Possibly the most recognizable director in the world, Spielberg is certainly one of the best at making blockbuster movies really entertaining. He almost never goes for straight comedy, but his movies almost always have good laughs. Some of his worse movies have been sequels, suggesting he may have a weakness for resting on his laurels, though being okay with sequels gave us Last Crusade. He’s great at casting, not always finding the best actor, but almost always someone who fits the role. And since most of the roles in his movies don’t require significant character depth, it works. And while he’s not generally groundbreaking with camera techniques, he’s not afraid to take on really difficult projects with epic scope or heavy drama. He’s definitely earned his reputation.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park: Dumb, pointless sequel that does a terrible job of building off the first movie. I don’t know how much of that is on Spielberg vs. Michael Crichton, but I’m pretty sure this movie doesn’t need to exist. Love the scene in the field, though.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: I’m most definitely in the minority here, but in general I’m not a fan of movies that glorify children and make adults mean and/or stupid. Perhaps because of this I didn’t find it as moving as everyone else does. Some amusing scenes.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Somewhat enjoyable in the theater, but upon reflection is just really insulting, going for cheap and easy laughs while poorly developing every character. Spielberg’s inability or unwillingness to take control of this project and let George Lucas call all the shots really killed it. Spielberg liked Frank Darabont’s script. Ford liked Darabont’s script. Spielberg was quoted as saying he wanted no CGI. But Lucas likes David Koepp (who is decent, but also wrote Death Becomes Her) and Lucas likes CGI. In fact, this movie is responsible for the phrase “nuking the fridge”, usurping the similarly meaning “jumping the shark” from over thirty years earlier. It was probably never going to be as good as the hype, especially with the decision to cast Shia Lebouf and Sean Connery bowing out, but we’ll never know how good it could have been had Spielberg had full reins.
Saving Private Ryan: The first half hour is brutal, gutsy filmmaking, which unfortunately activated serious PTSD symptoms for a lot of men who lived through D-Day. For people like me who barely know which end of a gun the bullet comes out, it was refreshing to get a honest depiction of war, even for a little while. The rest of the movie is a drama about Tom Hanks finding this private (Matt Damon) who has lost all his siblings and is being recalled home. It’s fine, but didn’t do much for me, especially with an ending that has Mr. Ryan asking a very poignant question to the audience, but before we can even mull it over, Ryan’s wife answers it for us. Gee, thanks for that.
Catch Me If You Can: Based on a true story, we have Tom Hanks chasing another person, Leonardo DiCaprio, a young man who has made a career out of forging checks and his identity to stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Not terribly gripping, but a lot of fun. DiCaprio is perfect for this role and he nails it.
Minority Report: Tom Cruise works for a futuristic law enforcement agency which has the ability to see murders before they happen, then intervene before the perpetrator has a chance to commit the crime. However, the perp still gets prosecuted as if he committed the crime anyway. This is all fine and dandy until Cruise gets seen murdering someone; of course, he can’t imagine he’d ever do so, and before he gets apprehended, goes on the lam, desperate to clear his name. Engaging premise and a lot of fun. Cruise is capable in the role. I wish it were more than just an action movie.
Jurassic Park: Crichton’s famous book about a dinosaur park gone bad is pretty thrilling with occasional corniness and some plot holes that are easy to ignore considering the ride. Really tense in some parts, and convincing dinosaurs (other than, you know, the non-existent mutant raptors).
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: Gets kind of a bad rap among the original Indy trilogy, though I hear less and less about that since Crystal Skull came out. Completely lacks depth and character development, but it is a prequel that visits Indiana Jones before he began to have feelings, so it’s not entirely unintentional. Casting his then wife as the heroine (Kate Capshaw) was a bad idea, as her sexy to annoying ratio is quite lopsided compared to Karen Allen, though the script is largely to blame for that as well. But the movie is still fun and has many action-packed scenes, which is kind of the point. Jonathan Ke-Quan does a great job as Short Round, and the special effects work is amazing. The final scene on the bridge is a fantastic example of creative film-making without the help of computers.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: While I find the movie’s finale a little bit of a letdown, Richard Dreyfuss is simply masterful as the line worker who encounters a UFO and gets drawn into the wilderness to discover the truth. I haven’t seen this movie in about twenty years and I can still vividly remember those tones.
