismissing notions that source material cannot be rewritten, I build on Leitch’s work by investigating his assumption that “source texts must be rewritten; we cannot help rewriting them” (Film Adaptation 16). According to Janet Staiger, context-activated theories of reading see meaning ““in” the contextual event of each reading,” yet at the same time Staiger notes that readers “do not just “decode” hegemonic texts,” but rather are “complex historical individuals” capable of interpreting a text in multiple ways (47–48). Informed by Staiger’s approach, I analyze three levels of recreation: first, remaking and recreation in relation to specific contexts; second, the introduction of, and emphasis on, common Spielbergian themes such as family, children, abandonment and flying; and third, moments of reflexivity within the remake that position it in relation to source material. In so doing, I explore remaking as a creative practice informed by personal vision by considering effects of reappropriation or reinterpretation on cultural discourses.

Context Specificity

3According to John Biguenet, allusion often serves to invest a work with a context “within which an interpretation may be grounded” (131). This section starts with a study of the reception contexts of A Guy Named Joe and The War of the Worlds in order to address Spielberg’s interpretations of the past texts. In particular, by analyzing the films as well as paratextual materials and extratextual discourses, I investigate how different types of contexts—including production, commercial and reception contexts—can effect understandings of remaking practices, before ultimately disengaging industrial and economic complications to focus on the creative potential of remaking.

4While Always and War of the Worlds (2005) follow the same broad narrative and structure as their sources, changes to setting and context drew criticism from reviewers and scholars. David Ansen, for instance, says that “Always updates the same story among flying firefighters in Montana, but without its wartime resonance the fable looks even daffier” (60; see also Lane 22), while Harvey R. Greenberg complains that, “[c]ompared to its source, Always is radically drained of ideological freight,” and adds that “practically nothing except tepid romance is at stake in this juvenile text with its infantilized characters” (118–119). Conversely, citing Haskin’s Cold War commentary as well as the New York setting of Spielberg’s film as a “post-9/11 take on the tale,” Ben East (2012) argues that, although each generation has adapted The War of the Worlds novel “to reflect its own concerns,” in doing so they overlook the key lesson of Wells’s story that humanity “shouldn’t think of itself as all-powerful.” Meanwhile, Andrew M. Gordon considers that, as a political statement, the 2005 film is “confused and self-contradictory,” noting that the 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war are separate events where “in the former, the Americans were the victims, but in the latter, the aggressors” (263).

  • 1 For a discussion of fidelity to the “spirit” of the author, see MacCabe 6–8.

5Moving beyond the source text as authoritative discourse, however, involves recognizing alternative reception contexts beyond the initial theatrical release. In a 1989 interview on the set of Always, Spielberg stated: “I think the film owes a great inspiration to... A Guy Named Joe, but it’s not really a remake. It was the basis for a new story” (quoted in Passafiume). Spielberg’s statement is typical of filmmaker rhetoric that aims to defend new films against the negative connotations of the remake as a category of filmmaking, thereby arguably circumventing negative criticism of the kind presented by Ansen and Greenberg (Verevis 16–18; Leitch, “Twice-Told” 37–62). Such rhetoric is often built into the marketing strategies of remakes, including paratextual materials (Verevis 16–18). The DVD release of Always, for instance, includes a “Production Notes” feature describing the regularity of forest fires across the United States and the destruction that they can cause, helping to establish its own context and promoting the remake as original. Similarly, the DVD release of Haskin’s The War of the Worlds features “H.G. Wells: The Father of Science Fiction,” while the DVD of Spielberg’s remake includes “The H.G. Wells Legacy,” both legitimating their creative credentials by implying fidelity, if not to the story, at least to the author.1

6Framing Spielberg’s extratextual comments as marketing discourse, though, contributes to common assumptions of the remake as Hollywood commercial practice. Spielberg does not denigrate A Guy Named Joe specifically, but rather emphasizes its value by indicating that he was inspired by the original film, making creativity—rather than economics—the mode of communication between A Guy Named Joe and Always. Likewise, the “Revisiting the Alien” feature on the War of the Worlds (2005) DVD shows screenwriter David Koepp declaring that, “[a]lien scenarios hav[ing] been done before,” he compiled a list of “clichés of the genre” to avoid, including “shots of generals standing around a large map pushing ships into place,” and “TV crews reporting and then being blown up,” with the DVD feature cutting to examples of these two “clichés” in Haskin’s film to emphasize the remake’s originality. Yet an interview with Spielberg on the same DVD feature indicates that his position and relationship to the original film, and others in the sci-fi genre, are markedly different from Koepp’s. Specifically, Spielberg reminisces that he was a “young fan of science fiction movies,” recalling titles such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (Fred F. Sears, 1956), It Came from Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953), Invaders from Mars (William Cameron Menzies, 1953), and Haskin’s The War of the Worlds (“The H.G. Wells Legacy,” DVD). Instead of producing a list for their exclusion, therefore, Spielberg appears to embrace the earlier films.

