Spielberg, Steven (Vol. 188)
Steven Spielberg 1947-
(Full name Steven Allan Spielberg) American director, novelist, and screenwriter.
The following entry presents an overview of Spielberg's career through 2003. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 20.
Known for the stylistic virtuosity and mainstream appeal of his works, Spielberg is the most commercially successful film director of all time. Throughout his career, Spielberg has evinced a keen ability to craft engaging and entertaining narratives that appeal to both popular and critical audiences. His films have covered a diverse range of genres—literary adaptations, science fiction, and historical dramas, among others—though he is probably best known for his bombastic, special effects driven adventure films, which reflect the sensibilities of the “cinema of the spectacle” school of filmmaking. Spielberg's films have achieved such a level of international popularity that certain aspects of his movies have been permanently entered into the modern cultural vernacular, such as the foreboding violins from Jaws (1975), the landing of the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and the heroic theme music of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Despite some claims that Spielberg lacks depth as a filmmaker, a number of his works examine serious, and often difficult, subject material, including racism, the effects of rampant technological advancements, and the legacy of slavery and the Holocaust. In 2000, when the American Film Institute compiled its list of the top 100 films of all time, five of Spielberg's films—more than any other director—appeared on the list. The films were Schindler's List (1993), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ranking at numbers 9, 25, 48, 60, and 64, respectively.
Spielberg was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 18, 1947. His father, Arnold, was an electrical engineer specializing in the newly-emerging field of computers. Spielberg's family moved frequently during his youth, residing in New Jersey and Arizona before settling in San Jose, California. As a teenager, Spielberg became interested in filmmaking and began recording family events on an eight-millimeter camera. In high school, Spielberg shot dozens of short films—which often emulated his favorite movies—and finished his first full-length film, Firelight, in 1964. When his poor grades kept him out of California's more prestigious film schools, Spielberg attended California State College and studied filmmaking by sneaking onto movie sets. His short film, Amblin' (1968), won awards at the Venice and Atlanta film festivals and attracted the attention of executives at Universal Pictures. Signing a seven-year contract with Universal, Spielberg began directing for television, including several episodes of such series as Night Gallery, Marcus Welby, M.D., Columbo, and The Name of the Game. Spielberg also directed a number of made-for-television movies, including Duel (1971), which received such positive critical attention that the film was eventually released theatrically. Spielberg's first full-length feature film, The Sugarland Express (1974), garnered a lukewarm critical assessment, but his next film, Jaws, became a cultural phenomenon. Jaws broke box-office records, becoming the highest-grossing film ever at the time, and was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The success of Jaws cemented Spielberg's reputation as a skilled filmmaker and allowed him the freedom to develop his own projects. His next film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, was also a commercial success and earned Spielberg an Academy Award nomination for best director. Though Spielberg continued directing, he also became a film producer, forming the production company Amblin Entertainment and producing such films as Gremlins, The Goonies, Back to the Future, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? In 1994 Spielberg teamed with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen to form DreamWorks SKG, an independent studio that produces a variety of films, musical acts, and television programs. Spielberg has also been involved with several charitable organizations, including the Shoah Visual History Foundation for Holocaust survivors. Throughout his career, Spielberg has received numerous awards and accolades for his films, earning a wealth of Academy Award nominations and winning Oscars for best director and best picture for Schindler's List and best director for Saving Private Ryan (1998). He has also won the Irving G. Thalberg Award for his overall body of work from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the National Society of Film Critics and Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for best picture for E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and the National Board of Review, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Society of Film Critics, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA award for best picture for Schindler's List, among others.
Spielberg's first film to be released theatrically was Duel, a television movie that follows a beleaguered motorist as he is relentlessly pursued down a highway by a homicidal truck driver. The Sugarland Express, Spielberg's next film was based on a true story of an escaped convict and his wife who kidnap their child from his foster family, resulting in a police chase across Texas. Though these early films were generally well received, Jaws stands as one of the most significant films in Spielberg's career, establishing a number of recurring traits that the filmmaker would utilize throughout his career. These traits include setting ordinary characters into extraordinary circumstances, the presence of a lurking, off-camera menace, and the director's frequent collaborations with composer John Williams. Set on a popular New England tourist island, Jaws centers around the struggles of a small-town police sheriff, a marine biologist, and a grizzled sea captain to find and kill a predatory great white shark that terrorizes the local inhabitants. Spielberg crafted the screenplay for his next directorial effort, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which chronicles a series of unusual encounters, marking the moments of first contact between human beings and extraterrestrial lifeforms. The film abandons the typically adversarial relationship between mankind and aliens in past films, instead depicting the meeting of the two races as a profoundly spiritual and joyous occasion. Spielberg also composed the novelization of his screenplay for Close Encounters, his only full-length prose work to date. He followed Close Encounters with the farcical World War II comedy 1941 (1979), one of the director's few commercially unsuccessful films. Inspired by the action cliffhanger serial films of the 1930s, Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark became the first in a trilogy of films featuring the swashbuckling archeologist Indiana Jones. Continuing Jones's adventures in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Indiana Jones battles Nazis, witch-doctors, and evil henchmen in his pursuit of legendary lost treasures, such as the Ark of the Covenant, the Sankara Stones from India, and the Holy Grail. Often referred to as one of Spielberg's most personal films, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial features a young boy named Elliott who develops a symbiotic friendship with an alien called “E.T.” who was accidentally abandoned on Earth. Elliott, who feels heavily isolated due to his parents' divorce, tries to help E.T. contact his home planet while they both dodge suspicious government agents who wish to imprison and dissect E.T. The film became an enormous commercial success, surpassing Jaws as the highest-grossing film of the 1970s.
During the mid-1980s, Spielberg began a second phase in his directing career with two notable literary adaptations. In 1985 he directed the film version of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple, which chronicles the life of a poor, African American woman in the rural South in the early years of the twentieth century. Trapped in an abusive marriage, the protagonist, Celie, writes letters to her sister, Nettie, who has travelled abroad. After years of apparently receiving no response from Nettie, Celie learns that her husband has kept Nettie's delivered letters from her and that Nettie is living in Africa with Celie's two children whom she gave up for adoption. In 1987 Spielberg helmed the film adaptation of J. G. Ballard's autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun. The plot centers around a young English boy named Jim who is captured in Shanghai, China, during World War II and is forced to live without his parents in an internment camp for the duration of the war. Both films were considered to be a departure for Spielberg, focusing more on interpersonal relationships and trenchant emotional themes than the director's traditionally more commercial fare. Always (1989)—a remake of the 1943 film A Guy Named Joe—continued Spielberg's emphasis on smaller, more intimate stories. The protagonist, Pete, is a fire-fighting pilot, who dies in a crash, but returns as a ghost to help his former girlfriend, Dorinda, move on and find a new love. Spielberg returned to the “cinema of the spectacle” with Hook (1991), a big-budget adventure based on J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Hook is based on the premise of an aging Peter Pan, who has forgotten how to fly, and is forced to return to NeverNeverland to rescue his children from the villainous Captain Hook.
Spielberg's career reached another important milestone in 1993, both critically and commercially, with the release of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List. Adapted from the novel by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park examines the chaotic effects of genetic engineering and commercialism run rampant. John Hammond, a billionaire entrepreneur, discovers how to clone dinosaurs from their fossilized remains and opens an exotic zoo/amusement park where paying customers can see his creatures. During an early preview of the park, a group of scientists, stakeholders, and Hammond's own grandchildren find themselves pursued by the predatory animals after the park's security network is sabotaged. Jurassic Park became a huge financial success and, like both Jaws and E.T., became the highest-grossing film of its time. Spielberg later filmed a sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, in 1997. Schindler's List, based on a novel by Thomas Keneally, chronicles the true-life actions of Oskar Schindler, a charming though irresponsible German industrialist who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish concentration camp prisoners by employing them at his factory during World War II. Filmed in black and white, Spielberg utilizes spare cinematic effects to explore the horror of the Holocaust and the moral struggles of a man attempting to come to terms with his own conscience. The film was both commercially and critically acclaimed and, according to some film scholars, marks Spielberg's maturation as a filmmaker. In 1997 Spielberg continued to address more serious historical themes in Amistad, recounting the saga of a group of Africans kidnapped and shipped aboard a Spanish slave ship to America in 1839. After a successful shipboard revolt, the Africans gain control of the craft, only to be commandeered by an American naval vessel. A series of judicial hearings and trials ensued—the last of which was argued before the Supreme Court by John Quincy Adams for the defense—until the men were eventually classified as free by the American government and returned to Africa. In Saving Private Ryan Spielberg turned his historical perspective toward the World War II D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The story follows the journey of a squad of American soldiers, who participated in the landing at Omaha Beach, Normandy, as they search for a missing American paratrooper, Private Ryan, whose three brothers were killed in combat. As the sole surviving brother, Ryan will be sent home from combat, yet when the squad locates him, Ryan insists on remaining to fight with his unit to secure a bridge from German forces. Much of the film's critical attention has centered on its first twenty-five minutes, which presents a chillingly accurate depiction of the horrors of the D-Day invasion.
