Near the end of Steven Spielberg's new film The Terminal—an ambitious, whimsical and sentimental movie similar in tone and gloss to 2001's Catch Me If You Can—one of the characters proves to be quite a juggler. It's a delightful moment, primarily because we know we aren't watching a special effect. That guy's really juggling those hoops and spinning those plates! Likewise, Spielberg's film is a juggling act that keeps the audience enthralled with small wonders and dramatic crescendos, even though he drops several of the hoops he's tossed, and some of the ideas spin out of control and crash to the floor in a cacophony of Hollywood clichés.
The film plays out in a New York airport, which becomes the most exciting movie set Spielberg's ever served up—a masterfully realized terminal constructed by production designer Alex McDowell. It's a wonderland custom-made for master cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, providing him with a spectacular array of textures, details, and kaleidoscopic light. Packed with convincing crowds of extras, it's a bustling microcosm of American life: capitalism, consumer anxiety, assaults of advertising, information overload, pagers, fast food, post-9/11 tension, and Frappucinos. Kiminski's cameras acrobatically avoid the stampeding tourists, travelers, employees, security officials, and immigrants that clamber over each other in pursuit of tickets, souvenirs, information, sex, alcohol, a job … the works.
Spielberg drops Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) into the middle of this aquarium, a foreigner coming to New York on a secret mission—and then imprisons him there. In a scene of panic-inducing revelation, Navorski learns from the airport televisions that his (fictional) home ...1