I have read a lot of people on this site that don’t believe Spielberg is a very good director. I see he has more than twelve hundred fans so it seems not everyone feels this way, but I was curious to hear some opinions from some people that think he is overrated.
I think he’s a great a director who has made a lot of great movies: Minority Report, Minich, Raider of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Close Encounters is the Third Kind, Jaws, The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. I think you have to be pretty dumb not to realize howuch of an influence Spielberg has had on the film industry. I mean think about how important Jaws is. It completely changed the Hollywood film industry.
I find Spielberg to be a very interesting case, particularly on this site.
He’s certainly one of—if not the —most influential Hollywood filmmakers of the last half century. But while I would generally warn against equating “influential” with “great,” I do think Spielberg should be given his due. His basic sensibility—adventure, fantasy, and uplift—has long since become the Hollywood norm. But I’d like to at least consider Spielberg’s fantasy and uplift not as shallow Hollywood pap, but as a genuine personal statement. In other words, Spielberg, I believe, makes his best movies from the heart. (He’s been able to do what he wants—Steven Soderbergh called him “the most independent filmmaker on the planet”).
For instance, there’s a running theme of family, particularly parent-child relationships, throughout his work (even in Jaws, if you don’t blink). Often, there are single parents or children in need of father figures, and at the end, sometimes a broken family unit comes back together. And while it’s easy to see that as treacle, it took on a different and sadder context for me when I found out his own parents divorced when he was young.
Granted, you’ll never catch me defending some of his latest work, particularly War of the Worlds, The Terminal, and the latest Indiana Jones. But he’s made more than enough genuine classics to earn his place.
I’d be very interested to run him in next year’s Director’s Cup (with a focus on E.T. and Close Encounters) to encourage a discussion of him as an artist with styles, trademarks, and concerns of his own, not just as a Hollywood entertainer.
I’m all about:
Catch Me if You Can
Empire of the Sun
Saving Private Ryan
The Color Purple
As a kid of the early 80s his influence on me is predictable, but the films of his that have legs for me:
Jaws — Perhaps unfortunate that it began the ‘Summer Blockbuster’ phenomenon that Hollywood is still foisting upon us every year, but the film works, and kudos to the independent-minded maverick who made it happen.
That’s pretty much where my kudos end, with one exception—I think Raiders of the Lost Ark is just about the most perfect film in its genre that may ever be made. Just my opinion, but so be it.
I have a soft spot for ET, having been seven when I first saw it, and the same machinations that made me tear up then still work today, though I’m obviously aware of them now.
The rest… I see opportunities missed. Jurassic Park was stripped down to a flea circus with killer effects. A fixation on remaking classics relied on inviting a Cruise into the mix and shunning the core meaning for a happy ending. Parts of Schindler and Ryan are immaculate, but surrounded by so much unwatchable crap that it’s not even worth it.
So that’s my opinion. No more valid than yours, but it’s mine. Do your worst ;)
He can craft a suspenseful and entertaining scene or film but those who are not fans expect a bit more before they call someone great. His children’s movies have a lackadaisical approach to violence and his “mature” works strike me as being shallow, mainly because he still relies on suspense (Schindler’s List, Munich, SPR).
It isn’t just that I think he’s poor as much as that, for me, there are far too many filmmakers whose works are far more rich. To be honest, even if the curve weren’t driving him down, if all my favorite filmmakers ceased to exist and he was the best cinema had to offer, I’d just read more books.
If one of my friends wants to see one of his films I won’t refuse to go but, for my personal enjoyment, I would never seek out any of his films. My need to watch list on my profile only reflects films I have difficulty in seeing, for whatever reason. If I were to list all the films I would like to see it would take way too long. Then, when you add book, graphic novels and performance dvds I am forced to avoid stuff I don’t feel will move me in any way. Spielberg’s slickly produced films don’t rate. In fact, even if through some miracle I made it through all the classics, from Plato to Puccini to Proust to Paul Taylor and Paul Morrissey, and so on, I would then need to read, watch, expllore them again. I’ve seen a lot of Spielberg’s work and as far as I can tell he isn’t even trying to do what I expect from the greatest artists. I know some people say variety is the spice of life but, extending this lame food analogy, spicy junk food is still junk. His work gives me indigestion.
But all snark aside, the films Bret listed above are well done and if you are okay with that then that’s cool for you. While all my favorites are quite diverse, they do share a decidedly adult sensibility. I don’t want to lay out a laundry list of necessary ingredients for what a film must have for me to like it, just look at my favorites list and if you’ve seen some of the films that may give you a fair idea of what great film means to me.
