Spaz

SXSW Film Festival

Title: Spaz (2022)  
Director: Scott Leberecht  
Studio: Wild One Films  

IMDb Plot: Steve 'Spaz' Williams is a pioneer in computer animation. His digital dinosaurs of JURASSIC PARK transformed Hollywood in 1993, but an appetite for anarchy and reckless disregard for authority may have cost him the recognition he deserved.     

Joe Says: Spaz is a warning tale. Spaz is a head-shaker of regret. And Spaz is one helluva documentary. 

There exists a dichotomy within Steve “Spaz” Williams. His nickname alone, “Spaz,” is full of irony, much like the sorely-missed Tom “Tiny” Lister, Jr. Williams stands at six feet, biceps as round as dual-chrome exhaust pipes on a California chopper, and a chin that Bruce Campbell would describe as groovy. Williams loves to party, sculpts with metalwork in his free time, and might be totally responsible for the advancement of computer graphics in Hollywood today.

Scott Leberecht’s biographical documentary, Spaz, introduces Williams to the general public at large. He’s an alcoholic, ‘bacco chewing rebel who never compromised, rarely played by the rules, and one-hundred-percent, absolutely, totally, almost single-handedly brought dinosaurs to life. Spaz is a warning tale. Spaz is a head-shaker of regret. And Spaz is one helluva documentary. 

SXSW Film Festival Spaz movie review

True to his dichotomous nature, Spaz was an animator who happened to also be a computer programer. When James Cameron was shooting The Abyss, he imagined an entirely unique F/X sequence. ILM brought Williams on-board, who along with computer programmer Mark Dippé, brought the water alien to life using computer graphics in a manner never before seen. Following that success, Cameron enlisted the two to go even further, commanding them to give life to the tireless T-1000 automaton in Terminator 2. One would think this level of success would lead to a Hollywood ending. 

One would think.

Spaz gets into Williams’ rebellious nature. There is an internal fight raging beneath his skin that only cheap beer seems to quiet. There is no filter between his brain and tongue. Yes, perhaps creative head of ILM Dennis Muren should have given Williams and Dippé credit while on the award circuit for T-2, but perhaps Williams should have had a proper dialogue with his boss. 

When Spielberg was in pre-production for Jurassic Park, Williams went rogue and, behind the backs of both Muren and stop-motion animator Phil Tippett, modeled a 3-D T.Rex. ILM, you see, was all set to shoot practically. Williams envisioned a digital world. You know what decision Spielberg made. You know the success of Jurassic Park. But for Williams, who refused to play the game, this was the beginning of the end.

Spaz SXSW movie review
Steve “Spaz” Williams

Muren, again, failed to give credit. Williams, again, blatantly smacked back at the rules with an imagination that was too restricted by corporate policy. Leberecht candidly captures Spaz in all his sarcastic glory and its painful consequences. 

Williams was a contender. Williams could have had it all. Now, Williams is a has-been in search of a new mission. Hopefully, Spaz provides Williams a second wind and gives this dinosaur of man the Hollywood coda he deserves.

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