Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Director Talk: Steven Spielberg


This is a big one.

PG Cooper, Fogs, and myself are back for another Director Talk, and this time we tackle the legendary Steven Spielberg.

We celebrate the man’s long, full career and take a look at some of his recent criticisms.  And half way through the discussion we realized we’re gonna need a bigger blog.

You can find the discussion here at Fogs Movie Reviews:

Director Talk – Steven Spielberg

Enjoy, and please leave a comment or two!
IanIan: Welcome back ,faithful readers, to another segment of Director Talk with Ian, Fogs and Cooper. Its been a while, but it will be worth it. This time we are centering our discussion around the most well-known and infamous director of all time. That’s right, none other than Mr. Steven Spielberg! I have a feeling that Spielberg’s films were crucial to all three of our childhoods, so that’s where we’re going to start. What was your very first memory of watching a Spielberg film?

NigelFogs: I watched Jaws when it first came on TV. It was probably still in the 70s, and I may have been still a bit too young to be watching it, but you know, my Dad was cool, so…
Anyways, I can still recall being scared out of my mind when Ben Gardner’s head rolled out of the hole in the boat. 😀
PG CooperCooper: For me, it all started with the Indiana Jones movies. I watched those a lot as a kid, especially since my Dad loved them too so we could share those films. For years, those were the only Spielberg films I had seen. I didn’t see Jurassic Park until I was about ten or eleven, and I didn’t see Jaws until I was a teenager.

IanIan: I think my earliest memories of a Spielberg film is E.T. I remember that my mom took me to the theater for that one, and I cried a lot. It must have been some rerelease in the late 80s, I’m not sure. It wasn’t the first movie in the theaters I saw, but certainly one of the first. And I have loved the movie ever since.

I think its interesting that all three of us chose different movies. I suppose that shows just how much he has permeated pop culture. I have said in my intro that he is probably the most famous director ever. What do you two think of that assessment?

PG CooperCooper: He probably is. He’s one of the few directors everybody knows and almost everyone likes. I think everyone loves at least one Spielberg film. So yeah, he probably is the most famous. There are a few directors I’d rank over him mind you, but he still deserves the title for the most part.

NigelFogs:  Most famous now, I would think. Film was so different back in Hitchcock’s heyday that I wonder how the two would have compared in terms of cultural impact during the height of their powers…

But definitely, at this point in time, Spielberg is king, he’s definitely the world’s most widely known and beloved. And he’s right back in the thick of things with Lincoln, this year.
IanIan: Since you mention Lincoln, I wanted to ask how you two feel about his later directing career. Clearly he has had an impact on our early movie histories, but how do you think he has held up over the last decade or so?
NigelFogs: Well… it’s been touch and go over the last decade, let’s all be honest. I hated War Horse, I really almost had a violent counter reaction to all the Schmaltz… and of course, Indy IV was horrifying, even Spielberg has tried to distance himself. But I did rewatch “Tintin” recently, and I have to raise my initial assessment of it – it’s really pretty good, and “Munich” was in this last decade, and I think that that’s a criminally underrated film because its incongruous to what people expect from him. No one expects a bad ass movie from Steven Spielberg, they want feel good/family adventure. But “Munich” is some ice cold, bad ass stuff. Great flick.
PG CooperCooper: In the last decade, he’s given audiences two of his best films with Minority Report and Munich. I also really enjoyed Catch Me If You Can, Lincoln, and War of the Worlds. Granted, I also made two bland films (Tintin and War Horse) and one horrible one (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) but I find the good stuff he’s made in that time to be worth it.
NigelFogs: Ohhh. Well, if our decade goes ELEVEN years, than yeah, I agree with Dan. LOL 😉
PG CooperCooper: I decided just to include all of the 2000s, mostly to leave in Minority Report. 😛

IanIan: Well, looking back on his filmography, Spielberg’s career has always been dotted with spots of mediocrity. i.e. Hook, Always, Amistad. The high points may not be a great as they were, but he still knows how to make a damn good movie. Lincoln this year was proof of that.

Perhaps its just that over such a long career with so many movies, not all of them can be great?