Adapted from a short story by Brian Aldiss, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001) began as a collaboration between Spielberg and noted filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. After Kubrick's death in 1999, Spielberg took over the project and wrote the screenplay himself—his first original screenplay since he co-authored Poltergeist in 1982. Drawing heavily from the story of Pinocchio, A.I. focuses on a robotic boy named David who is programmed to love the woman he believes is his mother. After being rejected and abandoned by his adopted family, David—along with a handsome robot named Gigolo Joe and a mechanical stuffed animal called Teddy—searches for the Blue Fairy, a mythical figure that David believes will grant his wish to become a real boy. Spielberg released two films in 2002—Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can. Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, Minority Report is set in Washington, D.C., in 2054. Murder has become a thing of the past due to a group of three psychics—called “pre-cogs”—who receive visions of homicides before they occur. This information is scanned, interpreted, and relayed to the Pre-Crime Unit, a crime prevention team headed by John Anderton. When the pre-cogs allege that Anderton is going to commit murder in the near future, Anderton must gather evidence to prove his innocence. Catch Me If You Can explores the true-life adventures of Frank Abagnale Jr., a seventeen-year-old con artist who passed more than one million dollars in fraudulent checks while impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor, and an assistant district attorney.
Since the early beginnings of his career, critics have recognized Spielberg's ability to create films that combine old-style, thrilling adventure stories with technical virtuosity, careful craftsmanship, and the latest developments in special effects. Most reviewers have contended that Spielberg has a keen ability to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of the modern era and craft films that appeal to a wide audience base. However, film scholarship on Spielberg's oeuvre has frequently been polarized regarding the commercial/artistic value of Spielberg's films. Several critics have routinely commended Spielberg for his skill at creating technically-sound, crowd-pleasing movies that exhibit a firm reverence for the history of film. Others have countered this assessment, faulting Spielberg for overloading his narratives with visual effects and cloying sentimental messages. Such reviewers have argued that Spielberg tries too hard to make his films accessible to all audiences, thus resulting in bland and aesthetically empty commercial products. During the different phases of his career, Spielberg has attracted a diverse, and occasionally contradictory, range of criticism on his works. While some have dismissed his early films as juvenile and immature, others have lamented his more serious films of the 1990s, calling for a return to the more energetic and entertaining films of his youth. Commentary on Spielberg's more politically-conscious films has also been varied. Though many have praised The Color Purple and Amistad for effectively portraying often ignored elements of African American history, several critics have derided Spielberg, arguing that, as a Caucasian filmmaker, Spielberg is unqualified to present the perspective of minority characters. The critical debate surrounding Schindler's List has also been widely split. Despite widespread public acclaim from reviewers, audiences, and Holocaust survivors, some have argued that the film is overly sentimental and emotionally manipulative. Regardless, Schindler's List has evolved to become a respected part of the contemporary Judaic film canon. Reviewers have also offered diverse opinions on A.I., inspiring significant debate between the merits of Spielberg and Kubrick as filmmakers. Certain commentators have asserted that Spielberg unsuccessfully attempts to emulate Kubrick's cinematic style in A.I., though others have lauded the film for Spielberg's stylistic experimentation and more ambiguous emotional themes. While critics have continued to argue the merits of Spielberg's films, he retains a role as one of the most successful and revered popular filmmakers of the modern era.
Amblin' [director and screenwriter] (short film) 1968
*Duel [director] (television film) 1971
Something Evil [director] (television film) 1972
Savage [director] (television film) 1973
The Sugarland Express [director] (film) 1974
Jaws [director] (film) 1975
Close Encounters of the Third Kind [director and screenwriter] (film) 1977
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: A Novel (novel) 1977
1941 [director] 1979
Raiders of the Lost Ark [director] (film) 1981
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial [director] (film) 1982
Poltergeist [with Mark Victor and Michael Grais] (screenplay) 1982
†Twilight Zone: The Movie [director; with Joe Dante, John Landis, and George Miller] (film) 1983
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [director] (film) 1984
The Color Purple [director] (film) 1985
Empire of the Sun [director] (film) 1987
Always [director] (film) 1989
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [director] (film) 1989
Hook [director] (film) 1991
Jurassic Park [director] (film) 1993
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SOURCE: O'Brien, Tom. “Parsifal at the Bat.” Commonweal 111, no. 12 (15 June 1984): 373-74.
[In the following review, O'Brien describes the action sequences in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as “relentless” and “predictable.”]
The priests of Kali (remember Gunga Din?) are at it again; tearing hearts out, performing human sacrifice, renewing the ancient conspiracy of the original “thugs,” and chanting mantras on their route to worldwide domination. They have stolen this sacred diamond from a poor Himalayan village (grabbing its children to boot), and ace archeologist Indiana Jones (having just narrowly escaped the clutches of a sadistic Shanghai gangster), must penetrate their secret palace, recover the diamond, rescue the kidnapped children, and destroy this focus of evil in the early twentieth-century world. If it wasn't for the services of his faithful “Indian” companion (here a Chinese boy, but you get the idea), Indiana might not make it, especially considering the non-services of a female companion who is dumb blonde enough to high-heel it to the Himalayas. Such is the plot of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; in other words, Raiders of the Lost Ark II, without the frankness of that designation.
If The Natural sacrifices its inner life to stylized exterior, Indiana Jones has no hint of interiority: it's pure...
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SOURCE: Magistrale, Anthony. “Innocence Unrewarded: A Note on E.T. and the Myth of Adolescence.” Science-Fiction Studies 11, no. 2 (July 1984): 223-25.
[In the following essay, Magistrale examines the portrayal of adults in E.T. and discusses the film as an indictment of adult society.]
As I write these words, Steven Spielberg's movie E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial is banned to Scandinavian children under the age of 12. Supported by an influential group of child psychologists, the authorities in Finland, Norway, and Sweden have interpreted the fantasy film as a negative image of adulthood because it portrays a society composed largely of individuals who are the enemies of children.
The adults in Scandinavia should at least be applauded for their insight. For E.T. is a subtle act of subversion, decrying a society, a culture that has lost contact with the sustaining values of human compassion and tolerance. Yet the critique which the film levels at the adult world as perceived from the standpoint of children—and sensitive and personable children at that—is not easily dismissable. Nor will prohibiting children from seeing it do away with the social tensions that alienate them and make them rebellious.
Early in E.T. we learn that the movie's young protagonist, Elliott, is disconsolate over the departure of his father—throughout the...
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SOURCE: Rushing, Janice Hocker. “E.T. as Rhetorical Transcendence.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 71, no. 2 (May 1985): 188-203.
[In the following essay, Rushing characterizes E.T. as “a significant experiment in the rhetoric of mythic transcendence,” noting that the film effectively deconstructs the boundaries between the individual and the community.]
Heaven has become for us the cosmic space of the physicists, and the divine empyrean a fair memory of things that once were. But the heart glows, and a secret unrest gnaws at the roots of our being.
Our time is marked by a yearning for wholeness. While continuing to benefit from the progress wrought by the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution, Western humanity is beginning to ask, “At what price?” For, along with its scientific dreams, the Enlightenment has delivered its share of technological nightmares. The twentieth century has enjoyed labor-saving devices, longer leisure hours, and increased lifespans. It has endured pollution, traffic fatalities, and Hiroshima. While few would actually return, given some fanciful time machine, to a pre-industrial age, many feel an undeniable, if unspoken, sense of fragmentation and separation—from their world, their fellow human beings, and themselves.
Although all cultures...
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Sign of the Times.” New Republic 194, no. 4 (27 January 1986): 24-5.
[In the following review, Kauffmann views The Color Purple as a significant advancement in the portrayal and participation of African Americans in contemporary film.]
The history of black actors in Hollywood films has few surprises: it closely reflects current social attitudes. (By “Hollywood” I mean white-controlled films made anywhere in America; the black film industry, which began making features in 1918, is a quite different subject.) Before sound, black actors were cast as “Toms, coons, mulattoes, mammies, and bucks,” as Donald Bogle says in his book of that title. Leading black roles, when they occurred, were played by white actors in blackface. For example, in 1927 Warner Bros. made a picture about two black comics in World War I. They were called Ham and Eggs: the picture was Ham and Eggs at the Front. The leads were played by two white men blacked up. The script was by Darryl Zanuck, and the female lead was played by Myrna Loy in blackface.
The arrival of sound, which provided the chance to use black music, inevitably altered matters somewhat. As early as 1929, two all-black features were made in Hollywood: Hearts of Dixie, directed by the now-forgotten Paul Sloane, and Hallelujah, directed by the well-remembered King Vidor, who had already...
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SOURCE: Mars-Jones, Adam. “Mauve.” New Statesman 112, no. 2885 (11 July 1986): 27-8.
[In the following review, Mars-Jones discusses the flaws in both the novel The Color Purple and Spielberg's film adaptation, arguing that the two works rely “heavily on the plot-machinery of melodrama.”]
Steven Spielberg's The Color Purple is based ‘upon’ Alice Walker's novel, and the reverence of the preposition is eloquent; but every film of a book is an involuntary act of literary criticism. Faults of structure tend to stand out rather starkly when the words are stripped away.
Spielberg's difficulties with tone, particularly in the early scenes, are revealing. He films the heroine's childbed in the dead of winter with so much realism that the newborn baby steams, then in the same scene shows her father—also the father of her child—snatching the baby from her arms with a brutality that would make even the villains from silent films, for all their hand-rubbing and moustache-twirling, hiss him off the screen.
There is more villainy in store for poor Celie (Whoopi Goldberg). When a man comes to court her sister Nettie, her father gives Celie away instead, unasked and unasking. Nettie stays at home until Pa's sexual harassment becomes intolerable, then pays a visit to Celie in her new home. Celie's husband in turn makes Nettie's life a misery with his...
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SOURCE: Mott, Donald R., and Cheryl McAllister Saunders. “From Television to Feature Films.” In Steven Spielberg, pp. 17-30. Boston, Mass.: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
[In the following essay, Mott and Saunders examine Spielberg's early made-for-television movies, noting that the eventual theatrical releases of Duel and The Sugarland Express set certain thematic precedents for Spielberg's subsequent films.]
