Films directed by
Steven Spielberg

Lincoln

Abolishing slavery by constitutional provisions settles the fate for all coming time. Not only of the millions now in bondage, but of unborn millions to come.

Daniel Day Lewis has received so much attention for his incomparable performance as Abraham Lincoln that we have somewhat ignored the other master stroke of this film. Rather than try to forge a sweeping biography of 16th president, something better suited to a television miniseries, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner have chosen to focus on one critical interval late in his presidency, to show the full weight of his political genius brought to bear on the most critical issue of that presidency.

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A.I. Artificial Intelligence

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In some ways this movie is the cinematic equivalent of artificial insemination using a dead man’s swimmers. A.I. had been on Stanley Kubrick’s back, front, and middle burners at various times since the early seventies. For a while, it looked like it wouldn’t see the light of day until development hell froze over and, when Kubrick kicked it after completing Eyes Wide Shut, it seemed inevitable that A.I. would forever remain as Kubrick’s great “lost” project.

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Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Theatrical and director’s cut:
1980 Special Edition:

What was it in the water in 1977 that directors of classic sci-fi movies couldn’t leave well enough alone? Long before George Lucas had turned the words “Han Shot First” into a fanboy battle cry, Steven Spielberg had already done a major facelift on his landmark UFO film. When Close Encounters was in production, Spielberg was aiming for a summer, 1978, release. Columbia Pictures, on the verge of bankruptcy, forced him to finish the movie for the fall of 1977, leaving unfilmed several of what he thought were key scenes.

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Twilight Zone: The Movie

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Back when the Twilight Zone movie was made, the concept of turning TV shows into movies was still in its infancy. In 1983, you had two Star Trek movies and that Get Smart Nude Bomb monstrosity, so this attempt to bring Rod Serling’s classic anthology series to the big screen was something of a novelty.

Unfortunately, any novelty value became permanently irrelevant on July 23, 1982, when actor Vic Morrow and two Vietnamese children were killed as an ill-advised helicopter stunt went tragically wrong. Even if John Landis’ segment had been the Citizen Kane of television-to-film adaptations, it would not have been worth the cost in human lives.

Sadly, none of the four segments or the overlong, unfunny introduction even came close to that standard.

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Jaws

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I'm not going to waste my time arguing with a man who’s lining up to be a hot lunch.

Many of you might not be old enough to recall but Jaws effectively invented the concept of the summer movie as we know it today. Two years before Star Wars, it was the first film to really demonstrate the power of all those teenagers, recently freed from school, to generate an ass-load of money at the box office.

Of course, this was also before the modern marketing machine was fully geared up, so in order for a movie to become a mega-blockbuster, it depended on a lot of word-of-mouth to get people’s butts into the seats. In those days, it still required that the film not suck. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

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Saving Private Ryan

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Saving Private Ryan is almost two movies in one. The first is a short but intense 30-minute piece about the Omaha Beach landings while the second is a more traditional “unit” picture running about two-and-a-half hours. Only the presence of the same actors in both ties the two parts together. Each could probably stand separately but folded into the same film, the first part helps give the second, longer narrative layers of meaning and emotional weight that it wouldn’t otherwise carry.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark

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As a standalone movie, judged apart from its lesser sequels, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a pure, unfiltered dose of joyful escapism. Rarely has the medium of film been so successfully used for the purpose of pure entertainment. Free from director Steven Spielberg’s tendency for suburban navel-gazing, cute kids and distant parents, as well as producer George Lucas’s later bloated mythic pretensions, Raiders tosses overboard every piece of narrative flab as the story hums along like a well-tuned V-8 engine.

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Schindler’s List

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I first saw Schindler’s List in the theater a few months into its initial run and just days before its sweep at the Oscars. When it was over, I witnessed something I’d not seen much in years of movie going. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, the audience filed out in an almost reverent silence, like mourners leaving a state funeral. Clearly, the film had the same impact on everyone else in the theater that it had on me.

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War of the Worlds

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Stephen Spielberg‘s career seems to have gone in three different directions lately. There are the serious, mature films that began with Schindler’s List and continued with Amistad, Saving Private Ryan and this year’s Munich. On the flipside are the lightweight comedies that always seem to star Tom Hanks, like Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal. Somewhere in the middle are the edgier science-fiction films like A.I., Minority Report and now his take on H. G. WellsThe War of the Worlds.

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Jurassic Park

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With computer generated special effects in movies about as common as dirt these days, it’s hard to imagine that it’s only been a little over a decade since CGI was the latest novelty. After early pioneering work in James Cameron‘s The Abyss and Terminator 2, CGI was ready for the big time. Jurassic Park was the first film to use computers as a major component of its special effects and to realistically simulate living creatures.

What’s sad to report is that after more than a decade, even with the massive improvements in computer power since 1993, there have been only a handful of movies to use CGI as effectively as Jurassic Park did. Almost anyone with a modicum of talent, a computer and a few thousand dollars in software to produce film quality CGI effects. However, the ability to create life-like critters like Jurassic Park‘s dinosaurs requires an eye for movement, form and mass that takes more than the latest software to develop. I think because the effects technicians behind Jurassic Park knew they were breaking new ground in technology, they were rigorously careful that their creations did not look fake.

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