Jaws: While I found this a bit frightening as a kid thanks to the music and the shark, I find this even more haunting as an adult as I have a greater understanding of the isolation and emotional trauma these men experience. Dreyfuss is great again, as is Roy Scheider, but the knockout performance comes from Robert Shaw, who is probably scarier than the shark they’re hunting.
Lincoln: A truly epic look into Lincoln the man and his motivations to end slavery, only briefly touching on the more famous historic events such as Gettysburg and his assassination. Daniel Day-Lewis is exceptional as Lincoln, and I found myself laughing way more than I thought I would. Watches more like a good history lesson than a good movie, but it’s a really good history lesson.
Schindler’s List: Based on the life of Oskar Schindler who, while working for the Nazis, secretly rescued a bunch of Jews. One of the most emotionally powerful things I’ve ever seen, which is marred only by a completely fabricated Hollywood feel-good speech by Schindler at the end. Shot entirely in black and white and it works. Superb cast. Ralph Feinnes really stands out as one of the bad guys, and Ben Kingsley and Liam Neeson are great as well. Excellent touch at the end to have people who were personally rescued by Schindler honoring him at his grave.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: A bit disjointed at times, feeling like they had a bunch of great ideas for scenes and just glued them together. But they work on their individual merits, despite how preposterous most of them are (an underground tomb in Venice!) The camerawork is really excellent, providing (along with John Williams) the thrills an adventure needs. But what really helps this movie is Sean Connery, who plays Indy’s father perfectly, giving significantly more depth to Indy’s character. The opening with River Phoenix as young Indy is unnecessary, but it’s fun enough that it was worth keeping in.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The perfect adventure movie for those who like anti-heroes. A simple, coherent plot that quickly assigns good guys and bad guys, but gives the bad guys motivations other than just being bad, and the good guys motivations other than being good. Karen Allen is a perfect love interest for Indy, and John Rhys-Davies is wonderful as his convenient Middle Eastern friend. The only significant fault I can find in this movie (and it applies to Last Crusade as well), is that Indy fails at overcoming the bad guy both times and can only idly stand and watch as their arrogance gets themselves killed. Talk about anti-climactic. But more than making up for it is the duel between Indy and the swordsman, which was Ford’s idea as he had dysentery and couldn’t engage in an elaborate fight scene. A lot of brilliance comes accidentally; Spielberg had the insight to see it when it fell in his lap.
Other Steven Spielberg Movies You May Have Seen
War of the Worlds
A.I. Artificial Intelligence
The Adventures of Tintin
Empire of the Sun
The Color Purple
The Twilight Zone: The Movie
The Sugarland Express
2 thoughts on “Steven Spielberg”
I pretty much agree with all of your Spielberg ratings. As far as ET goes, that film totally turned me against Drew Barrymore as an actress, and I haven’t liked her in anything since.
I’m with you pretty closely on this list, outside of a weird swipe at Shia LeBoeuf, a good actor who does a lot of stupid movies. Jaws is another one that screenwriters pick apart relentlessly because it’s absolutely perfect. Ditto on the isolation. That’s so much scarier.
I wish Spielberg could resist the urge to do manipulative endings. Tacking these on does nothing for him.
Let’s make a deal: you see Munich and I’ll see Lincoln. Yes, it’s unfair of me to ask for you to watch Eric Bana while I get Daniel Day-Lewis, but Bana’s issues are minimized as his character is asked to display very little emotion. The script is strong and the tension is through the roof.