7According to Staiger, as we have seen, context-situated readings must also take into account the interpreter as a “complex historical individual,” one whose interpretation might be affected by multifarious factors. Spielberg’s interest in both remakes can be traced back to his childhood. On the DVD feature “We Are Not Alone,” recalling that his father gave him a “handmade” reflecting telescope, he comments that his dad had offered him “the greatest gift... an opportunity to apply my imagination.” Similarly, Joseph McBride traces Spielberg’s interest in A Guy Named Joe back to a period when his parent’s marriage was falling apart and quotes the filmmaker as follows: “I didn’t understand why I cried, but I did. Pete is powerless, unable to influence events, like a piece of furniture. As a child I was very frustrated, and maybe I saw my own parents in it” (406). When, in A Guy Named Joe, The General, a kind of moral adjudicator overseeing the dead pilots that return to earth to train new recruits, reprimands Pete on his responsibility to inspire others and protect the future by saying, “Children would understand it, sure, because the future belongs to them, they are already moving into it,” as an angelic childlike-choir softly sings [99:50], it is apparent why Spielberg as a boy—with potentially little grasp of World War II history, and certainly watching outside the film’s initial context—might have interpreted the scene and film to mean the ability that all adults can have to inspire children. No longer an interpreter (or powerless piece of furniture), The General’s claim that the future belongs to children can act as a metaphor to describe Spielberg’s transition to filmmaker, no longer mere observer, but rather now (re)creator.

8Recognizing that a single text can have multiple reception contexts, then, this section has shown that extratextual comments made by Spielberg effectively ground interpretation of the past works in childhood, in turn providing a context that helps to frame readings of his remakes. Indeed, invoking memories of Spielberg’s childhood, extratextual discourses encourage audiences to trace his film enthusiasm back to a time before and beyond his participation in the economic and production practices of feature filmmaking, suggesting that Spielberg’s engagement with these works is driven by an authentic creative logic. While invoking a specific reception context may help to establish the “personal vision” important to traditional authorial discourse, conjuring the film auteur can help to circumvent common assumptions of remaking as a commercial industrial practice. Although this may be adopted as a promotional strategy, with the director marketed as artist obscuring industrial and commercial remaking practice, my investigation of remaking as creative practice takes Spielberg as an interpreter of past works in order to open up cultural discourse to reinterpretation and recreation. Consequently, exploring the introduction and integration of Spielbergian themes in Always and War of the Worlds, the next section focuses on the ways that a single authorial figure can organize creative contributions to remaking practice.

The Integration of Spielbergian Themes

9The introduction and integration of authorial themes within a remake may be regarded as a way of foregrounding and articulating personal control and vision. While this can be understood as helping to maintain the figure of the auteur for critical and promotional purposes, in this section I take the integration of Spielbergian themes as a strategy for organizing reinterpretation and recreation of source texts. In so doing, I investigate the effect that recreation can have—when organized around a single authorial figure—on cultural discourses.

10Given Spielberg’s interest in childhood throughout his career, including the prominence of children in films such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and Jurassic Park, it is, at first glance, surprising that Always does not include the multiple moments in A Guy Named Joe featuring children, in particular the introduction of Pete through the opposing perspectives of the children (who watch Pete’s landing in awe) and Nails (a figure of authority who has been significantly reduced in Always). A closer inspection of Pete’s introduction in Always, however, shows that the character resembles a child, indicated immediately by the juvenile “Fire Eater” logo on the sides of Pete’s and Al’s planes, as well as by the former’s attempt to break communication by faking a breakdown in radio transmission [1:38; 2:36]. The airstrip in Always also resembles a typical American high school yard, with Pete celebrated by a cheering crowd [6:00], Pete and Al inhaling helium and speaking like Woody Woodpecker [9:50], and Pete and Dorinda calling each other “fat head” [10:41]. While Always omits Nails and the children, therefore, it reconfigures innocence/irresponsibility and authority/responsibility within Pete.

