Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 31, 2018)
Hello, and welcome to one of Steven Spielbergís most obscure films! Due to the directorís immensely high profile, there really canít be a forgotten Spielberg effort, but some of his movies have largely gotten lost in the shuffle.
For instance, relatively few ever saw 1974ís Sugarland Express. However, that flick remains reasonably well-known due to its historical value since it was Spielbergís first theatrical release.
While the movie didnít sell too many tickets, the cast of 1989ís Always helps save it from obscurity. After all, it stars two Oscar winners in Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter, though the latter wouldnít obtain her award until a few years later for 1993ís The Piano. It also features John Goodman in a supporting part well before he turned into a star via Roseanne and The Flintstones.
As a Spielberg piece, Always seems unusual just because itís so darned bland. Actually, it stands out in other ways, mainly because it offers the directorís rare foray into the romantic comedy genre. Of course, other Spielberg flicks included romantic elements, and Always features drama and bathos as well as some lighter aspects, but it still seems unusual due to its emphasis.
The film focuses on the adventures of pilots who drop water on forest fires. Regarded as the best of the bunch, Pete (Dreyfuss) lives a good life with his best friend and coworker Al (Goodman) as well as his radio controller girlfriend Dorinda (Hunter). However, she worries about him due to the danger involved in the job, and his risky attitude toward the task doesnít engender fewer worries on her part.
As such, Pete agrees to take on a job as a pilot trainer, though he hates to leave the active skies. He does this to show his affection for Dorinda, although he apparently canít bring himself to actually tell her he loves her. Inevitably, Pete takes on one last job when a major fire roars, and he doesnít come back alive from this one.
The rest of the film follows Pete in ghostly form, as he has to tie up loose ends before he can move to the next world. Mostly this involves letting go of Dorinda, who remains scarred by his death.
In Cyrano fashion, he acts as the spooky guide for bumbling pilot wannabe Ted (Brad Johnson) and he helps the goof become a strong flier. However, he reacts less positively to a budding romance between Ted and Dorinda, and he has to deal with his own emotions before all involved can move on with their lives (and deaths).
Always doesnít exactly venture into much new ground creatively, though itís hard for any remake to indulge in fresh territory. Usually, the most a filmmaker can hope to do with this sort of effort is to give it an interesting twist or attitude.
I never saw A Guy Named Joe - the film that Always reworks - so itís impossible for me to judge the success of Always in that department. Nonethelss, I canít say that much about the film seems particularly inspiring.
Really, Always has to be the most nondescript film Spielberg has made. I donít regard that as a terrible negative, for Iíll take the blandness of Always over the stereotypically Spielbergian sentiment of Amistad and Color Purple, but it feels less like one of his own flicks than the others.
Always comes across as a competent and occasionally engaging piece, but it lacks much sense of personality. The actors all seem perfectly competent, but the overall generic tone robs them of much spark or flair.
The entire project delivers a moderately entertaining and warm experience, but it feels like the cinematic equivalent of Chinese food. This means that half an hour after the credits roll, you may forget you ever watched it.
The unmemorable side of Always really seems to be its main flaw. At this point, the most significant aspect of the movie is the way that it prefigured the following yearís megahit Ghost.
I think itís very likely that director Jerry Zucker took in a few screenings of Always, as Ghost clearly evokes the Spielberg flick, including the iconic use of an old pop standard. ďSmoke Gets In Your EyesĒ pops up in Always like ďUnchained MelodyĒ works in Ghost. Both also feature leads who canít tell their women they love them until itís too late.
It seems odd that a rip-off of a Spielberg film handily outperformed the directorís own work, but thatís what happened here. Always struggled to gross a mediocre $43 million, while Ghost snagged a hearty $217 million and became the second top-seller of 1990, behind only super success Home Alone.
Ghost works no better than Always, and it probably delivers the inferior flick, really. So why did it earn so much more money?
I have little idea. I guess audiences were more eager to see sexy young Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze hook up instead of aging Richard Dreyfuss and cute but unspectacular Holly Hunter.
Whatever the case may be, I wonít bemoan the financial failure of Always, for the movie merits no wails of pain. At best, the film offers a reasonably entertaining and compelling experience, but it remains forgettable and quickly fades from consciousness.