Movie #84 2021: Empire of the Sun (1987)

And so my attempt to watch more Spielberg continues!

This time, I jumped back in time to 1987 to give one of his more ‘classic’ films a watch. Empire of the Sun itself takes place even longer ago during the Second World War, where we meet Jamie (a young Christian Bale), a privileged British boy who has been brought up in Shanghai by his well to-do parents. When the Japanese unexpectedly invade the city, Jamie gets separated from his mother and father and is held captive by the aggressors.

I won’t lie to you, I was completely ignorant of the fact that this was Christian Bale’s first starring role… but now it’s incredibly obvious why he’s such a huge star today. Not only was his first big acting gig a leading role, but he managed to gain the attention of Steven Spielberg from such an early age. Impressive.

Speaking of Spielberg… Sigh. (That’s a loving sigh, by the way.) As usual, the production value he boasts here is of the highest order. Absolutely nothing is out of place: the costuming, the props, the scenery, John Williams’ score… Spielberg’s fingerprint is present in every single element and it’s wonderful to see. There’s a reason he’s one of the most celebrated and well-known directors of her time, and that reason is on full show in this movie.

It seems that critics are torn by this one, but for me it’s lowkey one of Spielberg’s most impressive in its technical aspects. However, whilst the first hour or so of storytelling is quite remarkable, it becomes extremely slow-paced and convoluted after that, suggesting that the script really should have been edited and cut down to save us from this awfully long runtime. It is interesting to see war through a child’s eyes though and it succeeds in portraying war as pointless and ridiculous. 

One thing you can’t fault is the supporting cast. Miranda Richardson and John Malkovich are particularly noteworthy, and even Nigel Havers brings emotional heft. And is that Ben Stiller?! Weird. But kinda great. 

No movie reviewed on The Quayside Review as of now has prompted me to take a photo of my TV screen. But this did. Excuse the poor quality, but just look at this:

Ugh. This is masterful directing and some of the shots are picture perfect, you can’t deny that. The one above (which incidentally looks a hell of a lot better in real life!) took my breath away completely, and is a complete masterclass in depth and framing. Honestly just wonderful filmmaking on Spielberg’s behalf.

Sadly the exceedingly long runtime lets it down, but in terms of the mastery of filmmaking, Empire of the Sun is near perfect. Whilst the story itself is often emotional and tear-inducing however, it’s not quite at the level of emotional breakdown that E.T. is.

Empire of the Sun is available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Rating: 

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