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 Updated Tuesday, Jun 22, 2004
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Posted on Fri, Jun. 18, 2004



Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' new airport movie is about nuts, and not just because flight attendants are known to pass out nuts.

Opening today, The Terminal stars Hanks as Viktor, an Eastern European whose country goes belly-up while he's at a New York airport. Stuck with an invalid visa, he's stranded in the airport indefinitely, clutching a battered Planter's nuts can he won't let out of his sight. Everybody in the movie asks Viktor about his can of peanuts, which is strange, because it appears to be a can of cashews, not peanuts.

"Well, I think all nuts, as far as I know, are called peanuts," Spielberg says. "Planter's peanuts are very famous. They're all over the world, and I remember there used to be a huge Planter's peanut statue in Philadelphia, with arms that moved up and down to attract your attention."

A. That's bogus (technically, peanuts aren't even nuts). And, B. It doesn't really answer the whole nut question, does it?

"The truth is you've actually got to the bottom of one of the key things in the movie," Hanks says. "If you pay attention to the movie, you'll notice that Viktor never says it's a can of peanuts. He just says it's jazz."

Eventually, we learn what he means. Without giving too much away about the warmly old-fashioned comedy-drama, the word from Hanks and Spielberg is: Pay attention to the nuts.

Nuts aren't the only important detail in The Terminal, shot at a gigantic airport terminal set so crammed with visual information that Spielberg says, "My goal was to shoot every inch of it, so I never felt like I had wasted a single bit of it. I made it my life's work to find suitable places to shoot each scene and show every bit of what (production designer) Alex McDowell created."

Spielberg finds beauty even in a saltine cracker. For a time, Viktor, penniless and snackless, is forced to subsist on condiments, and when his ketchup squirts through the holes in his saltine sandwiches, it has the graphic, elemental look of a pop-art painting. That's no accident: Hanks says there were people on set whose job was to make sure the saltine holes were large enough to make the effect work.

"The movie has a lot to do with Viktor's tenacity in creating something out of nothing," says Spielberg. "Turning saltines into a Dagwood sandwich is the microscopic example. And a larger one is him creating friendships from nothing, from being a lonely, isolated person who creates this international community from all these people in the airport, all these people who are stuck in one place while the rest of the world moves in and out of it."

Viktor bonds with airport employees and frequent flier Catherine Zeta-Jones. It's gradually revealed that the airport is a jumping-off place from which the characters figure out the next stages of their lives.

"I always think of international terminals as a kind of Ellis Island in microcosm," Spielberg says. "There are new immigrants passing through all the time, and it forces you to embrace -- or, at least, acknowledge -- people from other cultures and countries. It's the only place where the melting pot theory still works."

Hanks says that's why the terminal had to be such a vibrant, wondrous, noisy place: For most foreigners, an airport is the first view of vibrant, wondrous, noisy America. For Viktor, it may be the only view.

"It dawned on me almost immediately that we couldn't leave the airport," says Spielberg, who had to cut from the script a sequence that would have stranded Viktor on a baggage carousel, making the rounds of the airport. "The carousel would have taken him outside the airport. ... We agreed that he could look outside, but he couldn't go outside."

Viktor's America thus remains a place of hope and possibility. Says Spielberg: "There's one scene where Viktor is looking out through the glass wall of the airport, and you see this kind of smile on his face where he's thinking, 'If only I could go out and be a part of this amazing place.'"

Hanks, spielberg get lost in america without stepping outside

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