Spielberg made his debut as a television director with a segment of Night Gallery, produced by Universal Television. The episode stars Joan Crawford as a wealthy but blind woman who makes her wish for sight come true by blackmailing a famous eye surgeon, played by Barry Sullivan, into performing an experimental operation. The surgeon is reluctant about the surgery because the results are only temporary. The premise of the show is that the woman will do anything for even a few hours of sight. After the operation, when Crawford removes the bandages at the appointed time (at night, when she is alone), an electrical blackout makes it appear that the operation was a failure. The darkness she was used to is still around her, and her temporary eyesight fails before the lights come back on. This type of plot twist is typical of the Night Gallery series.
Although Crawford and Sullivan were famous actors, by all accounts, Spielberg, only twenty-two, was undaunted...
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SOURCE: Mott, Donald R., and Cheryl McAllister Saunders. “I'm Going to Make You a Star.” In Steven Spielberg, pp. 110-28. Boston, Mass.: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
[In the following essay, Mott and Saunders explore the inspirations behind E.T. and comment on the film's critical reception and suspected religious symbolism.]
I love you and want you to come to my house on Christmas Day and spend the night with me in case I get scared. E.T. I love you.
Letters to E.T., 1983
Spielberg, with the help of special effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi and hundreds of artists and technicians, decided literally to make a star for his next film, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Described by Paul Sammon as “a squat, wrinkled, mud-colored beastie with a perpetual chest cold,” E.T. was the unlikely popular and media sensation of 1982.1 This ugly, but endearing electronic-mechanical alien graced everything from the cover of Rolling Stone (he was bumped from the covers of other major national magazines only by the Falklands War) to bedsheets (carefully licensed, of course, for marketing by Spielberg's business and legal branches)....
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SOURCE: O'Brien, Tom. “Go East, Young Man.” Commonweal 115, no. 1 (15 January 1988): 20-1.
[In the following review, O'Brien notes Spielberg's tendency toward childishness and sentimentality in Empire of the Sun.]
Steven Spielberg, who directed and co-produced Empire of the Sun, doesn't want to grow up. In some artists, this refusal can be a fruitful source of protest against time, or, if handled ironically, bittersweet humor. Any obsession can be fruitful; look how wittily Hitchcock handled his with blondes. A director can return to the same theme, or change subjects and deal with a similar theme (as Spielberg has done here with growing up), and still mature artistically. Tone is all.
Empire feels like two films: a stirring, even scary epic spliced with a stagy, unconscious self-glorification. English child actor Christian Bale, as the son of a British diplomat in Shanghai, almost saves the movie with his portrayal of grace and near-madness under the enormous pressures of war, separation from his parents, near-starvation, and the knockabout world of an internment camp. But he is constantly undercut by a tendency toward mawkish, heavy-handed gestures by the director. Empire is a curious case of arrested development: Spielberg wants to depict maturity but is too close to the childish.
Several scenes especially reveal Spielberg's problem, because...
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SOURCE: Adair, Gilbert. “E.T. and a Half.” Sight and Sound 57, no. 2 (spring 1988): 138-39.
[In the following review, Adair comments on Spielberg's “cosmic” and supernatural sensibility in Empire of the Sun.]
Staying with acquaintances in Paris a few years ago, I fell into conversation with their son, an intelligent little boy of seven and a half, about the current movies he had most enjoyed. The titles he cited were, in the main, dishearteningly predictable: the Star Wars and Star Trek chronicles, Battlestar Galactica and so on. Urged by me to broaden—or rather to curb—his cinematic horizons, he mentioned at last a film that had been doing sellout business in the city, Jamie Uys' South African farce of Coca-colonisation The Gods Must Be Crazy. ‘And where does that film take place?’ I enquired, all innocence. Came the mildly terrifying response: ‘On earth.’
Yet, were I to be asked where Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun (Warner Bros) takes place, I would probably offer the same reply, rather than the more precise but also more confining ‘in Japanese-occupied China during the Second World War’.
The difference is that whereas, for my little film buff chum, the phrase clearly reflected his belief in the cinema as a magically untrammelled medium for which his native planet was only one, and perhaps not the most...
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “The Trail of the Grail.” New Republic 200, no. 25 (19 June 1989): 28-30.
[In the following review, Kauffmann offers a positive assessment of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, arguing that the majority of Spielberg's films function as “prepubescent male” fantasies.]
Reviewing an Indiana Jones film is almost like reviewing a tornado or a flood. It comes on less like a construct than like a force of nature—human nature, in this case, which seems to will the film onto the screen independently of those who made it.
This is obviously a tribute to the people who originated IJ and who in a sense have served as guides for audience impulse. Two others, Menno Meyjes and Jeffrey Boam, are credited with collaboration on the latest IJ story and with the screenplay, which credit I'm sure they deserve; but clearly this film, like the IJ films before it, attests to the deep audience awareness of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg—chiefly of Spielberg, who directed. (Lucas co-wrote the story and co-produced.)
Oceans of ink, a few drops in this column, have washed over the subject of Spielberg as enactor of daydream, the realizer of those boyhood fantasies that are so jealously preserved by men. Spielberg wonderfully exemplifies the twinning of fantasy life and film, the sense that film exists to provide a public vehicle for private...
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SOURCE: White, Armond. “Keeping up with the Joneses.” Film Comment 25, no. 4 (July-August 1989): 9-11.
[In the following review, White elucidates the political themes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and asserts that the film repudiates the genre conventions of the two earlier Indiana Jones films.]
When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
—a Hollywood curse
Diviners of popular culture who once celebrated Steven Spielberg for his ingenious extension of the Hollywood film tradition (“A new generation's Howard Hawks”) have deserted him when he needs them most. Spielberg's last three films, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are transitional landmarks in Hollywood's ethos. They attempt to expand the cultural awareness of commercial films, struggling with generic form while improving their political implications. This is nothing less than Hollywood glasnost but reviewers expect aesthetic reform and cultural revision to come from Young Turk independents outside the official institution, or to be neatly differentiated by an acceptable passage of time—i.e. the generations that separate John Ford's sagebrush sentimentality from Sam Peckinpah's anti-Hollywood revisionism.
In The Last Crusade, Spielberg repudiates...
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SOURCE: Greenberg, Harvey R. “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Serial Mythmash.” Tikkun 4, no. 5 (September-October 1989): 78-80.
[In the following essay, Greenberg explores the influence of the Saturday matinee serials of the 1940s on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the Indiana Jones series as whole, particularly noting elements of covert racism and sexism evinced in the films.]
Steven Spielberg desperately wants to recreate ancient legends for enjoyment at the local sixplex. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the third installment of the wildly successful series about the indefatigable archaeologist Indiana Jones, and is Spielberg's latest attempt at Sunset Boulevard mythopoesis. Armed with courage, American know-how, and a bullwhip, Indy once again saves a revered icon of Western culture from despicable foreign plunderers. Spielberg wants Indy to appear as a bigger-than-life reinvention of a matinee serial hero from the forties, acting out a saga with overtones of Homeric, Oedipal, and Arthurian legend. Unfortunately, the director's special-effects wizardry cannot sustain the myth of Indy. Instead, Spielberg has produced a mythmash of exotic scenery, furious chases, and one-dimensional characters.
Like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, The Last Crusade is a “prequel” to Raiders of the Lost Ark. A past has been...
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SOURCE: Moore, Suzanne. “Always a Love Story.” New Statesman and Society 3, no. 94 (30 March 1990): 46-7.
[In the following review, Moore praises Spielberg's cinematic maturity in Always and comments that the film “has been widely represented as Spielberg's first grown-up film.”]
It may not be possible to be too thin or too rich, but is it possible, I wonder, to be too popular? Take Steven Spielberg. He is the most popular filmmaker ever: he has directed half of the ten most successful films of all time. So it's strange that he has never won an Oscar and is not revered in the way that Scorcese or even Woody Allen is. Spielberg's films are still generally thought to be manipulative entertainment rather than anything else. How could something this popular ever be regarded as art, let alone great art?
The cynical dismissal of his work is littered with the well-worn put downs that are always summoned in the presence of truly popular culture: it is banal, sentimental, predictable and shallow, say the critics. But, even the critics have to admit grudgingly that somewhere along the line Spielberg manages to key into something that makes his movies a success from La Paz to Leeds. And though Always, his latest film, has opened to mixed reaction in the States, I think he's done it again.
Always, a love story, has been widely represented as...
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SOURCE: Gordon, Andrew. “Raiders of the Lost Ark: Totem and Taboo.” Extrapolation 32, no. 3 (fall 1991): 256-67.
[In the following essay, Gordon argues that Raiders of the Lost Ark “transcends the old action serials” that acted as its inspiration as evidenced by the film's dense mythological and religious undertones.]
Like George Lucas' Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is a pastiche of and homage to earlier Hollywood movies: Star Wars was inspired in part by the Flash Gordon serials, and Raiders is an attempt to recreate the genre of Saturday matinee adventure serials, the cliffhangers of the 1930's and 1940's.1 Like the serials, it is episodic, with a quest plot which is the framework for a succession of action set pieces and fabulous stunts. Nevertheless, Raiders does not merely imitate the tacky thrills of the old cliffhangers. It tells the story not in short weekly episodes but in a single feature-length film, and makes use of an enormously larger budget and much better, more “realistic” production values, including location shooting, state-of-the-art special effects, wide-screen color, and Dolby stereophonic sound. The action is almost nonstop, barely allowing the audience time to catch its breath before the next cliffhanger, but executive producer George Lucas, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, and director...
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SOURCE: Alleva, Richard. “Fantasies & Gimmicks.” Commonweal 119, no. 2 (31 January 1992): 25-7.
