Readers of Empire magazine worldwide recently voted Steven Spielberg to be the greatest director of all time. I would instantly refute it, as would many. It isnít that Spielberg isnít a director worthy of acclaim, itís more that heís simply made too many stinkers. He had a natural gift of creating immense suspense, which he puts to good use in the likes of his debut feature, Steveís favourite, Duel, as well as the classic Jaws. However, too many of his films throw away the fantastic suspense to welcome the instantly recognisable overt sentimentality that has since become synonymous with his name. Some love Spielbergís tearjerkers, others donít. Theyíre films that are characteristically his.
Then we get to Spielbergís first studio-produced feature, The Sugarland Express. Itís a film without the suspense, without the sentimentality - without any redeeming value for that matter. Packed with Goldie Hawn and too many southerners, itís a film that just sucks. Itís a film from Ďthe greatest director of all timeí. The credibility of Empire readers has been dramatically shot to bits.
We follow Lou-Jean (Goldie Hawn), a simpleton mother who has had her child taken from her by welfare services after being thrown in jail. Now released, she clearly wants her baby back. After breaking her husband Clovis (William Antherton) out of a pre-release prison, they hijack a police car (including its owner, Officer Slide), and begin their journey to Sugarland, where their childís foster parents live. The majority of the film is this long car-ride to Sugarland. We watch and listen as the three of them talk crap for 90 minutes.
The two, Lou-Jean and Clovis, are incredibly stupid. Theyíre obviously two characters that weíre supposed to sympathise with, but Spielberg fails on every turn to at least draw some empathy from his audience. Granted, Goldie Hawn does her best to make you hate her. Wishing that her character would die a horrible death is not uncommon among Sugarland Express audiences, and is not unjustified.
Itís a crying shame that this film turned out as terribly as it did, as I believe (given a capable cast and crew) the premise could turn into something decent. But, alas, The Sugarland Express turned out as terrible as we all imagined.
I tried to find something redeeming in this film, and after hard deliberations I must commend cinematographer, Vilmos Zsigmond, who has composed each frame very well, capturing the action and the atmosphere Spielberg has crafted. He has since gone on to become a master cinematographer, but i'll always remember him as the one who saved The Sugarland Express from cinematic hell. Apart from that, the terrible writing, acting and direction make it a film to avoid at all costs. Spielbergís first feature, Duel, is light-years ahead of this.
Surprisingly, the video transfer is quite good. The dusty colour of the Texas outback is preserved, and the skin tones seem very natural. Black levels remain solid, if a little bit grey. There was a little aliasing, but nothing terribly distracting. Small black and white flecks did appear, but usually fitted well with the background.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack provided is pretty poor, has no depth and is not surround encoded. Everything sounds very tinny, with everything from Goldie Hawnís squeals to the sounds of cars smashing into each other sounding high pitched and sharp. It is as if the author of this mix cranked the treble right up before encoding. The sub lay dormant throughout the film, as everything is far to high to reach it. Dialogue is frequently muffled, and occasionally distorted. Luckily subtitles were provided, which seemed to match the dialogue well.
There are no extra features, thank goodness.
I canít believe Spielberg (or Universal) would bother to release this on DVD. It's terribly damaging to Spielbergís reputation, and Iím sure that itís not a film heís proud of. The video is surprisingly good, yet the audio matches the quality of the film. Even those who are fans of the film will be disappointed with the total lack of extra features.