11This process is reversed in the case of War of the Worlds (2005). Not only is he nameless, but Wells’s protagonist is almost a void for he has only two distinguishing features: first, his knowledge of science and astronomy which aids his escape from the aliens, and second, his family bonds to his wife, brother and cousin. This helps make Wells’s character and story particularly amenable to recreation. Indeed, as Dudley Andrew argues, certain texts lend themselves to adaptation or recreation because of “the generality of the original, its potential for wide and varied appeal—in short its existence as a continuing form or archetype in culture” (30). The two film versions of The War of the Worlds, though, present diverging interpretations of Wells’s protagonist by drawing out one of his distinguishing characteristics and discarding the other. In this sense, while Always reconfigured innocence/irresponsibility and authority/responsibility within Pete, in the case of The War of the Worlds this process is reversed as each film adaptation extracts from the novel’s protagonist the two defining characteristics. Specifically, the protagonist in The War of the Worlds (1953), Clayton, is an astronomer and, like the novel’s protagonist, his scientific knowledge aids his survival; War of the Worlds (2005), however, draws from Wells’s protagonist the distinguishing characteristic of family, giving Ray a son and daughter, an ex-wife with new husband, and in-laws. While the emphasis on the protagonist’s interest in science and astronomy in the 1953 film helped to create a Cold War commentary, the focus on family relationships in the 2005 remake reveals Spielberg’s interest in the novel as the basis for another story to explore family and father-child relationships.

12In A Guy Named Joe, during Pete’s introduction, the crosscutting between the perspectives of Nails and the children evoke social discourses concerning the war and heroism. The removal of the device in Always, however, suggests a turn away from socio-political issues towards a character-driven narrative. Conversely, while the combination of Wells’s protagonist’s “everyman” status and his social research expands the protagonist’s account to a broader social commentary, extracting from Wells’s protagonist the defining characteristic of family in War of the Worlds (2005) separates the individual from the social. In Always, the critical moment in Pete’s and Ted’s development occurs in the one scene explicitly featuring children: Ted resuscitates a school bus driver who is having a heart attack, while at the same time keeping the children calm by asking them what they want to be when they grow up; their responses, “an astronaut, a veterinarian, a football player,” foregrounds their individuality through personal development [73:03]. Pete’s maturation into a responsible adult has also been understood to reflect Spielberg’s own development, with Gordon stating that “Always is part of Spielberg’s continuing cinematic autobiography, his attempt to grow up on film” (152). At the end of Always, Pete adopts the role of surrogate father to Ted, saying, “That’s my girl, and that’s my boy” [110:46], and while the line is taken from A Guy Named Joe (with similarities in cinematography further underlining the connection between original and remake) [95:40], the moment also recalls Close Encounters when Roy Neary, also played by Dreyfuss, and also shot from behind standing on a runway looking over his shoulder, abandons Earth and his family to join the aliens (Fig. 1–3) [125:43]. In this case, inserting authorial themes into a remake or adaptation might appear to organize readings of the text around the individual (author figure) to the detriment of broader social or cultural dialogue, yet, surely, the issue of personal identity must be taken into account when considering recreation. So how might these two positions be reconciled?

Fig. 1 — A Guy Named Joe (Victor Fleming, 1943): the 1943 Pete saying goodbye.

Fig. 1 — A Guy Named Joe (Victor Fleming, 1943): the 1943 Pete saying goodbye.

Fig. 2 — Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Roy Neary saying goodbye.

Fig. 2 — Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Roy Neary saying goodbye.

Fig. 3 — Always: the 1989 Pete saying goodbye.

Fig. 3 — Always: the 1989 Pete saying goodbye.

13Comparing a key sequence from The War of the Worlds offers some evidence suggesting that engagement with social issues can be preserved across cultural dialogue despite the insertion of authorial (in this case Spielbergian) themes. In Wells’s novel, the protagonist becomes trapped beneath the farmhouse with the Curate who, having witnessed the destruction of his church, has lost faith in society (67–72). In hiding, the Curate selfishly takes more than his ration of food, while, hysterical and cowardly, he risks alerting the aliens to their presence, thus the protagonist reasons to kill him (136–140). After coming out of hiding, the protagonist reencounters an Artilleryman who wants to create a new type of society in the form of an underground resistance (148–162). Yet he eventually rejects the Artilleryman’s proposals, fearing that he would be a traitor to his wife and to his kind (162). The murder of the Curate and rejection of the Artilleryman’s ideas of society, therefore, symbolize a continued faith in society.

