There was something electric in the air when that first teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens premiered back in 2014. A sinister voice on the soundtrack asked, “There has been an awakening…have you felt it?” Then there was a barrage of clips teasing something familiar for Star Wars fans. That familiarity was the style and look of the original trilogy’s western frontiers, with a kick of space cowboy bravado. It was void of the prequel trilogy’s green screen approach and cutting-edge technological risks (though I will defend those jubilant George Lucas entries til the end of time). Unfortunately, J.J. Abrams‘ The Force Awakens ended up being a pleasantly mild carbon copy of A New Hope, recycling tropes and story situations from that film as some gesture of assurance for a new generation of fans; if anything, it was setting up a dutiful cover song trilogy. So when it was revealed that writer/director Rian Johnson was going to helm Episode VIII, I have to admit that it shot to the top of my list of anticipated films, period. I believe Johnson’s Looper to be one of the best sci-fi films ever, so the fact that he was taking over the reigns of sci-fi cinema’s holy grail was more than promising.
Much of what you’ll read in the coming days about Steven Spielberg‘s supremely entertaining The Post will no doubt focus on how timely the film is in regards to the current administration in the White House, the freedom of the press (or lack thereof I should say), the ballooning of “fake news” and the dwindling presence of actual newspaper offices. All those parallelisms are valid, and were no doubt the primary themes screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer (Spotlight) set out to establish, but now that I’ve watched The Post twice I think there’s something else being pulled into focus here. More on that later.
A big reason why Guillermo del Toro is so loved by cinephiles (myself included) is that his passion for cinema is evident in almost every frame of anything he makes. Whether it’s the stunning cinematography that fills the screen canvas (usually in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, as opposed to 2.35:1) with a treasure trove of production design details and movie homages, the memorable music scores (e.g. you can literally hum the score for Pan’s Labyrinth) or the parable-like quality some of his stories have (Crimson Peak, Cronos), you know within the first five seconds that you are watching a Guillermo del Toro film. His signature screen voice is memorable. Other popular filmmakers with signature voices include Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Kathryn Bigelow. You know each of their cinematic screen voices because they are distinct — and because those voices are real. They come from a place of deep affection, curiosity, pain, wonder, fear and conviction. It’s why they endure as artists.