"What's the beef here? I really do want to know."
William Dear--director/producer/co-writer of "Harry and the Hendersons," about a family's encounter with Bigfoot----was "surprised, shocked and saddened" by the vitriolic reaction to his film. There were some nice reviews, but the preponderance was negative.
(The critics may have had some effect. "Harry" sold $4.1 million in tickets last weekend in its debut, considered a disappointing return.)
But, argued Dear, what about critical "responsibility"? "Just because a film isn't right for a particular critic, does that mean it's not right for everyone ? Can't a critic distinguish between a picture that is to his particular liking and a movie that's just plain bad . And by no means did we make a clinker--or I wouldn't be talking with you right now."
Speaking from his home in Monterey, Dear bristled at those critics who've labeled the film, produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment, an "E.T." clone.
("Witless 'E.T.' rehash," said the New York Times' Vincent Canby. Daily Variety's Jane Galbraith: "They've taken Bigfoot, put him in Chewbacca's leftover 'Star Wars' costume and given him E.T.'s sweet disposition.")
Dear said he worked on "Harry" two years before talking to Spielberg. (Dear, 43, got the directorial opportunity after doing an episode of Spielberg's "Amazing Stories." He had previously directed the low-budget feature "Timerider.")
"Because someone else has done a creature-in-the-family movie, does that mean that theme should be retired? I was very conscious and respectful of 'E.T.' I had to be. It's the definitive movie of its type.
"By unjustly hammering at 'Harry,' it's as if the critics were saying that after 'Stagecoach' there should never have been another Western.
"Anyway, 'Harry' isn't a remake of 'E.T.' Bigfoot is a part of folklore--he's very American. I wanted to use him to create a fantastic comedy with a very realistic base. I also wanted to say something about love and values. Is there something wrong with that?"
By the same token, stressed Dear, Spielberg never took over the film's reins. Instead: "He gave us space to work as film makers." Spielberg wasn't even on the set during filming, Dear said. "His greatest contribution was in the pre-production process, when we were refining the script. He challenged us on the richness of our characters."
Spielberg had some editing suggestions: "But this wasn't his film. It was mine ."
Dear believes that some critics were affected by the fact that the film comes from Amblin. "It's as if we're being judged differently. Suddenly, we have to qualify within Amblin standards."
"Maybe I shouldn't be doing this (interview)--but I'm not going to keep quiet and let the critics do all the talking. I'm going to tell our side of the story."