14In Haskin’s film, Clayton has no family, not even parents, since they died when he was young, so instead he is free to develop a romance with Sylvia as they hide beneath the farmhouse together [42:19]. Whereas the protagonist and the Curate fought over food rations, Clayton and Sylvia share a romantic meal, turning the novel’s tense, claustrophobic situation into an intimate moment [42:19]. As they eat, Sylvia reminisces about a time when she was alone and afraid as a child, and went inside a church for safety [43:25]. She says that, inside the church, she prayed for “the one who loved her best to come and find her,” which happened to be her uncle the Pastor [43:25]. Moments earlier, Sylvia’s uncle, who believed that if the aliens “are more advanced than us they should be nearer the creator for that reason,” held a Bible aloft as he naïvely approached an alien machine only to be, somewhat predictably, vaporized [32:18]. The Pastor, therefore, is like Wells’s Curate, who similarly believed the aliens to be “God’s ministers,” except while the Curate’s church is destroyed in Wells’s novel and causes him to lose conviction, the Pastor never loses his faith. Subsequently, Sylvia’s story prophesizes the ending of the film as she hides within a church, but instead Clayton finds and protects her [77:00]. Rather than murdering the character that has lost faith, Clayton protects Sylvia whose faith has endured, and with the church still standing as a locus of unity, Haskin’s film displays a continued faith in society.

15In comparison, the 2005 remake’s farmhouse sequence recreates both the novel and the original film, including both Rachel, a Sylvia type character, whom Ray protects, and Harlan Ogilvy, a Curate type character, with whom Ray conflicts. Like Wells’s Curate, Ogilvy is a protector of souls for he is an ambulance driver, but now that civilization is facing defeat, and structured institutions like churches and hospitals face destruction, he, too, is a lost soul [72:58]. Ogilvy also plans an underground resistance, making him a composite of the novel’s Curate and Artilleryman [76:24]. Moreover, since women are often strong characters in Spielberg’s films, and children are typically vulnerable, the 2005 remake sees the introduction of Rachel, with Ray maturing into his role as a father when, seemingly for the first time in his daughter’s life, he tucks her into bed while singing a lullaby [70:28].

16By killing Ogilvy, a composite of the two characters to have lost faith in society in Wells’s novel, Ray preserves his role as a father and, in so doing, seems to demonstrate a continued faith in society consistent with the politics of the earlier versions [79:14]. Yet following the farmhouse sequence, the ending of the 2005 remake is ambiguous, as Ray returns Rachel to her mother, but remains outside the house and at a distance from the extended family, questioning the protagonist’s individual status and complicating a coherent message of faith in society [103:04]. While apparently preserving the social commentary of the source materials, then, the 2005 remake reinterprets and reconfigures the story to provide a social commentary fitting Spielberg’s more pessimistic post-9/11 outlook (see also Wasser 207–208).

17This section has explored Spielbergian themes as the reinterpretation of creative work, considering effects on cultural discourse. In the case of Always, combining the opposing perspectives of the children and Nails in A Guy Named Joe creates a narrative revolving around Pete’s maturation from an irresponsible child-like character to a responsible adult. Integrating Spielbergian themes of innocence, responsibility, family and fatherhood, I argue, represents a move away from the social commentary of A Guy Named Joe. Conversely, integrating Spielbergian themes in War of the Worlds (2005) helps preserve the story’s social commentary by providing an updated and personal perspective. Rather than dilute or confuse the social commentary, however, in the next section I propose that the ambiguity of War of the Worlds, epitomized by its ending, is a byproduct of Spielberg’s commonly reflexive attitude, which, perhaps, helps to scrutinize and develop authoritative discourse.

Reflexivity in the Remake

18According to Richard Dyer, “[i]mitation in the widest sense is the foundation of all learning” (1); for Mark Gallagher, the reworking of source material can display a filmmaker’s “evolving authorial style” (175). Considering remaking as a potentially reflexive practice, this section analyzes instances of reflexivity in Always and War of the Worlds (2005) to explore Spielberg’s authorial development.

