Steven Spielberg‘s decision to direct an adaptation of Harvey, a 65 year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning play and a 59 year-old Universal film that starred James Stewart, is an essentially timid and conservative move. It’s about looking back at age 62, communing with old-time sentimental America, potentially having fun with Tom Hanks (who’s widely expected to play Stewart’s role of Elwood P. Dowd) and for some reason wanting to slosh around in amiable charm and likable oddness, which has never been Spielberg’s strong suit.
Harvey, which 20th Century Fox is financing and which will include, I’m presuming, the constant CG visualization of Harvey the rabbit, will, mark my words, be seen as a minor Spielberg hiccup at the end of the day. He doesn’t have it in him to be deft and discreet, which is what this kind of material needs. Spielberg almost always puts on the waders and sloshes right into the swamp. He’s always looking to touch or melt hearts, even when the film would be better off without this. He’ll never know from subtlety.
And all the while Tony Kushner‘s Lincoln — the biopic that Spielberg has delayed and dilly-dalllied with for years, the big creative-challenge project of his autumnal years that obviously terrifies him down to his cracked toenails — continues to wither on the vine as poor Liam Neeson, who’s dying to play Lincoln before he gets too old, waits and frets.
What is there to say about a once-interesting, super-rich director-producer who hasn’t made a truly formidable or at least largely unblemished film since 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and before that ’93’s Schindler’s List? And who, facing the final surge of creative opportunity and productivity in his life (he’s got another 10 to 12 years left of high-energy directing), has made two lightweight fantasy films over the last three years — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Tintin — and has now committed to a third in this vein (i.e., Harvey)?
Because I still foolishly believe in the Spielberg who used to be (the guy who, with the exception of 1941, hit nothing but home runs from ’74’s Duel to ’82’s E.T., and who showed flashes of the old vigor three more times with ’89’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the afore-mentioned Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan)…because I’m gullible enough to believe that Spielberg could pull it together and rally the troops for another surge, I keep asking myself again and again when is this guy going to man up and stop tiddly-winking around?
(l.) Abraham Lincoln; (r.) Lincoln-Neeson digital blend.
What will his next Lincoln-avoidance project be after Harvey? A bullshit Old Boy remake with Will Smith? The dumbing down of Interstellar?
I say and plead again to Spielberg: do the decent thing and drop Lincoln and give it to someone else to direct. Someone who isn’t afraid, someone with more depth and passion. Go ahead and be the life-loving Tintin/Harvey hah-hey guy. Shallow it up to your heart’s content but don’t block a potentially great film from being made. Lincoln is beyond your abilities. Admit this and let it go.
The new Harvey screenplay is a first-time effort by Jonathan Tropper. The original 1944 play was written by Mary Chase. Stewart played Dowd on Broadway as well as in the 1950 Henry Koster-directed film.