[In the following excerpt, Alleva regards Hook as an inconsistent and “half-baked sequel” to J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan.]
Sir James Barrie conceived of the Never Land as a truly wondrous place where British children of the Edwardian era could remain children, where irresponsibility and spontaneity could be preserved and not perish in the service of king and country or business and family, and where the only empire to be fought for was a “nicely crammed” island with lagoons and tree houses and pirates and Indians. But in Hook, Steven Spielberg's sequel to Peter Pan, the children are Americanized and are precociously hip as most American kids are. One can picture these Lost Boys back in the States: skateboarding, plugging away at video games, cruising shopping malls. But there are no video games in the Never Land, no shopping malls, and though there are a few skateboards, it's not as much fun riding one through forests as it is to hurtle through urban crowds. So, since these American kids on Spielberg's island aren't escaping Latin conjugations and canings in strict public schools but are rather being deprived of MTV, Walkman headphones, and pizza pie, they seem as underprivileged as children stuck in a summer camp long after the summer has ended. They are Lost Boys, indeed,...
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SOURCE: Billson, Anne. “Crocodile Tear-Jerker.” New Statesman and Society 5, no. 197 (10 April 1992): 36.
[In the following review, Billson derides the crass commercialism of Hook, calling the film “a cynical money-spinning exercise full of lacklustre action and meretricious sentiment-by-numbers.”]
Once upon a time there was a little boy called Steven Spielberg who refused to grow up. One day he found himself in charge of the biggest train set in Never Never Land, and so he made some jolly exciting movies about friendly aliens, man-eating sharks, and an archaeologist who zoomed around the world thrashing Nazis. And a beezer time was had by all.
But there were clouds in the blue of Steven's sky. He was a wizard at appealing to everyone's sense of childlike wonder. He had brought pleasure by the bucketful to millions of people. But he had always failed to impress the grown-ups in Never Never Land: the ones who handed out the end-of-term prizes, and the folk who decided which movies were important and meaningful, as opposed to escapist fun for all the family.
So he had a go at making some grown-up movies, such as The Color Purple and Always—films dealing with heavy subjects such as relationships, conflict and bereavement. But Steven had a b-i-g problem, because he had spent his whole life in Never Never, a land not best known...
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SOURCE: Sheehan, Henry. “The Panning of Steven Spielberg: Chapter One of a Critical Cliffhanger.” Film Comment 28, no. 3 (May-June 1992): 54-60.
[In the following essay, Sheehan traces Spielberg's early development as a director, noting Spielberg's dominant thematic concerns in such films as Duel, Jaws, 1941, and The Color Purple.]
The romance between Steven Spielberg and most of the country's film critics officially fell apart this past Christmas, affections irrevocably alienated by Hook. That was the only sour note in the film's release, since it went on to earn unimaginably large heaps of money. And it points to one of the anomalies of Spielberg's career. By far the single most powerful and influential filmmaker in Hollywood, he has always been considered artistically marginal, even by his fans (and certainly by his peers, who annually refuse to give him any awards). Critical praise for Spielberg tends to start out in purely cinematic terms, then leap the rails into more generalized pop-cult appreciation. Enthusiasm for the uplift of Close Encounters of the Third Kind or the kinetic force of Raiders of the Lost Ark gives way to gingerly admissions that, in and of themselves, the films “didn't really amount to much.” Spielberg's vaunted connection with the American temper, it is explained, was the source of his importance. Like those of Elvis and comic books, the...
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SOURCE: Sheehan, Henry. “Spielberg II.” Film Comment 28, no. 4 (July-August 1992): 66-71.
[In the following essay, Sheehan continues his critical appraisal of Spielberg's oeuvre, focusing on his films released after The Color Purple and placing particular emphasis on Hook.]
No critic has ever distinguished more harshly, or more narrowly, between the notions of “entertainment” and “art” than official Hollywood; a mere glance at the Academy Awards nomination lists over the years will confirm that. If you want recognition from Academy voters for something other than longevity or public charity, the best way to get it is to propose a glib cinematic resolution to a fashionable social problem, preferably (and safely) from the recent past—something Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, to name two non-Best Director winners, never did.
The Color Purple, with its tale of a rural black woman victimized by sexism, racism, and poverty, fit the Oscar bill to a tee and was duly rewarded with twelve nominations, one in virtually every major category. Except Best Director. If Steven Spielberg had never understood he was marooned on an intellectual island before, he surely must have realized it then. A keen student of Hollywood's cinematic prescriptions, he had followed the formula for Oscarhood exactly, yet wasn't adjudged worthy to be among the five finalists (Hector Babenco,...
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SOURCE: Romney, Jonathan. “Little Monsters.” New Statesman and Society 6, no. 4143 (16 July 1993): 34-5.
[In the following review, Romney identifies the major thematic concerns of Jurassic Park.]
One of the most memorable images in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park comes when a Tyrannosaurus Rex rears up in triumph and a banner flutters down, reading “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth”. It's a nice self-congratulatory touch, reminding us how far saurian cinema has come in sophistication since the 1969 film of that name. But it also points out that now is the time when the big scaly ones reign supreme. Much of Jurassic Park is charged with messages—not so subliminal either—directly concerning the film's own status as an unvanquishable monster.
It was a foregone conclusion that the huge marketing industry attached to the film would make Jurassic Park and its subject matter a worldwide preoccupation. So it's tempting to suggest that Jurassic Park isn't really about dinosaurs at all. Perhaps the dinosaurs are simply the incarnation of whatever it is that the film's really about: the unthinkable, the sublime, or maybe just the downright bloody huge. It's certainly plausible to see them as the latest manifestation of that transcendental object of awe that keeps appearing in Spielberg films: the shimmering phantoms released at the end of Raiders of...
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SOURCE: Amory, Mark. “Bronto Buster.” Spectator 271, no. 8610 (17 July 1993): 37-8.
[In the following review, Amory provides a mixed assessment of Jurassic Park, concluding that the movie is predictable and exhibits a lack of energy and imagination.]
You haven't read the book, you never wore the tee-shirt, you missed the comic, the ice-cream special and the not-so-cuddly toys, now you can skip the movie. Jurassic Park was designed to make money, it has taken more in one day than any film has ever done before and is heading for the world record, so it is perfect. Also it is on purpose: Spielberg has achieved the film he wanted. Criticism will be about as effective at stopping the advance of this monster as arrows bouncing off a triceratops.
Still, for the record, the structure is odd. Part of Spielberg's great talent is that in his adventure films he gets the tone right: what we are seeing proclaims itself as tosh, but the best, the most confident, the most exhilarating tosh. Films about dinosaurs are certainly tosh and nothing else. Forget scientific discoveries: if we wanted those we could find them in some learned journal. What is required is some probably British actor (Jonathan Pryce would be fine if Kenneth Branagh is away), possibly wearing a beard, to say, ‘By George! I do believe we have cracked it at last.’ Instead of which we get over 40 minutes of...
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SOURCE: Alleva, Richard. “Big Stupid Fun.” Commonweal 120, no. 14 (13 August 1993): 18-20.
[In the following excerpt, Alleva argues that Jurassic Park demonstrates Spielberg's skill as a gifted entertainer but asserts that Spielberg “is losing the human touch” of his earlier films.]
“Big Fun” is what a children's librarian I know promises to the kids who join her summer reading club. Yet what does she give them once they turn in the lists of books they've read? Rubber spiders, plastic bracelets, sea-horse combs, free ice cream, connect-the-dots puzzles, paperback books, and magic shows performed by apprentice prestidigitators. It doesn't matter. The kids read diligently, turn in their lists proudly, and revel in their measly rewards. Conviction carries the day. Because she believes in the importance of the program, so do the kids. And Big Fun is had by one and all.
Of course, these same kids know where Really Big Fun is to be had during the summer. At the movies. This summer the designated megahits are Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park and the John McTiernan-Arnold Schwarzenegger Last Action Hero.
Jurassic Park is all about dinosaurs, and for most kids dinosaurs are the very definition of Big Fun. Spielberg's are wonderful. It's not so much that you take them for real as that you marvel at the deftness of the manufacture. At the...
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SOURCE: Wieseltier, Leon. “Close Encounters of the Nazi Kind.” New Republic 210, no. 4 (24 January 1994): 42.
[In the following review, Wieseltier counters the prevailing positive critical reception of Schindler's List, contending that the film is self-conscious and glib and fails to fully grasp its subject matter.]
One must have a heart of stone to watch Schindler's List without crying; but it is also a part of Steven Spielberg's achievement to have fulfilled every director's dream, which is to make a film that will bring about a collapse of criticism. All the adulation somewhat astonishes me. What is at stake, it begins to seem, is the honor of Hollywood. Here is a big and grim movie about the biggest and grimmest subject, and its final frame says “For Steve Ross.” Gravity has made peace with the grosses. Of course, gravity in Hollywood is a random force: a few years ago the American people were instructed with moral and visual eloquence that Lyndon B. Johnson conspired to murder John F. Kennedy. So we have a little luck to be thankful for. This time the subject was right for the eloquence.
But there is a sense in which the American people was owed this film. For no figure in American culture has worked harder to stupefy it, to stuff it with illusion, to deny the reality of evil, to blur the distinction between fantasy and fact, and to preach the child's view of...
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SOURCE: Bromwich, David. “Schindler's Secret Revolt.” New Leader 77, no. 2 (14 February 1994): 20-1.
[In the following review, Bromwich elucidates the strengths and weaknesses of Schindler's List, noting that the film is “a story of great magnitude that ha[s] the added virtue of being true.”]