19In Always, the interpretive and recreation process is deliberately evident, both on a formal and intertextual level. Marked by incongruity and excess, the film’s reflexivity is epitomized in the opening scenes by Pete’s dangerous landing contrasting with Ted’s colorful appearance dispersing balloons and playing “Happy Birthday” from his show plane [4:35], by Ted’s old-fashioned pilot costume (connecting him to the past), and by the oversized presents he carries [6:33]. In the afterlife, Hap (who replaces the 1943 General) tells Pete: “Spiritus, the divine breath, inspiration” is “what flyers and piano players and everyone else count on, they reach for it, they pray for it, and quite often when they need it most, they get it” [39:34]. Hap’s phrasing recalls Ted’s plane, “Wing ‘N’ Prayer,” which brought with it “the divine breath, inspiration” when Pete needed it most, after running out of fuel and losing the tailwind needed to glide back to base [3:52]. Always makes air a metaphor for inspiration, and an apt one at that. The connection between wind/air and inspiration is further underlined by Pete’s earlier inability to continue whistling. While speaking explicitly about inspiration, however, Hap’s remarks provide a kind of a metatextual commentary on recreation. Consequently, although in A Guy Named Joe inspiration appears to belong to the pilots specifically, in Always, Hap reclaims inspiration/recreation for “everyone else,” including artists like piano players and, by extension, filmmakers.

  • 2 Fans of Julia Child regularly use the word “inspiration” to describe her. For example, fans on one (...)

20Certainly, recreation is ubiquitous across Always, extending to not only A Guy Named Joe, but also a range of intertextual connections. The casting of Audrey Hepburn to play Hap, for example, invokes her persona as an inspirational figure, not only for her iconic movie status, but also for her role with UNICEF, and is thus particularly appropriate given Spielberg’s interpretation of A Guy Named Joe as a movie about the responsibility of adults for children. Always also features many references to Julia Child, an inspirational cook for many of her fans,2 who famously described the first time that she tasted French cuisine in terms similar to those used by Hap, as “an opening up of the soul and spirit” (quoted in Mellowes 2005). In particular, references to Child occur through multiple recreations. For instance, after Al and Dorinda watch an episode of Saturday Night Live featuring a parody of Child’s cooking show [54:49], Dorinda parodies the episode, whipping mashed potato onto a Child cookbook and making a mess to give the illusion of a kitchen that has been used for cooking [75:25].

21Associating inspiration with air gives greater significance to Ted’s resuscitation of the school bus driver. While temporarily dead, the driver’s spirit-personified appears beside Pete, and as Ted performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, “divine breath”/inspiration is blown from the living world to the afterlife, suggesting—what with the observing children also inspired—that recreation is a multidirectional rather than unidirectional process [70:04]. Recognizing and emphasizing that A Guy Named Joe, along with other works, inspired Spielberg, the remake positions itself in relation to A Guy Named Joe through the metaphor of “divine air” to describe the process of recreation as reflexive and a source of self-awareness. Noting the prominence of flying and planes across Spielberg’s œuvre, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Empire of the Sun and Hook (Morris 136–143; 174–175; 181–185), “divine air” helps to illuminate the Movie Brat’s tendency to consider creation as recreation in general. Indeed, the short sequence that opens Always (a plane flying ominously and dangerously towards two anglers in a boat, one played by Ted Grossman who also appeared in Jaws as the estuary victim), performs little function other than to foreground and circulate intertextuality across Spielberg’s œuvre, from Jaws to his latest release [0:24]. Alongside the allusion to Close Encounters at the film’s conclusion, these two references to Spielberg’s canon at the beginning and ending of Always encourage audiences to adopt reflexivity as a mode of engagement in general, and an auteurist reading specifically.

22Unlike Always, War of the Worlds (2005) does not clearly signpost its reflexivity with textual markers like excess and incongruity, but it nevertheless contains several intertextual references to previous films and texts, as well as more discrete moments of reflexivity. The lack of textual markers may be a result of the film’s blockbuster status, aiming to appeal to a more mainstream audience with a conventional narrative, while assuming that parody and pastiche are antithetical to mainstream tastes. Yet even though some of the intertextual references in the film seem to function more as minor in-jokes, such as the alien’s inquisitiveness over the bicycle wheel that alludes to both Wells’s novel and E.T. [74:57], other references reveal the remake’s position in relation to the source texts.

