Spielberg's early short following hippies hitching across the desert

Genre: Drama

Length: 25:32

Free To View

3 out of 5 stars

Producer/s : Dennis Hoffman,

Director/s : Stephen Spielberg, 

Writer/s : Stephen Spielberg, 

Actor/s : Richard Levin, Pamela McMyler


Things to come

Amblin’ was by no means Stephen Spielberg’s first short (he did that aged 11). But it was the film that got him his job directing TV drama at Universal, and it must have been important to him, as he named his company, Amblin Entertainment, after it.

It’s a purely visual piece, with mature camerawork and nice effects, all to a plinkety west coast soundtrack by a band managed by the producer. In fact it could be seen as an extended music video, for the story is pretty slight. A studenty-hippie kid hitches across the bleached desert, a girl joins him from out of nowhere, they spit olive stones at the highway’s centre-line, they share a joint and sleep together.

The only passing bit of drama comes when they get a ride with similar types in a VW microbus, and he struggles to stop them opening his guitar case. When they reach the ocean and he frolics in the surf, she opens the case and we discover his secret. She smiles a wistful smile and walks away alone.

Of course you’re going to look for signs of things to come. The boy’s paperback hints at Spielberg’s interest in aliens and A.I. A car swerves at them, forcing them to leap off the road: is this Duel? From here they find their tunnel, and it’s fun to see Elliott and ET flying across the moon, Amblin’s logo, in their silhouettes against the disk of light a the tunnel mouth.

It’s charming enough, but given Spielberg’s mastery of storytelling, not much happens. When the kid goes into the sea, you can’t help hoping a shark might show up. And that popping sound effect as they spit olive stones is frankly embarrassing. At 22, Speilberg was still human.