In Cracow, near the start of the Second World War, two men are talking. One is a Jewish businessman, the other a wealthy German. Why, asks the Jew, should we take you on as a partner? Look around, says the German. You do good work but you can never sell your wares. What do I offer? You supply the product, I supply—Presentation. At the last word, he frames in his hands an unseen object of indescribable potency.
That is not our first glimpse of Oskar Schindler, the hero of Steven Spielberg's new film [Schindler's List]. In the opening scene, he is dining alone at a fancy club and spots a Wehrmacht officer with a woman at a table nearby. He sends over champagne with his compliments, then joins them as they are joined by a band of officers, and contrives to have his picture taken with the men of power. The shadows of average corruption pass over Schindler at many points; he has a large relish for the smaller vices.
He belongs, in fact, to a type that fascinated a great chronicler of those years, Bertolt Brecht. The character, for Brecht, was...
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SOURCE: Cheyette, Bryan. “The Holocaust in the Picture-House.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4742 (18 February 1994): 18-19.
[In the following review, Cheyette praises the ambition and power of Schindler's List, asserting that, despite its limitations, the film is an “outstanding achievement.”]
It is tempting to think of Steven Spielberg's magnificent but flawed Schindler's List as the triumphant culmination of his more serious films. His adaptation of Thomas Keneally's novel Schindler's Ark (1982, published in America as Schindler's List) is, in these terms, merely the same type of work he made of Alice Walker's The Color Purple and J. G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun, only at a higher level. But it would belittle Schindler's List to regard it in this way. Over more than a decade, Spielberg has thought a great deal about, and taken first-class advice on, the making of this film. He has, moreover, learnt some of the important lessons from the essential memoirs of Auschwitz-Birkenau death-camp (especially those of Primo Levi) and, more audaciously, he has attempted to incorporate the best cinematic account of the Holocaust, Claude Lanzmann's Shoah, into his own rendering. This, then, is much more than just a “serious” Hollywood film.
If Schindler's List is flawed, that is primarily a consequence of relying too...
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SOURCE: Romney, Jonathan. “The Poetry of Horror.” New Statesman and Society 7, no. 4172 (18 February 1994): 33.
[In the following review, Romney commends certain aspects of Schindler's List but asserts that the film is caught between its aspirations to realistically portray the horror of the Holocaust and its “love of elegance.”]
There is a lot that you have to get through before you can even begin to see Schindler's List. First there is the sheer disbelief at the thought that Steven Spielberg, of all directors, has taken on the Holocaust. Then comes the scepticism on reading the Oscar-fuelling adulatory reviews that greeted the film in the US. Once again, before even the first frame of a Spielberg film, you have to contend with its status as phenomenon—it's just that, this time, the stakes are immeasurably higher.
So let me just say that, on many levels, Schindler's List gives ample cause to leave your scepticism at the door: it is a very fine film, a manifestly serious one, a film that may not entirely do justice to its subject (as if such were possible), but certainly honours it. I also found it exceptionally moving, and not just because its subject matter automatically hit the distress button. I came out of the film feeling silenced, as if hushed reverence was the only possible response. But that feeling subsides on reflection. I realised that the way...
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SOURCE: White, Armond. “Toward a Theory of Spielberg History.” Film Comment 30, no. 2 (March 1994): 51-8.
[In the following review, White addresses Schindler's List as a work of historical realism and considers the film to be Spielberg's “most compromised” work.]
“Witnessing,” a term repeated in the most doctrinaire reviews of Schindler's List, actually happens only once in the movie. Steven Spielberg “witnesses” the tribute he has arranged in which survivors of the WWII Holocaust file past the gravesite of Oskar Schindler. It is a perfectly situated affirmation of the gratitude and humanity that a group of people express toward a man who saved their lives. The profound optimism—the goodness—of human experience has always been the subject of Spielberg's greatest art: Close Encounters of the Third Kind ('77), The Color Purple ('85), E.T. ('82)—each an ebullient fantasy. But there's no awareness of this sensibility in the widespread hurrahs for his latest drama.
Typically far from the mark is David Denby's praise of Spielberg's “anger”—imputing a petty vengefulness to the motives of the most benevolent filmmaker of all time. The tendency to turn Spielberg into Moshe Dayan (a Scheherezade into a sabra) suggests other frightening reasons for the movie's praise. With Schindler's List critics...
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SOURCE: Bernstein, Michael André. “The Schindler's List Effect.” American Scholar 63, no. 3 (summer 1994): 429-32.
[In the following review, Bernstein asserts that Schindler's List has affected “the way our culture understands, historically orders, and teaches how the Holocaust should be remembered—and effects like these require a sharp-eyed and unembarrassed resistance.”]
Tact is the discrimination of differences.
—Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia
There is little pleasure in being troubled by what so many have found deeply moving. For several months now, scarcely a day has gone by without a chorus of impassioned voices, recently augmented by New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley and California Governor Pete Wilson, publicly testifying to the profound impression Steven Spielberg's film Schindler's List made on them personally, while insisting on the movie's educational value for our society as a whole. Skepticism about the entire phenomenon of attributing such edifying power to a Hollywood movie must seem simultaneously blinkered and ungenerous: blinkered since it is bound to be condemned as elitist snobbery, and ungenerous since what it hesitates to applaud is so earnestly intended to be both individually uplifting and communally responsible. But the earnestness of the movie's ambition, far...
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SOURCE: Aronstein, Susan. “‘Not Exactly a Knight’: Arthurian Narrative and Recuperative Politics in the Indiana Jones Trilogy.” Cinema Journal 34, no. 4 (summer 1995): 3-30.
[In the following essay, Aronstein argues that the Indiana Jones trilogy uses the traditions of “medieval chivalric romances” to construct a film hero who represents a modern American knight.]
Steven Spielberg and George Lucas's [Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade] culminates as the trilogy's much-belabored hero succeeds in his quest for the Holy Grail. Although Indiana informs the Grail's chivalric guardian that he is “not exactly” a knight, his achievement of the Grail makes him just that—and not just any knight, but the best knight in the world. Indiana Jones's triumph over the Grail Temple, a triumph that, in the words of earlier Grail legends, “brings his adventures to a close,” exposes the generic roots of all three films.1 The tales of Indiana Jones are tales of knighthood, modernizations of medieval chivalric romances in which America stands in for the Arthurian court, the Third World becomes the forest of adventure, and the Nazis or Thuggees function as hostile knights to be defeated in an effort to recuperate and reaffirm America's cultural destiny.
While many critics have persuasively discussed the Indiana Jones films as “Reaganite entertainment,” part of...
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SOURCE: Dole, Carol. “The Return of the Father in Spielberg's The Color Purple.” Literature/Film Quarterly 24, no. 1 (January 1996): 12-15.
[In the following essay, Dole discusses Spielberg's film adaptation of The Color Purple, commenting on the increased role of male dominance in the film.]
When Steven Spielberg set out to film Alice Walker's The Color Purple, he was faced with a problem that confronts most directors who choose to adapt novels into film: length. Walker's tersely written three hundred-page novel, covering fifty years and two continents, contained enough material for a mini-series. Even with numerous American episodes removed and the African section reduced to a fraction of its length in the novel, the film ran more than two and a half hours. Nonetheless, Spielberg chose to add a time-consuming and seemingly unnecessary subplot: the story of Shug's estrangement from, and final reconciliation with, her father. Given the time constraints Spielberg faced, what made this subplot important enough to add to an already daunting body of material? I will argue that this subplot is exemplary of the film's modification of strong ideological elements of the novel, in particular its feminism and its religious heterodoxy.
Such modification might have been expected in any film designed for a mainstream audience. Walker's 1982 novel may have attained the...
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SOURCE: Coe, Jonathan. Review of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, by Steven Spielberg. New Statesman 126, no. 4343 (18 July 1997): 43-4.
[In the following review, Coe criticizes the violent excesses in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, declaring that the film is “among the grossest, not to mention goriest and most sadistic films ever to have been awarded a PG certificate in this country.”]
The Lost World: Jurassic Park—or, to give it its full, even more elegant title, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (TM)—is apparently the highest grossing film of all time; or at least, it was for about a week, until the next highest-grossing-film-of-all-time came along. (Funny how these records keep getting broken. I suspect it has more to do with population increases and rising ticket prices than with Hollywood's ability to make bigger and better films.) Producers are always talking about a film's “gross”, and the word certainly popped into my mind often enough during The Lost World: Jurassic Park: in fact it must be among the grossest, not to mention goriest and most sadistic films ever to have been awarded a PG certificate in this country. There's so much violence and bloody mayhem that it makes Crash look like a mid-1970s edition of Blue Peter. What can James Ferman and friends have been thinking of?
But then the gross-out factor, the audience's...
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SOURCE: Steyn, Mark. “Carry on Killing.” Spectator 279, no. 8816 (19 July 1997): 39-40.
[In the following review, Steyn comments on the frenetic pace of The Lost World: Jurassic Park and states that “Spielberg's films are turning into his dinosaurs: big, brutal, but with no imagination.”]
A couple of months ago, a dog in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, attacked a neighbour's chicken. Under the town's rigorous ‘three strikes, you're dead’ law, he was sentenced to die, prompting a local outcry and mounting pressure on the state's governor to commute the sentence to life imprisonment. At this point, various legal experts weighed in, arguing that, under the state's constitution, the governor's power of clemency extended only to human beings on death row, not to any other species. Tired of having to carry the cost of feeding the inmate during these constitutional arguments, the municipal authorities reversed their decision and gave the dog 48 hours to leave town. If he ever returned to Portsmouth again, he'd be shot on sight. He now lives in a neighbouring community, and his family visits him every weekend.
