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), 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.