If not, just message me and I’ll tell you. I don’t want to hijack the thread before it’s gotten off the ground. One problem you’ll face with this thread is that Spielberg’s body of work is so vast that the responses, like mine, will be all over the place. Had you narrowed it down to a specific film I could give you a clearer understanding of why I think it’s not so great to me.
thanks very much for the post, very thought provoking
I do agree with you that most of his films come from the heart. He has rarely done a film he doesn’t feel passionately about. Family is the most prominent theme running through his work and he has revisited it over and over, even having ol’ Indiana settle down with Marion in Crystal Skull. He had stepped wrong a few times recently (War of the Worlds, Crystal Skull), but I don’t think he has lost any talent. I would defend The Terminal, and Munich and Minority Report prove he is still able to go for complicated themes. And even his failures are exceptionally well made.
I say he is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time because he simply knows how to use a camera better than just about everybody. For pure storytelling, for emotion, for entertainment, whatever. If you study how he constructs his movies it is truly astonishing how confident he is. I think even without his influence he still has greatness.
House of Leaves:
You are dead on with Raiders. I don’t think a more entertaining movie could be made. Indiana Jones is my favorite action hero of all time.
I do happen to disagree with you on Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg has hardly ever made a film that isn’t watchable. While Ryan does have it’s problems I think it does explore a lot of deep war themes (best line: “We’re not here to do the right thing, We’re here to follow FUCKIN’ ORDERS”). I wouldn’t rank it among his greatest, but it is deserving of considerable attention for the power of its images.
Schindler’s List I find his absolute best work. Liam Neeson’s performance is a shining achievement. I will never forget how he portrays the senselessness of the Holocaust. I’ll admit he simplifies things, but I think that is the only way to possible way portray something like that.
Jurassic Park is just entertainment. The ones I believe are also deserving of real attention are Minority Report, Close Encounters, and Munich.
I understand why you prefer other films. Spielberg is usually an entertainer before he is artist. There are many other filmmakers that make much deeper films than he does. The way I see it is: if you’re going to be completely objective, Spielberg does what he does better than anybody else. It is entirely your choice on what kind of movies you watch, and if he’s not for you then, hey, that’s how it is. But I don’t think Spielberg being an entertainer is at all a bad thing. He does it so well that I believe he elevates it to an artform. Like Hitchcock, he tells a story with a camera so well that anybody looking for a good place to start examining the pure craft of filmmaking would probably want to start with him.
I myself prefer many other, more original filmmakers before him. Like I said though, he’s a master at what he does.
I don’t know why people insist on talking about Spielberg in extremes. He’s neither great nor terrible, he merely had a good run in his day, is a recognizable (nostalgic for many) name, and he’s made a lot of friends in the industry over the years. Jaws was one of the first “blockbuster” films, preceding Star Wars by a couple years I think (ya know, you hear tales of ridiculously long lines of people waiting in line to see Jaws back in the day), Close Encounters was a solid follow-up (and IMO, better), then his masterpiece (IMO) Raiders of the Lost Ark. ET was popular schlock, a precursor to later films such as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan and then there’s the rest of his stuff …
For me, he’s a very skilled tactician that really needs to be reined in more often than not. War of the Worlds was promising, but ultimately lackluster and Minority Report is perhaps the greatest failure to depict a Dickian world in cinematic history.
He’s really a filmmaker that has been talked to DEATH. Do we need yet another discussion where someone merely wants to validate their own appraisal of the man?
There’s so many other filmmakers we can be discussing … just sayin’.
Plus …are there any spielberg films true cinephiles admire
Yes, it’s true Spielberg has been talked about to death. Probably more could come of a discussion about Bergman or Bunuel or any number of others. But I really think Spielberg should be seen as one of the greats. I don’t like that Jaws helped shape the money-hungry industry we have currently in this country, but you have to see it in terms of craft. Although he doesn’t make movies for the artistic crowds, I don’t see that as a bad thing. He should be looked at simply in how well he can MAKE a movie. Take a look at how he uses editing, camera angles, and special effects in just about any of his movies and how he uses them all for the purpose of storytelling. I am really convinced that Minority Report shows a director at the top of his visual form.
Well, then let’s talk about who cut those films Verna Fields on Jaws and Michael Kahn on most everything else. Spielberg has said that Fields was the real master on dealing with cutting around the horrible looking shark, and Kahn’s skill has benefitted Spielberg to the point that he can go shoot something else while Kahn edits.
One the biggest things Spielberg has going for him are the people who are his crew.
Well, I don’t necessarily dislike Jaws and I definitely don’t judge a film based on it’s popularity (either negatively or positively, I simply ignore that factor), AND, I’ll add, that the film scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, but having watched it later with a little better judgment, it’s a very two-dimensional film with only a single objective in mind. Of course, this is what Spielberg wanted and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not what I wanted (heh), if you get my meaning. A film doesn’t have to be “artistic,” it just has to have a vision, individuality, a consideration beyond it’s audience. I don’t think Spielberg is a great storyteller at all. Sure, in his best work (Raiders) he tells an interesting, accessible, entertaining story in a concise, exciting, and continually creative way – but that’s in his best work, not all (or even most of) his work … IMO.