Other jurisdictions are even tougher—including Britain, at least since Kenneth Baker decided to transform himself into a Lee Kuan Yew for pit-bulls. So what I want to know, after seeing The Lost World, is: who does Steven Spielberg's Tyrannosaurus Rex have for a...
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SOURCE: Cash, William. “Spielberg Slips on the Celluloid Deck.” Spectator 279, no. 8837 (13 December 1997): 12-13.
[In the following review, Cash contrasts Spielberg's treatment of the Holocaust in Schindler's List with his portrayal of slavery in Amistad, contending that Amistad is both an insensitive and patronizing fictionalization of the era of slavery.]
For Steven Spielberg, who once shocked Alice Walker, the black author of The Color Purple, by breezing that Gone with the Wind was his ‘favourite movie of all time’, slavery may seem an odd choice as the subject of his first film for the new Dreamworks studio. But December is the start of the Academy Award season, and Spielberg—recently ranked Hollywood's number one most powerful ‘director-partner-godhead’ by Entertainment Weekly in its annual Power List—is eager for another taste of Oscar's golden chalice, adding to his trophy haul for Schindler's List.
Amistad is a ＄70 million epic about a black slave rebellion aboard a Spanish ship in 1839, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins and Morgan Freeman. But, as an LA court heard earlier this week, Spielberg's Oscar quest this year is facing an embarrassing snag. In a saga that Time is calling ‘Stealberg’, the black author Barbara Chase-Riboud is accusing Spielberg of ＄10 million-worth of brazen ‘literary...
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Of Human Bondage.” New Republic 217, no. 25 (22 December 1997): 24-5.
[In the following review, Kauffmann lauds Amistad as a “solid” and “engrossing” film.]
Uniquely, attractively, Steven Spielberg's career is scored with deep changes of intent. Mostly he has worked in the realm of popular pictures, sweeping the world with success after success by realizing juvenile fantasies with a mature talent. But sometimes he employs that talent on mature subjects. The Color Purple, to some degree, grasped troubling matters in black American society. Schindler's List, to the gratifying surprise of many of us, dramatized monumentally the mystery of good in the midst of the mystery of evil. Now Spielberg presents a film out of nineteenth-century American history that again demonstrates his extraordinary gifts.
Amistad (Dream Works) tells a story so significant that its relative obscurity up to now is hard to understand. (After famine, a feast: an opera called Amistad has just appeared in Chicago.) To compress it: in 1839, on board the Spanish ship Amistad, bound from Havana to a slave port with a cargo of black Africans, the recently captured slaves revolted, led by a man called Cinqué, killed most of the Spanish crew, and ordered the two survivors to return them to Africa. Before very long the Amistad was...
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SOURCE: Rosen, Gary. “Amistad and the Abuse of History.” Commentary 105, no. 2 (February 1998): 46-51.
[In the following essay, Rosen evaluates the veracity of Spielberg's portrayal of race relations and historical events in Amistad.]
“It'll make a helluva story,” Steven Spielberg reportedly said upon first learning of Thomas Keneally's novel, Schindler's List. And then, warily: “Is it true?”
The story of Amistad, Spielberg's latest foray into what he calls “socially conscious” film-making, shares the improbable qualities of its predecessor. Not only is it, like Schindler's List, ready-made for Hollywood—savage injustice with a happy ending—but once again history itself has furnished the necessary license. Just as Oskar Schindler, Nazi industrialist turned humanitarian, really did exist, and really did save a number of Jews from the Holocaust, so, too, 53 captured West Africans really did stage a bloody mutiny aboard a Cuban slave schooner in the summer of 1839; did try to sail home, only to wind up, through the trickery of the surviving Spanish crew, in the waters off Long Island, where they were promptly seized by an American naval ship; and finally, after eighteen months of imprisonment in Connecticut and a protracted legal battle, were indeed declared free, thanks in part to the last-minute intervention of no less a personage than...
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SOURCE: Strick, Philip. Review of Amistad, by Steven Spielberg. Sight and Sound 8, no. 3 (March 1998): 36-8.
[In the following review, Strick notes that Amistad shares certain structural similarities to contemporary crime dramas.]
Cuba, 1839. After being chained in the hold of the Spanish ship La Amistad, 53 African slaves break free, killing most of the crew. Led by Sengbe Pieh, known as Cinque, they demand to be taken back to Africa, but the helmsman steers north instead, up the US coastline. After two months, the Amistad is stopped by an American naval patrol and the Africans are imprisoned at New Haven to stand trial for murder. The ship's owners, its salvagers, and the Spanish throne make separate claims to ‘own’ the slaves.
Taking up the Africans' cause, leading abolitionists Joadson and Tappan employ a young attorney, Roger Baldwin. Struggling to communicate with Cinque, Baldwin finds evidence that the slaves were brought illegally to Havana in the notorious Portuguese slave ship Tecora. As the case becomes a national issue, President Van Buren is nervous that an abolitionist victory would prejudice his re-election prospects among the pro-slavery southern states, and has a new judge appointed. But Baldwin and Joadson have found an interpreter for Cinque, who describes his abduction in Sierra Leone, his imprisonment in the Lomboko slave...
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SOURCE: Jenkins, Russell. “Spielberg's Soldiers.” National Review 50, no. 16 (1 September 1998): 48-9.
[In the following review, Jenkins investigates Spielberg's thematic intentions with Saving Private Ryan, perceiving the film to be “neither anti-war nor pro-war.”]
Steven Spielberg's World War II movie, Saving Private Ryan, has come under fire from conservatives, including John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard and Richard Grenier in the Washington Times. Correctly, Podhoretz and Grenier argue that Spielberg's failure to explain at any point in the film what the war was about can be read as a condemnation of war-making, even in the case of this most just and necessary of wars. It can be read that way. But should it?
When it comes to the history of that war, polls reveal a breathtaking ignorance on the part of the American public. In a recent Roper poll only 57 per cent of respondents knew that the war occurred in the first half of this century, only 30 per cent knew that Eisenhower was in charge of the European theater, and only 27 per cent knew what the term D-Day referred to. That Spielberg neglected to explain any of these things, or many other relevant facts, to an audience raised on MTV and Beverly Hills 90210 has left him open to charges that his film will pervert the average viewer's understanding of the conflict. A viewer who...
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SOURCE: Alleva, Richard. “A Brutal Masterpiece.” Commonweal 125, no. 15 (11 September 1998): 29-30.
[In the following review, Alleva commends Saving Private Ryan as an impressive cinematic accomplishment.]
If you've read anything at all about Saving Private Ryan, you've read about its violence. Yes, it is appalling. But most screen violence nowadays is appalling, and if Steven Spielberg's depiction of the carnage of Omaha Beach and of subsequent battles and skirmishes during the week following D-Day offered nothing more than shock through verisimilitude, there would be little reason to discuss it. After all, do we really need to be told once again that war is hell? Haven't hundreds of movies from The Big Parade to Platoon all told us the same thing by administering large or small doses of fabricated battlefield horror? What could Spielberg do except spend a few million more, ratchet up the special effects, set off a bigger bang?
But there was something more for him to do and he has done it. In the opening sequence of the Normandy landing, from the point of view of the protagonist, Captain John Miller, we see and hear not just the obliteration of hundreds of lives, not just the tearing of flesh and eruption of fluids, the screams of pain and whimpering for mother, the unleashing of sadism by expediency and the abrasion of dignity by squalor, but an...
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SOURCE: Kaufman, Gerald. “War Story.” New Statesman 127, no. 4402 (11 September 1998): 38-40.
[In the following review, Kaufman asserts that Spielberg is one of the most accomplished film directors of all time and compliments the “surpassing technical virtuosity” of Saving Private Ryan.]
Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan is an exceptional film by a great director—a director who, at his finest, can without hyperbole be placed in the pantheon along with the likes of Eisenstein and Renoir. But because Spielberg is probably the most financially successful movie-maker in the history of cinema and because that success has to a considerable extent been based on popcorn entertainments such as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park, his extraordinary technical, visual and imaginative qualities have tended to be played down or taken for granted. His success also arouses jealousy—which is why the Motion Picture Academy cold-shouldered him until Schindler's List forced the Oscars out of their grudging mitts.
The hype has none the less been successful in informing most sentient human beings about Saving Private Ryan's subject: the squad of soldiers sent out to bring back, from the Normandy battlefront in 1944, the last remaining brother whose three siblings have all recently been killed in action. It is widely known, too, that the...
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SOURCE: Shephard, Ben. “The Doughboy's D-Day.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4981 (18 September 1998): 23.
[In the following review, Shephard divides Saving Private Ryan into three separate sections, comparing the realism of the opening invasion scene with Darryl F. Zanuck's The Longest Day.]
Escape to Nowhere, Steven Spielberg's first film, was shot on 8mm in 1960, when he was twelve years old. It was a Second World War action adventure; not surprisingly, for Spielberg grew up with the Hollywood war film—with, to be precise, two kinds of war film. The early ones, like William Wellman's Battleground and Henry King's 12 O'Clock High, drew on first-hand experience to explore soldierly brotherhood, group dynamics under pressure, and the strains of command, with some lingering tang of authenticity. But by the later 1950s the genre was changing. The Hollywood war movie simply became a springboard for action adventures, and the Second World War had to compete with spies and gangsters until, eventually, it was eclipsed by Vietnam. By the late 1970s, the Second World War had ceased to be of interest to popular film-makers.
Why then has Spielberg now returned to it? Partly because his childhood passion still burns; partly because the Second World War has come back into literary fashion, as a generation which fought as very young men, now tells its tale. (Many...
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SOURCE: Caldwell, Christopher. “Spielberg at War.” Commentary 106, no. 4 (October 1998): 48-51.
