Bale likes his dual roles as schoolboy and film star. His favorite scene: air raid that was `good fun'
There's no more popular moviemaker in the world than Steven Spielberg, and the box office has proved it: Of the top 20 films ever made, he's directed or produced seven of them. Young audiences have played a large part in this success. Many of Mr. Spielberg's films, from ``E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial'' to ``The Color Purple,'' have children in key roles. And even when his pictures have mostly grown-up characters, they're obviously young at heart, like ``Jaws'' and the Indiana Jones movies.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
``Empire of the Sun,'' his latest film, puts a young person right in the middle of the action. The hero is a boy named Jim, who lives in a British community in China - until World War II breaks out, his family splits apart, and he's forced to survive on his own.
Jim is played by 13-year-old actor Christian Bale, who could become a major star now that he's scored a hit in such a major film. He had worked on stage and television before Spielberg found him. But starring in ``Empire of the Sun'' meant a new kind of work and a lot of world traveling to reach the film's different locations. I asked Mr. Bale what places he liked best - and least.
``We spent three weeks in Shanghai,'' he reported. ``Then four weeks in England and seven weeks in Spain. I liked Spain best. Our hotel was right on the beach, and the weather was really nice for filming. But I didn't like China that much. It wasn't unenjoyable, and the first few days were interesting. But it's like going back 100 years.''
During the movie, Bale's character grows from a nice but spoiled 11-year-old to a sturdy, self-reliant teen-ager of 14. He does his maturing under hard circumstances, since he's separated from his parents and keeps having adventures thrust upon him.
Bale had to play all kinds of scenes, from a big costume party to a miserable quest for shelter and food. Which one did he most enjoy filming? He chooses an air-raid sequence.
``That was great, because I had them flying right over my head, about 20 feet above.'' He grins. ``It was really nerve-wracking to begin, because I hadn't realized I'd be that close to them. Often, you wouldn't know I'm there - I'm in the background on this balcony, shouting my head off and jumping up and down. But it was really good fun, with all the explosions.''
``Empire of the Sun'' is based on a novel by J.G. Ballard, who actually lived through experiences like the ones Jim faces in the movie. Filming the story on a characteristically large scale, Spielberg did four months of shooting in Europe and in China, where no major Hollywood production had been photographed before. The cast includes American star John Malkovich and about 15,000 extras.
Although some critics (including this one) have argued with Spielberg's watered-down adaptation of Ballard's fierce novel, ``Empire of the Sun'' is certainly a big and impressive movie, and the filmmakers have seasoned it with authentic details. Bale has been widely praised for realistically capturing the changes in Jim's life as they evolve over three years. Spielberg's talent scouts discovered him during a nine-month search that covered New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, as well as England, where Bale lives in the city of Bournemouth.