PG CooperCooper: Exactly. Given the sheer amount of films the dude has made, some lesser films are expected. Besides,the great Spielberg films are worth it.
NigelFogs: Spielberg’s legendary films far outweigh his lesser work. Plus, his ratio of incredible films to ordinary films is something most directors can only dream of.
IanIan: What if 1941 actually killed his career? How different would the movies be?
NigelFogs: Pretty damn different, actually. Especially the 80s. Obviously his movies would be gone, but we also wouldn’t have all the movies he produced, and people often forget he produced a lot of the great movies of the 80s too. The Goonies, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Back to the Future… he had a lot of good ones.
PG CooperCooper: Not to mention other films he’d go on to produce like True Grit (2010) and Letters From Iwo Jima. Not that he played a huge creative role, but he helped get those films made all the same. I’m curious what would have happened to Harrison Ford’s career. Would it have fallen the same way Mark Hamill’s and Carrie Fisher’s did? He’d likely still have been in Blade Runner, but given that film’s underwhelming box-office, it’s possible Ford would have disappeared after Return of the Jedi were it not for Spielberg.
IanIan: Yeah, he has been a pretty big force. And I would argue that two of his films are some of the most influential in film history: Jaws for defining the blockbuster summer movie, and Jurassic Park for showing that pretty much anything is possible to show on film now.
NigelFogs: Not bad. Definitely two elements of his influence. I might even add a third… with Raiders of the Lost Ark, he established the modern action film. Keep in mind, we were just coming out of the 70s, and films were NOT paced like that. I know it was based off of the feel of the 50s serials, but the theatres at that point in time were devoid of that sort of action based excitement.

IanIan: Yeah, that’s a good point. Raiders certainly did influence the pacing of action films.

So what do you think are Spielberg’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker? And on the flip side of that, what are his greatest weaknesses?

NigelFogs: Spielberg is strong on a number of levels, obviously. His action scenes are great, he’s not the showiest director ever, but he gets his share of great shots, and he’s gotten a number of great performances over the years, so he’s good with actors and actresses. I’d say his weakness though is an easy one. He’s always tried to give the audience an emotional experience, but there are times when he can be heavy-handed about it, and things become maudlin.
PG CooperCooper: I’m with Fogs on all points. Also, while Spielberg may not be the most stylish of filmmakers, he’s one of the best storytellers in the business.
IanIan: You know, lately you hear a lot about Spielberg’s over-sentimentality, especially with War Horse last year and Lincoln this year. But I’m not sure that he’s as bad of an offender of this as its now become trendy to call him out for. Fogs you mention how he tries to hard for that emotional impact. Mind giving some examples?

NigelFogs: Well, War Horse was like getting hit over the head with a sledgehammer. Whenever he wanted you to feel sad, there would be a huge orchestral swell, and someone teary eyed on screen, and a photoshopped orange sunset, and a flock of geese overhead… you get the idea.

He dialed it back for Lincoln, but you could still spot it here and there…

PG CooperCooper: This isn’t really sentimentality, but it’s interesting to note how much safer he’s got in recent years. For example, the violence in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull feels like something from a Saturday morning cartoon and does not come close to the gritty action in the original trilogy. Not that Indiana Jones was ever Paul Verhoven, but they were certainly more edgy than Kingdom. There’s also the notorious walkie talkies in E.T.There are exceptions of course. Munich is one of his darkest and most challenging films and that was relatively recent.

IanIan: Well, War Horse was one movie. I’m not sure as though sentimentality is really that big of a trend throughout his films. Or is it and I’m just blinded to it because he’s my favourite director?

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s cartoony nature may also come partially from Lucas’ overview. And Spielberg detracted the walkie-talkies. And that idea also came from Lucas. Hmm….

NigelFogs: Yeah, Lucas is a moron. We should do a director’s talk about him, my answers would all be %#$&@ and @%##$^#$ LOL
PG CooperCooper: Were the walkie talkies Lucas’ ideas? I didn’t know that. Doesn’t surprise me though, George Lucas went crazy a long time ago.

IanIan: Well, the idea of changing your movie after the fact was his.

Anyways, my point is that critics have complaining about Spielberg’s sentimentality and sensationalism a lot lately. And I suppose his manipulation of the audience can be obvious, but in his case is that really such a bad thing? All directors manipulate the audience at some level, and in his case he usually knows just how to do it.