[In the following review, Caldwell explores the varied critical reaction to Saving Private Ryan, noting that film scholars have been unable to decide if the film offers a positive or negative perspective on World War II.]
There is little disagreement that Steven Spielberg's smash hit, Saving Private Ryan, which opened July 24, is a powerful and richly textured account of war. The story it tells, of a small unit hunting for a lost paratrooper in Nazi-occupied Normandy, has won unstinting praise for its simplicity and evocativeness, and the film's brilliantly realistic depiction of the D-Day invasion of Europe is by general consensus without parallel in movie history. Jay Carr of the Boston Globe called Saving Private Ryan “the war movie to end all war movies.” To Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post, it is “simply the greatest war movie ever made, and one of the great American movies. In one stroke, it makes everything that came before … seem dated and unwatchable.”
Yet Saving Private Ryan has also stirred up a good deal of controversy. On one side are those reviewers, by far the majority, who have applauded it for reviving the classic war film—“classic” in the sense of heroic, patriotic, and refreshingly free of irony—after a...
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SOURCE: Jaehne, Karen. “Saving Private Ryan.” Film Quarterly 53, no. 1 (fall 1999): 39-41.
[In the following review, Jaehne elucidates the theme of communication in Saving Private Ryan.]
In September 1998, Steven Spielberg received the Knight Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany from President Roman Herzog, who expressed Germany's appreciation to the American Jewish director. “Germany thanks you for work that has given us more than you may realize,” said Herzog. The film that made the Germans realize that there were maybe heroes among them would be Schindler's List. Yet at that time, Spielberg's subsequent film was also playing in German cinemas—a film that had as its cornerstone the same verse from the Talmud emblazoned on the screen in Schindler's List: “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”
In making Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg inverted that principle to show an entire group setting out to save a single—and virtually unknown—soldier, someone more remote to them than Schindler's people were to him. Saving Private Ryan focuses on Captain John Miller's (Tom Hanks) leading a special squadron detailed to find and save the last son of Mrs. Ryan, whose other three boys have perished on three different fronts. The carnage they must face is so often blamed on their quest that, by the time...
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SOURCE: Arthur, Paul. “Movie of the Moment: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.” Film Comment 37, no. 4 (July-August 2001): 22-3.
[In the following review, Arthur perceives A.I.: Artificial Intelligence to be an unsuccessful amalgamation of Spielberg's optimism and sentimentality and Stanley Kubrick's pessimism.]
It was certainly not a match made in heaven, nor in any other unearthly realm save perhaps the corporate boardrooms and high-tech workshops of Tinseltown. Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg, together at last. The Prince of Bleak and the Emperor of Ice Cream. Two absolute potentates of cinema ruling kingdoms notoriously disparate in commercial clout, thematic climate (cloudy/sunny), production tempo (slow/fast), and the social stamp of their admiring subjects (elite/hoi polloi). Nonetheless, the eagerly anticipated and—given its eerie creative synergy—aptly titled A.I: Artificial Intelligence marks the culmination of a 20-year friendship conducted mostly by phone and fax. The film was spurred by Kubrick's reported hunch that his endlessly delayed project was finally more suited to Spielberg's sensibility, and by the latter's desire to honor the work of a dead master. Part wish-fulfillment dream and part moving-picture Rorschach test, A.I. has generated enough partisan critical heat to solve the energy crisis in California, if not in Hollywood.
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SOURCE: O'Brien, Geoffrey. “Very Special Effects.” New York Review of Books 48, no. 13 (9 August 2001): 13.
[In the following review, O'Brien offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.]
The persistent theme of Stanley Kubrick's movies is the obsessiveness of the human attempt to control the future—one's own or the world's—and the complicated ways in which that attempt fails. Fixated lovers (Lolita), solitary rogue-adventurers (Barry Lyndon), grandiose novelists (The Shining), nuclear strategists (Dr. Strangelove), military trainers (Full Metal Jacket), all the way down to the picture-perfect couple whose model of domestic joy is elaborately dismantled in Eyes Wide Shut: they are all there to enact some version of The Control Freak Brought under Control, the story of the inventor who invents his own doom, the entrapper who maneuvers himself into someone else's trap.
That the obsessive patterns within his films were mirrored by Kubrick's own slow and perfectionist filmmaking process is no secret. A.I. (or, alternatively, Artificial Intelligence), one of the most elaborately developed of his unrealized projects, had been in the works since the early Eighties; it was announced as his next film after Eyes Wide Shut, but with Kubrick such forecasts frequently went unfulfilled. One of...
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SOURCE: Cooper, Rand Richards. “Pinocchio Redux.” Commonweal 128, no. 14 (17 August 2001): 20-1.
[In the following favorable review, Cooper contends that A.I.: Artificial Intelligence “keeps us nicely off balance, our hearts continually pitted against our heads, Spielbergian images pumped full of Kubrickian ironies.”]
One summer day back in the mid-1970s, a woman I know was hitchhiking on Cape Cod with two friends. The three, all college students, got picked up by a geeky guy in his late twenties who told them he was on a crew making a movie about a shark attack. Actually, he said, he was the director. They asked him how he was doing the shark attack in the movie.
“We have a machine,” he said. “We have a mechanical shark.”
They laughed. It sounded so rinky-dink.
From the start, Steven Spielberg has blurred the boundary between machines and animate beings, and the results, as the whole world knows, have been anything but rinky-dink. His first movie, Duel (made at age twenty-four!), a terse road thriller about a motorist terrorized by a truck driver across the highways of the West, turned the eighteen-wheel rig into a shark of the interstate, a terrestrial proto-Jaws. The eerily cute mannequin of E.T. pushed the Spielbergian theme of benign extraterrestrials bearing enlightenment. And Jurassic Park,...
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SOURCE: Hoberman, J. “The Dreamlife of Androids.” Sight and Sound 11, no. 9 (September 2001): 16-18.
[In the following review, Hoberman explores A.I. as a “curious hybrid” of the cinematic styles of Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick, calling the film Spielberg's first “art film.”]
“Stories are real,” insists David, the enchanted robot child who is the protagonist of Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. David believes that fairytales can come true. Do we? Spielberg the humanist historian is in remission; Steven the regressive mystic has returned, with a vengeance.
An occasionally spectacular, fascinatingly schizoid, frequently ridiculous and never less than heartfelt mishmash of Pinocchio and Oedipus, Stanley Kubrick (who bequeathed Spielberg the project) and Creation of the Humanoids, Frankenstein and ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’, A.I. is less a movie than a seething psychological bonanza. None of the year's Hollywood releases has given US critics more to write about—nor is one likely to. Moreover, given the movie's convoluted provenance and charged subject matter, it's not so much the critic as their inner child who has been responding to Spielberg's provocation.
Opening in the US in late June, A.I. reaped a severely mixed crop of reviews—surely the most varied in its maker's career....
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SOURCE: Steyn, Mark. “Circuit Love.” Spectator 287, no. 9034 (29 September 2001): 48-9.
[In the following review, Steyn comments that Spielberg is too concerned with making an artistic statement in A.I. and derides the director for overindulging in allusions to past films.]
A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is based on a (very) short story from 1969 by Brian Aldiss called “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” about a robot boy who doesn't understand that he's not real. Stanley Kubrick in his mull-a-movie-to-death mode tinkered with it for 15 years and along the way conflated it with Pinocchio—the story of a boy who wants to become real. Kubrick then passed it over to Steven Spielberg, who conflated it with every other bankable myth going—Hansel, Oz, Sleeping Beauty—and for good measure threw in a double homage to Kubrick and to his own back catalogue.
Everything you need to know about the Kubrickian-Spielbergian inflation is distilled in the change of title, from something quirky and intriguing and specific to the portentous and declarative and general. A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is another Spielberg exercise in B.S.: Big Statement. The film has everything a Big Statement movie ought to have—score by John Williams, voiceover by Ben Kingsley, voice cameo by Robin Williams, an expositionary science lecture by William Hurt that...
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SOURCE: Strick, Philip. Review of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, by Steven Spielberg. Sight and Sound 11, no. 10 (October 2001): 38-9.
[In the following review, Strick identifies parallels between A.I. and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut.]
[In A.I., t]he Earth's melting ice-caps have drowned countless cities, but population control has ensured the US is still an island of prosperity. Professor Hobby of Cybertronics Manufacturing proposes the ultimate robot, a child-like construction which can experience emotions. The prototype, a robot called David, is placed with Cybertronics employee Henry Swinton and his wife Monica, whose own child Martin has been cryogenically frozen until a cure a found for his terminal illness. The experiment is a success, with Monica and David sharing an ecstatic relationship. Monica even gives him Martin's supertoy Teddy, a mini-robot with superior reasoning.
When Martin is cured, David is no longer needed; Martin jealously makes trouble for him. When Monica reads them the story of Pinocchio and the Blue Fairy, David is convinced that he must become a ‘real’ boy in order to keep his mother's love. After an accident in which David nearly drowns Martin, Monica abandons David and Teddy on a distant wasteland where he is soon captured along with a load of discarded robots. He avoids being destroyed as ghoulish entertainment for the crowds...
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SOURCE: Tibbetts, John C. “Robots Redux: A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001).” Literature/Film Quarterly 29, no. 4 (October 2001): 256-61.
[In the following essay, Tibbetts offers a thematic and stylistic overview of A.I, arguing that the influence of director Stanley Kubrick on the film is “everywhere.”]