23Like the novel’s protagonist, Ray is curious as the alien attack unfolds, leaving both of his children (rather than his wife) to investigate [15:23; 18:26]. Subsequently, in the 2005 remake, the church is the first building to be destroyed by the aliens, immediately invoking and undoing the resolution reached at the end of Haskin’s film. Indeed, by symbolically demolishing the religious framework that the 1953 film adopted, Spielberg seeks to remove parameters limiting the reinterpretation of the story. Having escaped the first alien attack, however, Ray takes one last look at the alien tripod as it walks past, with an over-the-shoulder shot underlining his interest [27:33]. Another man carrying his child runs past, momentarily singled out by a swift pan as they run out of frame, before the camera jolts back showing the man and his child grabbed Ray’s attention [27:51]. By mirroring and emphasizing Ray’s perspective through camera movement, this brief event becomes an important moment for revealing Spielberg’s continuous reflection on personal themes. One of many occasions in the novel foregrounding the absence of children from the protagonist and his wife’s relationship, its inclusion in the 2005 film, immediately following the alien invasion, is a subtle instance of intertextuality helping to reframe Wells’s story and the first adaptation as a Spielberg piece. As Arms and Riley note, in Spielberg’s sci-fi or action films, an unambiguous external force, threat or visitor, whether the shark in Jaws or velociraptors in Jurassic Park, or the friendly aliens in Close Encounters and E.T., is typically the catalyst to reexamine and reconfigure typical Spielbergian themes, such as family dynamics and innocence in jeopardy (Arms and Riley 8). With this in mind, while removing Haskin’s framework to reinterpret the story, the 2005 film simultaneously recreates a familiar Spielbergian model.

24At the end of the remake, when Ray returns Rachel to her family, actors Anne Robinson and Gene Barry appear in cameo roles as ancestors, invoking Sylvia and Clayton specifically, and Haskin’s film in general, as the genesis of the recreation [103:52]. Yet rather than simply transposing features of the 1953 film into the Spielbergian model, and merely overwriting the original with authorial themes, reflexivity is the basis of a more complicated and ambiguous relationship between source texts and Spielberg’s work. While Clayton, lost and alone, discovers an open church door at the end of Haskin’s film [76:35], in the 2005 film, Ray is greeted by Rachel’s grandparents and stepfather, standing on the porch, essentially guarding the entrance to their home (Fig. 4) [111:43]. Furthermore, while Clayton and Sylvia embrace within the church [78:05], Ray and Robbie (also reunited and shot side-on with a medium close-up like in Haskin’s film) embrace outside the home [111:46]. Certainly, while the structured institutions (churches, hospitals), guarded by the Curate and Ogilvy, appear to have fixed locations and clear borders, social dynamics are problematized at the end of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, as three versions of family are proposed: the home [103:50]; relationships (underlined by Robbie’s embrace of Ray) [104:06]; and genetics (as the narrator discusses DNA and biological survival) [105:00]. Consequently, with the original film’s portrayal of social solidarity juxtaposed with the remake’s depiction of social discord, via the 1953 version, War of the Worlds (2005) problematizes and reconfigures the Spielbergian model in a new cultural and historical context.

Fig. 4 — War of the Worlds: Rachel’s grandparents, played by the actors from the 1953 adaptation, greet Rachel and Ray.

Fig. 4 — War of the Worlds: Rachel’s grandparents, played by the actors from the 1953 adaptation, greet Rachel and Ray.

25Finally, towards the end of Always, after witnessing Dorinda and Ted falling in love, Pete returns to Hap, exclaiming: “You told me that I was going back to be some sort of an inspiration, you didn’t tell me that I would feel what I’m feeling.” Hap replies:

I told you Pete, your life’s over, and anything you do for yourself is a waste of spirit... what we gave you was a chance to say, “I’m glad I lived, I’m glad I was alive. Now it’s my turn to give you a hand, let me give you what I had.” But I also sent you back to settle with the one you love, I sent you back to say goodbye.

26According to Hap, then, recreation offers a feeling of pride to those who inspire, alongside pain by invoking the past. Regarding the first, by referencing his own oeuvre throughout Always, Spielberg displays what he has achieved, and recalling that A Guy Named Joe inspired him, he clearly hopes that his films will have the same influence on another generation of up-and-coming filmmakers. In this regard, by referencing A Guy Named Joe and Close Encounters simultaneously at the film’s conclusion, Always depicts the passing of the torch from one filmmaker to the next. In these terms, the second feature of recreation becomes the pain a filmmaker that takes the torch experiences from recognizing that his (or her) own time is also finite. Referring to the futility of engaging with the past and repeatedly revisiting the same themes (possibly without resolution), therefore, suggests that for Spielberg recreation can only be reflexive. By re-invoking his own œuvre, however, Spielberg reveals that he is not yet ready to pass up the mantle as he continues to strive to join the pantheon of great filmmakers. While reflexivity may display a filmmaker’s evolving authorial style, then, doing so demands that authorial themes be repeatedly invoked. This arguably requires a filmmaker to remain within recognizable and familiar parameters, potentially setting limits on one’s ability to depart from authoritative discourse. As a result, by providing personal and affectionate reinterpretations of source materials, Spielberg’s remakes ultimately uphold the canon and, broadly at least, reinforce authoritative discourses.