“I am really convinced that Minority Report shows a director at the top of his visual form.”
Well, and that’s the thing. Spielberg is a frustrating filmmaker for me because he’s so proficient technically and yet he gets so caught up in these technical pursuits that the story suffers for it. With Jaws, there was never really a story per se, it was more like an outline, more intent on dwelling on this fear of sharks (which everyone, in their right mind, has). So, I wouldn’t call Jaws a failure at all. I think it’s probably Spielberg’s most fully-realized film next to Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s just a film which doesn’t speak much to me personally. My own preferences are more to blame than Spielberg to be honest.
With Minority Report, he completely misinterprets Dick’s intent behind the story and, on top of it, ends the film in the worst possible (and least Dickian) way – with the typical Spielberg fairy tale ending (he did the same with A.I., but changing the ending wouldn’t save the film – there’s plenty of other things wrong with it). There’s nothing wrong with happy endings, but happy endings rarely occur in a Philip K. Dick story … and besides, Tom Cruise is not the typical Dickian protagonist (neither was Schwartzeneggar, Harrison, or Keanu Reeves, though Weller wasn’t a bad choice). There’s just so much weight behind Dick’s works that a filmmaker really needs to understand where the writer is coming from to transpose that to film. Spielberg wasn’t the first nor was he the last to misinterpret this.
in response to the last two posts:
Spielberg does have good crews going for him, but think that a director still has to be in charge of the final product. The editing has to be to his liking, they have to be his angles, and it has to be his movie. All of the great directors were not great without a lot of help.
And as for his technical prowess I’ve never seen it getting in the way of his stories. When I look at them I see it all at the service of it. His skills enhance the movie. But you are right about the ending for Minority Report. It is a disappointment. I was just able to forgive that and focus on the movie’s strengths.
A few people have alluded to Spielberg’s capacity as a “children’s” director, which I think is the key to his greatness. I’m using the word “children” with no disparity whatsoever. It takes a tremendous talent for an adult filmmaker to tap into the innocence and wonder that kids can so easily access, but become more elusive as we grow older. It you doubt this, consider how many directors attempt this effect and fail. With Jaws (fear), Close Encounters (wonder), Indiana Jones (adventure) and E.T. (friendship), Spielberg is reaching for something as primal as any art house director. That he’s reaching for emotions more easily accessible to children is a great thing. For children, he provides films that don’t talk down to them and open their perspective on what cinema can be to them. For adults, they help us access a part of the human experience we may not spend enough time considering.
It is because Spielberg is a “children’s director” at heart that his adult films have a strange tension to them. Often they fail, but in the case of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, the results were unforgettable. Yes, he occasionally allows melodrama to creep in at inappropriate times, but by focusing on heroes (or, in the case of Oskar Schindler, the closest thing you can find to a hero in that environment), he both focuses on the horrors of war and the possibility of redemption, even amid those horrors. This only works because he’s developed such technical proficiency during his “children’s film” phase, which, though he’d like to think he’s grown out of them remain his masterpieces.
While I maintain that he was one of the great directors, I think he may have finally lost his touch as I haven’t been impressed with any of his newer films since Minority Report.
I like to watch Spielberg movies when they involve a concept I’m interested in. I actually vastly underrated Catch Me If You Can when I first saw it, because I found over time that story would keep playing in my mind and I would think a lot about Frank Abignale Jr, whom Speilberg introduced to me since I did not know about the real guy before seeing the movie.
In which of Spielberg’s concepts would you be interested, Polaris?
On a technical level he’s a master. otherwise I fiind his career markedly uneven.
A.I. — Artificial Intelligence
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Steven Spielberg is evil. He ruined A.I. and put aliens in Indiana Jones.
There have been DOZENS of threads about SS on this Web site. newcomers should be encouraged to conduct a SEARCH using key words (i.e., Spielberg) and just resurrect an existing thread rather than start reinventing the wheel from scratch. For example, the following thread is very similar to this one: mubi.com/topics/8274.
As someone who has published quite a bit about SS’s “oeuvre” I don’t want to repeatedly repeat myself so suffice it to say that most (but not all) of SS’s work has a “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” ideology that I detest (even though in real life he’s supposedly a major Hollywood liberal). I’ve even reproduced my famous frame enlargements from Reagan’s appearance in HONG KONG and Harrison Ford’s costume in RAIDERS.
I also agree with Mike Spence above. I tend to prefer filmmakers who combine thematic depth with stylistic richness, rather than those who can get you to cry or jump out of your seat on cue.
I cite chapter and verse in my writings and on THEAUTEURS.COM many times.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind is one of my favorite movies.
