Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun," based on J.G. Ballard's book about a British boy interned by the Japanese during World War II, doesn't come out until Wednesday.
But some reviews are out now--and what we found was mixed, but not nearly so sniggering as what greeted "The Color Purple" (in which there was noise that Spielberg attempted too mighty a leap).
Several critics (including Rex Reed and Jeffrey Lyons, whose blurbs are running in the print ads) fairly glowed about "Empire":
"Epic-sized and gloriously old-style. . . . (Spielberg) has crafted a superb movie, at once colossal and radiantly personal"--Hollywood Reporter's Duane Byrge.
"Spielberg again proves he is our top picturemaker. . . . He has met the demands of the epic form with a mature spirit and wizardly technique. Spielberg has dreamed of flying before, and this time he earns his wings"--Time's Richard Corliss.
Well, not everyone's day was brightened:
"Spielberg delves deeply into the well of seriousness and comes up with about half a bucket"--Daily Variety's Todd McCarthy, for whom the characters, aside from the boy and the King Rat-type played by John Malkovich, were "complete blanks, which severely limits the emotional reverberations of the piece."
One reviewer was mixed:
"Spielberg has done his damndest to capture the spirit of Ballard's book. He doesn't actually pull it off--'Empire of the Sun' turns torpid and sappy--but this peculiar, arty epic marks his clearest evidence of artistic growth since 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' a long decade ago"--L.A. Weekly's John Powers.
Some critics--whose reviews had yet to run--gave us opinions rather than review quotes.
"It's overblown--a little hollow at the center. All together it doesn't work--but I think some individual sequences are some of the best work Spielberg's ever done," said New York magazine's David Denby. "Spielberg believes--probably from moviegoing as a child--in that moment of cinematic emotion. You know, when the images and the emotions and the music all come together and 'swells up.' In that respect, he's always 'selling' his movie, instead of letting us sit back and discover it."
Newsweek's David Ansen said his review will be "positive with some reservations." People's Peter Travers noted, "I'm afraid I'll be leaning toward the con." In particular, he was put off by "that constant swelling sound track by John Williams that seems to drive you nuts in every scene."