27In this chapter, remaking has been understood as a creative practice, rather than strictly an economic or commercial one. The motif of “divine” air in Always is an apt metaphor for the ubiquity of recreation not only across Spielberg’s work, or “the remake” as a category of filmmaking, but across all areas of cultural production. Yet formal markers including excess or incongruities, a range of intertextual references and framings, and the introduction of Spielbergian themes like childhood and family throughout Always and War of the Worlds, confirm that Spielberg’s attitude is commonly reflexive, a characteristic that has been singled out by many Spielberg scholars (Morris 181–185, 194–197; Bick 72; McBride 522). Rather than arguing that this serves a commercial or critical authorial function—repeating signatures as a means to garner fandom and sustaining the Spielberg brand—I have explored how socio-cultural discourses formed through textual engagement with specific contexts might be effected by the insertion of authorial themes and personal reflexivity.

28Exploring differences between texts, I have suggested that the removal of specific devices from the original source texts, alongside the introduction of, and emphasis on, Spielbergian themes, showed that his remakes are primarily focused on personal and authorial reflexivity. Certainly, instead of seeking to be radical or subversive, these remakes engage with authoritative discourse by foregrounding personal interpretation. Consequently, while Always removes A Guy Named Joe’s social commentary, and the remake of The War of the Worlds retells its story frame Ray’s individual perspective, integrating Spielbergian themes works to promote individuality. Finally, then, Spielbergian themes are built into the recreations in ways that sustain dialogue with past texts and position them as reinterpretations, thereby promoting individuality as a kind of ideal while confirming the director’s status as auteur.


A Guy Named Joe. Dir. Victor Fleming. Screenplay by Dalton Trumbo. With Spencer Tracy (Pete Sandidge), Irene Dunne (Dorinda Durston), Van Johnson (Ted Randall) and Lionel Barrymore (The General). MGM, 1943. VHS. MGM/UA, 1991.

Always. Dir. Steven Spielberg. DVD. Universal, 2003.

Andrew, Dudley. “Adaptation.” Film Adaptation. Ed. James Naremore. London: Anthlone Press, 2000, 28-37.

Ansen, David. “Air Spielberg Heads for Heaven.” Newsweek. 1 Jan. 1990, p. 60.

Arms, Gary and Thomas Riley, “The Big-Little Film and Philosophy: Two Takes on Spielbergian Innocence.” Steven Spielberg and Philosophy: We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Book Ed. Dean A. Kowalski. Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2008, 7–37.

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1 For a discussion of fidelity to the “spirit” of the author, see MacCabe 6–8.

2 Fans of Julia Child regularly use the word “inspiration” to describe her. For example, fans on one website have posted the following comments: Rob R. Spalding (2010) says “she was my inspiration to cook!!!!,” while another fan with the username “Inspired by Julia” says “I LOVE YOU, JULIA... THANK YOU FOR THE INSPIRATION, EDUCATION, LOVE AND COMMITMENT” (Marilyn Mellowes, “Julia Child: About Julia Child,” PBS: American Masters, 2005, accessed 13 October 2015).

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 — A Guy Named Joe (Victor Fleming, 1943): the 1943 Pete saying goodbye.
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Titre Fig. 2 — Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Roy Neary saying goodbye.
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Titre Fig. 3 — Always: the 1989 Pete saying goodbye.
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Titre Fig. 4 — War of the Worlds: Rachel’s grandparents, played by the actors from the 1953 adaptation, greet Rachel and Ray.
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University of York.

Andrew Stubbs is currently a PhD student at the University of York, UK, where he is conducting research into independent film-authorship in a context of recent industrial and cultural changes. Previously, Andrew was a lecturer of Film Studies at Staffordshire University where he delivered research-led teaching in film analysis, independent film, authorship and intertextuality.

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