Always (1989)

Always (1989)


An aerial firefighter, Pete Sandich (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws), dies during a massive forest wildfire only to return to Earth as a guardian angel to fellow firefighter, Ted Baker (Brad Johnson, Flight of the Intruder), who is still learning the ropes of a very dangerous job. Pete struggles with his new mission as he discovers that his girlfriend, Dorinda Durston (Holly Hunter, The Piano), is falling in love with Ted.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Always is a reworking of the 1943 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie A Guy Named Joe. Despite changing the setting and the profession of the main characters, the remake follows the original’s storyline pretty close.

Steven Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), who produced and directed the film, is apparently a huge fan of the original MGM production. However, I think this was Spielberg’s very first misstep — I’m willing to defend the unjustly maligned 1941, but not this one. Always does look and sound great. The acting in the film is fine too. My problem with the movie is that Spielberg updated the original without actually improving upon it — he failed to add anything to the story that wasn’t already there.

More important, after thinking carefully about both movies, I feel that there is a huge difference between people fighting wildfires and soldiers fighting for freedom in a war. I mean no offense to firefighters, this is a dangerous and important job, but I think Spielberg made a huge mistake replacing WWII pilots with firefighters — the emotional gravitas of a war movie can’t be duplicated this way. Maybe I’m biased because of my own stint in the Air Force, but it is in my opinion that Jerry Belson’s new script simply doesn’t create a strong context.

Dreyfuss, Hunter and Johnson make for a nice romantic triangle. They are every bit as good as the Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne and Van Johnson triplet. John Goodman (Argo), in the old War Bond role, is actually an improvement — he is always a great addition to any movie.

Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday and Sabrina), in her last theatrical movie, is the best thing about the film. She plays the archangel ‘Hap.’ Sadly, she only has two brief scenes. I wished she had been in more scenes because Hepburn single-handedly elevates the material a few notches.

As you would expect from a Spielberg production, the movie’s technical elements are beyond reproach. John Williams’s (Star Wars and Superman) music score is very nice and Mikael Salomon’s (The Abyss and Backdraft) cinematography is appropriately lush. Sound, production design, etc., everything is of the highest quality. The visual effects — by Industrial Light & Magic — are top-notch too. My issues are with the script and the script alone.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Always is be no means a bad movie. Maybe the movie works better if you’ve never seen A Guy Named Joe. You are supposed the judge movies on their own merits, but this is a hard thing to do when you are dealing with a remake, especially one that’s so similar to the original. Always has its defenders, so judge for yourself. Color, 122 minutes, Rated PG.

14 responses to “Always (1989)

  1. I actually haven’t seen this since around the time it came out. I was pretty touched by it, as a kid. But I also haven’t seen A Guy Named Joe, so I can’t compare the two. Guess I got some homework.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very cheesy, silly movie by Spielberg. I loved every moment of it. It’s endearing to me. I loved the flight scenes where they put out the fire. You reminded me how much I miss Holly Hunter. Nice review, Eric!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Always, even though I watched it back-to-back with (in fact, immediately after) A Guy Named Joe — by design, because I was writing about them for a fantasy encyclopedia. It was a little bit long, I felt, but I think that’s a general failing of Spielberg’s movies of the era.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think firefighters and pilots in war could certain similarities. Whether it be PTSD, addiction to the danger, a sense of service, tight comradery. I dimly recall the Always covering that. I think I got what you’re saying though. An ongoing war is different to wanting to fight fires, military service and discipline is different to volunteer firefighting so when Holly Hunter is asking him to quit it’s a different dynamic than in a war film. By the Eric thank you for your service. I agree about how good looking the film is, miss those blue lit sets from the 80s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point about the “blue lit” sets in the 1980s (E.T., The Thing, etc). I don’t know the reason behind it. Spielberg has abandoned the practice, but James Cameron is still very much in love with the color blue! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember seeing this with my mom not long after my stepdad died, and the Dreyfuss character reminded both of us so much of him my mom couldn’t stop crying. I’ve wanted to see it again without having that association affecting my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t seen the original but I found this one tiresome and a bit bland. I agree that it’s well-cast and impressively directed, but I had never thought about the WWII-to-firefighters angle, very interesting stuff. It does kind of explain why the movie felt somehow…. off.

    Liked by 1 person

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