Shawn Levy Brought Some Spielberg Spice To The Adam Project

Netflix has promised an impressively star-studded original film slate for 2022, and this week, the streamer is delivering on its promise. Its first major movie of the season is "The Adam Project," a sci-fi adventure flick that has all the trappings of a theatrical blockbuster, albeit one you can watch from home. The movie follows a time-traveler named Adam (Ryan Reynolds) who teams up with his pre-teen past self (newcomer Walker Scobell) to save the future by making sure time travel was never invented.

"The Adam Project" is directed by Shawn Levy, the director of "Stranger Things" and "Free Guy," so it's no surprise the movie has a bit of a Spielbergian sheen to it. "Stranger Things" has famously paid homage to some of Steven Spielberg's greatest hits, chief among them "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial." Even when he's not directly referencing Spielberg, Levy's work tends to invoke the same sense of innocent wonder and sci-fi creativity the filmmaker is known for. It makes sense, then, that Spielberg was a direct influence on the way Levy constructs his films, including "The Adam Project."

Advice from the man himself

In an interview with Collider, Levy recalls some advice he got from the famed filmmaker when the two worked together on "Reel Steel" years ago. The "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" director was a producer on that 2011 film, and apparently gave Levy some insight about making a movie look just right. Levy recalled:

I remember one of the conversations I had with him, I said, "There's an infinite number of shots at every given moment. How do you know the right angle?" And he said to me, "The way you picture it, that makes it right. The way you picture it, that's the right one."

This is wise advice that seems like it could be helpful for any filmmaker to keep in mind, not just one whose work emulates Spielberg's. Essentially, the director seems to be telling Levy to trust his own vision of a shot and direct from that place of self-confidence. Levy tells Collider that his job as a filmmaker is to helm the tone of a movie, and acknowledges that Spielberg's take has become a part of his basic toolbox: "That's the only skill I have is the longer I do this job, trusting that, trusting that instinct."

It's in the tradition of classic Spielberg adventures

The result, in the case of "The Adam Project," is a movie that Levy describes as "an old-school blend of spectacle, warmth, humor, and aspirational wish fulfillment." Sounds familiar! "The Adam Project" capitalizes on an '80s-tinged pop cultural sweet spot that Levy himself helped popularize in 2016 with "Stranger Things," and that was propelled forward by the successful adaptation of Stephen King's "IT" the next year. Reynolds describes the plot of "The Adam Project" to The Hollywood Reporter in a way that evokes both Spielberg and King while mentioning neither. He explains that the film exists within the tradition of stories where "something amazing or even supernatural happens to a kid but he's home by dinner, and his parents have no clue."

Admittedly, if you think too hard about it, the Spielberg-Levy chain of influence can feel like a pop cultural ouroboros — a big-budget nostalgia-fest that keeps feeding into the next big-budget nostalgia-fest. But it's nearly impossible to dismiss Levy as a mere imitator when his best works are thoroughly entertaining on their own, and when he's earned the approval of the famed director himself. "The Adam Project," Netflix's first popcorn movie of 2022, certainly doesn't shy away from the comparisons, even featuring a critic's pull quote with a Spielberg comparison in its trailer. Does the high praise hold up? You can decide for yourself: "The Adam Project" is now streaming on Netflix.