Otherwise, he’s nothing to me. Martin Scorsese> Steven Spielberg EVERY SINGLE TIME.
I love A.I…One of the greatest American films of our time I’d say… Although I’m not what you’d call a “fan” of Spielberg I deffinately can appreciate his pictures. Also like SPR and mostly all of his 80’s work.
Spielberg is a very talented director. He’s great at creating scenes and making them look beautiful, and he knows how to pace the plot. He is one of the most talented directors of all time.
…But he has this annoying habit of dumbing down complex philosophical issues. Whether it be Minority Report, AI, Saving Private Ryan, or whatever. No matter what subject he’s covering, the answer to the film’s central question is always ‘Kneejerk humanism’. Whatever makes the audience happiest without having to think about it at all. Even Schindler’s List, which is a very straightforward philosophical issue, he somehow managed to dumb down. How is it even possible to dumb down ‘Genocide is wrong?’ Spielberg says, ‘Easy. Schindler’s call to action is a little girl in a red dress. And all the Nazis talk like Colonel Clink.’ That scene where Schindler tries to convince the bad(est) guy ‘True power is having the right to kill somebody and sparing them’, and he actually entertains the idea before realizing murder is more fun after all, is extremely stupid.
Spielberg’s best moments are when he’s doing a straight adventure story. In adventure stories there’s nothing to dumb down. ‘These are the good guys. These are the bad guys. Good guys, go kill bad guys!’ He’s better than anyone else at that. Minority Report was great for the part Anderton was just on the run. The Normandy Beach scene of Saving Private Ryan was amazing. He’s just awful when he tries to do anything cerebral or serious.
Great post. You’ve really hit upon what Spielberg is all about as a filmmaker. Most of his films are aimed at children and they do an amazing job of capturing that specific kind of mindset. It’s that and themes of family that are his most prominent. If you think about it nearly all of his films reflect the man who made them.
Sorry for bothering you with yet another Spielberg post. I know how annoying it can be when people just won’t shut up about something. But I liked the idea of starting my own forum and I feel very strongly about Spielberg’s talent. I plan on starting different threads in the future about directors who really require some more thought.
Jirin’s post above made me remember something that bothers me (even though he didn’t explicitly state or allude to anything I’m about to say.
It bothers me when people praise a filmmaker for their diversity. The praise seems to imply that some filmmakers are limited to one genre, truly talented filmmakers can cross genres. This is usually mentioned in regards to Spielberg, Kubrick and a few others (although Robert Wise is usually forgotten). Regardless of what I think of those filmmakers individual works an oeuvre is not a resume and someone like Ozu isn’t limited because he never made a sci-fi flick anymore than Henry james is limited by never writing a sci-fi novel.
Again, nobody really used this argument here, but i wanted to make a plea anyway that this kind of praise be restricted to hollywood hack types to show their consummate skill at craftwork, and never against great artists who use their work to explore new perceptions.
Nothing like turning a positive into a negative there Mike.
If Ozu only worked a single genre, doesn’t mean a thing.
But if Kubrick worked across genres, does say he was willing to explore new perceptions.
Well, we know how people here feel about Wise. They practically tore the man apart in other threads.
I hear what you’re saying, but don’t completely agree with you. I think diversity is a skill that should be praised when done right. But I also think that a lack of diversity isn’t necessarily a fault that should be attacked. Let’s be honest: some filmmakers can’t be diverse. All they can make are Ozu films, or Godard films, or Bergman films. But can we not praise diversity along with strong authorial presence in filmmakers like Kurosawa or Kubrick, for example?
I think that if a director does something well they deserve praise. There are directors that are great for their diversity, and others that are great because their entire body of work exists as a whole. I try to be objective about every film I watch. If it reaches me and stirs my emotions, for whatever reason, I can’t ignore that. Spielberg reaches me, and for specific reasons. Bergman reaches me for different reasons, as does Herzog, Bunuel, Ozu, and plenty of others. You have to see each from a different mindset.
“In which of Spielberg’s concepts would you be interested, Polaris?”
Like i mentioned, Catch Me if You Can, as well as Munich (disappointed), Saving Private Ryan (liked), Schindler’s List (liked) and Jurassic Park (love). I’m not interested in The Color Purple so I simply haven’t seen it. I’m not interested in The War of the Worlds so I simply haven’t seen it. I didn’t think I was going to be interested in Minority Report but it was actually interesting, though again it could have been better and damn it, I have a hard time watching Tom Cruise… “act”?….
Speilberg’s adventure stories are usually quite good. I’m not afraid of sharks so I don’t care for Jaws (gasp heathen horror!), but I love the original Indiana Jones, moments of ET, as I mentioned Jurassic Park… I think Speilberg would have been the greatest director of the Harry Potter movies ever.