In the world of the near future, [in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,] the greenhouse effect has melted the ice caps and submerged many coastal cities, including New York. Although natural resources are limited, technology has advanced rapidly to serve the reduced population. In particular, robotic sciences are producing appliances that serve every human need. Machines clean the house, tend the garden, babysit the kids, even provide sexual satisfaction for lonely men and women. Yet, no matter how sophisticated these synthetic creatures are, they do not have feelings. In an attempt to correct this failing, robotics scientist Professor Hobby (William Hurt) of Cybertronics Manufacturing devises “David,” an eight-year old robot, a “mecha,” the first robot that can do something no artificial life form has ever been capable of doing—of experiencing love, and, hence, of being able to speculate, to dream. David comes to Henry and Monica Swinton (Sam Robards and Frances O'Connor), who are facing the seeming loss of their cryogenically...
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SOURCE: Kerr, Philip. “Crime Watch.” New Statesman 15, no. 714 (8 July 2002): 45.
[In the following review, Kerr discusses the implausibility of the plot and the underdeveloped philosophical themes in Minority Report.]
By my reckoning, there were 1,002 people, including Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, involved in making Minority Report, and so I do not criticise this picture lightly. There are good things in it, not least Spielberg's future cityscape—which owes much to Fritz Lang—an intermittently witty script and a delightful cameo from Lois Smith. American audiences seem to like the film, so it might be that I am the kind of person that L Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology, would have described, in his book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, as “picky”.
Recognising that this might be the case, I took an online personality test for the Church of Scientology, of which Tom Cruise is a well-known member, and discovered many undesirable character traits that mark me out as someone most qualified to be a film critic. In my 300-question test, a great deal of attention was paid to finding out if I am ever irritated by children (answer: yes, I have three) and if I had ever noticed myself having muscle twitches or spasms. And I recalled that, sitting through 144 minutes of Minority Report, I'd had quite a few spasms as my mind...
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SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Spielberg's Future.” New Republic 227, no. 4 (22 July 2002): 30-1.
[In the following review, Kauffmann examines the strengths and weaknesses of Minority Report, commenting that, though the film is technically proficient, the script is “thematically slender.”]
Science is frequently the lesser part of science fiction. Contemporary science is the launchpad for extrapolations, but the whole enterprise is usually wrought as a means to comment on society or politics or human nature or human destiny. H. G. Wells said that he wrote The Time Machine as a “fantasy based on the idea of the human species developing about divergent lines,” and when he discussed the novel with Theodore Roosevelt in the White House the president didn't talk about the devices of time travel, he concentrated on the Wellsian concept of future society. Examples proliferate: Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Clarke's Childhood's End, and Pohl-Kornbluth's The Space Merchants are only three more of the numberless instances that have made science fiction less a prediction of science to come than a genre of satire or doom or tantalizing hope.
Here, to support this view, is Minority Report (Dream Works and 20th Century Fox). (What a quaint old-timey sound that company's name is getting.) Steven Spielberg made it—from a screenplay by Scott Frank and...
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SOURCE: Chang, Chris. “Steven Spielberg's Minority Report Is In: Find out How It Will Make You a Better Person.” Film Comment 38, no. 4 (July-August 2002): 44-5.
[In the following review, Chang commends Minority Report as both “physically exhilarating” and intellectually challenging.]
Aristotle, the clearinghouse of logical conundrums, loved to speculate about possible futures. His “sea battle” experiment is a classic: Two navies (A and B) are going to war tomorrow. There can and will be only one winner. Since any statement is either true or false (the law of the excluded middle) and since no statement is both true and false (the law of non-contradiction), the statements “A wins” and “B wins” will necessarily be true and false—or false and true, depending on what happens tomorrow. Here's the rub: Since one of the statements is necessarily true today, it doesn't matter what A or B does: the future has been predetermined by the rules of logic. Freedom of choice has left the battleship. To escape from this state of affairs, we need a little help from professor Norman Swartz, philosophy department, Simon Fraser University: “I cannot change the future—by anything I have done, am doing, or will do—from what is going to be. But I can change the future from what it might have been.” Ah-ha.
Judging by Minority Report, it appears Steven Spielberg...
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SOURCE: O'Brien, Geoffrey. “Prospero on the Run.” New York Review of Books 49, no. 113 (15 August 2002): 21-2.
[In the following review, O'Brien examines the function of technology in Minority Report and places the film within the context of other large-scale futurological melodramas.]
Philip K. Dick's short story “The Minority Report,” which was first published in the magazine Fantastic Universe in 1956, posits a future America in which crime has been virtually abolished through the employment of mentally retarded people—“gibbering, fumbling creatures, with … enlarged heads and wasted bodies”—who possess the wild talent of seeing crimes before they happen. Wired to a network of computers, the “pre-cogs” transmit visions of future events, on the basis of which future criminals are arrested and incarcerated in a vast detention camp.
The story's tricky but oddly perfunctory narrative hook—the director of the Precrime program is himself fingered by the pre-cogs as a future murderer—provides the occasion for a run-through of paradoxes associated with prediction, particularly the notion that knowledge of how things will turn out makes it possible to change the outcome. The “minority report” of the title refers to a dissenting pre-cog's variant vision of the future, proven wrong by the concurrence of two majority reports, a situation which is...
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SOURCE: Engel, Charlene. “Language and the Music of the Spheres: Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” In The Films of Steven Spielberg: Critical Essays, edited by Charles L. P. Silet, pp. 47-56. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002.
[In the following essay, Engel asserts that Close Encounters of the Third Kind is primarily concerned with language in a variety of forms—“verbal, visual, electronic, and musical.”]
From its multilingual opening to its multilingual finale, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is about language: verbal, visual, electronic, and musical—communication and its limitations, language and its possibilities; and it is about the ineffable things which are beyond speech or imaging—things having to do with emotion and yearning, things touching upon the spiritual and the supernatural.
In his article “Politics and Parousia in Close Encounters of the Third Kind” Robert Torry called Steven Spielberg's classic science fiction film of 1977 “the most rhetorically compelling film of the American bicentennial era” (188-96).
America's post-World War II attainment of superpower status encouraged a sense of what Torry called “a divinely willed national purpose” (189), a sense of fitness for great things which had its origins in America's Calvinist past and was not extinguished by the traumas of...
(The entire section is 4348 words.)
SOURCE: Macnab, Geoffrey. Review of Catch Me If You Can, by Steven Spielberg. Sight and Sound 13, no. 2 (February 2003): 39-40.
[In the following review, Macnab maintains that Catch Me If You Can incorporates several of Spielberg's recurring thematic concerns.]
1964-1969. Brought up in the New York suburb of New Rochelle, Frank W. Abagnale Jr is the teenage son of businessman and small-time con artist Frank Sr and beautiful French woman Paula. The bottom falls out of Frank's world when his parents divorce and his father faces severe financial problems due to a dispute with the IRS.
Leaving home for New York City, Frank Jr discovers that by impersonating an airline pilot, he can more easily persuade banks to cash his fraudulent cheques. Hoodwinking the airlines, he flies all over the country, leaving huge debts behind him. Carl Hanratty, a dour FBI agent specialising in fraud, is in pursuit of him. When Hanratty tracks him down in Los Angeles, Frank tricks him by pretending he's a law enforcement officer and escapes.
Frank now decides to reinvent himself as a doctor. Forging his credentials, he finds a senior position at an Atlanta hospital. Here, he becomes attracted to Brenda, an ingenuous young nurse who has been kicked out of her home by her conservative parents for having an abortion. He accompanies her to her home in New Orleans. Her wealthy lawyer...
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SOURCE: Kerr, Philip. “A Land of Lost Content.” New Statesman 132, no. 4623 (3 February 2003): 44.
[In the following review, Kerr offers a positive assessment of Catch Me If You Can, lauding the film as a “wonderfully subtle re-creation of a more innocent time in America.”]
If you were looking for a visual metaphor to explain Steven Spielberg, you couldn't do better than Rosebud, the sled owned by the young Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. On one level, it was a device to pull the story along; and on another, it was symbolic of a lost innocence of the kind that A E Housman was referring to in “A Shropshire Lad”. Rosebud is explicitly evocative of a “land of lost content” and “happy highways where I went and cannot come again”. All of which helps to explain why Spielberg once paid ＄55,000 for the Rosebud used in Welles's movie, and why it now hangs on the wall over the desk where he works.
Unlike Welles, Spielberg has never quite accepted that the happy highways where once he went cannot be revisited; and it has always seemed to me that, for much of his working life, Spielberg has been at pains to re-create that land of lost content—be it the Middle America he knew as a boy growing up in Cincinnati, or the B movies that he watched as a child.
Catch Me If You Can is set in the Sixties and is a wonderfully subtle...
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Bremner, Ian. “Saving Private Ryan.” History Today 48, no. 11 (November 1998): 50-1.
Bremner commends the verisimilitude of the battle scenes in Saving Private Ryan.
Gould, Stephen Jay. “Dinomania.” In The Films of Steven Spielberg: Critical Essays, edited by Charles L. P. Silet, pp. 171-87. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002.
Gould—a noted author and evolutionary biologist—offers a critical assessment of Jurassic Park, noting the film's impact on the world of modern paleontology.
Gourevitch, Philip. “A Dissent on Schindler's List.” Commentary 97, no. 2 (February 1994): 49-52.
Gourevitch discusses the differences between Thomas Keneally's book and Spielberg's film adaptation of Schindler's List, asserting that “Spielberg's supremacy as a visual stylist is deeply undercut by his conventionality as a storyteller.”
Greenland, Colin. “Icons of Omnipotence.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4434 (25 March 1988): 332.
Greenland compliments the clarity and fidelity of Spielberg's cinematic adaptation of Empire of the Sun.
Kemp, Peter. “Theme Park to Scream Park.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4712 (23 July 1993): 18.
Kemp unfavorably compares...
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