Think of some of the “sensationalized” shots and images he’s created. The bike flying past the moon. The glass of water vibrating. The underwater view of the swimming girl’s legs. Those are now some of the most iconic images in movie history, etched into the memory of anyone who has seen them. I think that’s worth some self-aware directing style.

PG CooperCooper: For the most part, Spielberg’s sentimentality doesn’t bother me because I found myself caught up in the emotions of the film. Is E.T. extremely sentimental and clearly pulling at the heart strings? Yes. Do I cry myself silly every time? Yes. It’s hard to really mock the guy when he’s so successful.

War Horse is the main exception, but I feel like that was just an excuse for Spielberg to squeeze out any sentimental urges so he’d be safe for Lincoln.
IanIan: Alright, so we’ll get to our favourite Spielberg films in a moment, but right now I’m going to though out this question: What are your favourite Spielberg scenes/moments?

PG CooperCooper: So many choices. The ending to E.T. comes to mind, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”, the opening and ending to Munich, tripod attack in War of the Worlds, the bathtub scene in Minority Report, and a slew of scene from the Indiana Jones trilogy (emphasis on trilogy).

Honestly though, even though it’s very simple, I love watching Indy reach for the Grail in Last Crusade.

“Indiana…let it go.”

NigelFogs: Wow, there are a lot of great moments from his films. I love when they start to play the tones during the finale of Close Encounters. When the cup of water starts shaking in Jurassic Park. When Indy shoots the swordsman, or outruns the boulder, or when he catches the caravan on horseback. Basically every scene from Jaws… Yeah, there’s a ton of them.
IanIan: Wow, thanks for leaving some choices for me. PG, which tripod attack are you thinking of? I love the attack on the ferry. Very haunting stuff there. I also liked that you mentioned the tub scene in Minority Report as well (a vastly underrated movie).
And Fogs, that water glass scene.. great stuff. I love Spielberg’s little ideas like that, They seem like such small things, but are so effective, like when E.T. throws the ball back from the shed, or that scene in Close Encounters when Richard Dreyfus waves the headlights behind him past, but instead they go up.
PG CooperCooper: I was referring to the first Tripod attack. I haven’t seen War of the Worlds since 2005, but that scene has still stuck with me.
IanIan; Yeah, I used to like War of the Worlds a lot, but it has certainly lost a step over the years. And thinking of that movie brings up another point. What do you two think about Spielberg’s ability to construct a good ending? It seems like he is often criticized for his endings.
NigelFogs: I dunno, I think he’s had some great endings. Smile you son of a bitch! and the faces melting in Raiders. The goodbye moment in ET, and the UFOs in Close Encounters. Hell, even Jurassic Park with the roaring dinosaurs… I think he’s had some really good endings.
War of the Worlds ending sucked cause that’s how War of the Worlds ends. LOL
PG CooperCooper: Fogs rhymed off some good ones. I’d also add Last Crusade and Munich to the list. I know a lot of people take issue with the end of Minority Report because they think it’s too happy. I personally don’t feel that way and I don’t really get why others do.

IanIan: I think with War of the Worlds, the real piss off with the ending is that the son ends up surviving. People have also been known to criticize the ending to A.I. a lot, and I also found the ending to Lincoln to be much weaker than the rest of the film. But you guys have provided enough examples to convince me otherwise. E.T. has one of the most heartfelt endings of all time, and the ending to Raiders with the ark being put in that warehouse is just awesome.Alright Fogs and Coop, time to list off your favourite Spielberg flicks. I think because he is such a huge director with such a large filmography, we should expand this from our usual top 3 to a top 5 list.

NigelFogs: Sounds good.
1) Jaws
2) Raiders
3) ET
4) Close Encounters
5) Jurassic Park

PG CooperCooper: 1. Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. Minority Report
3. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade
4. E.T.
5. Munich
IanIan: Interesting to see a couple more recent movies in there Coop.For me, I’m going with:
1. Jurassic Park
2. E.T.
3. Jaws

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark

5. Saving Private Ryan

It’s also worth noting that the top 3 would all also be in my top ten movies of all-time list. So that says something.

NigelFogs: Yeah, the top two of mine are in my top ten, too.
PG CooperCooper: None of my Spielberg films would make my top ten or my top twenty for that matter. A few would probably make my top fifty though.

IanIan: Really? none in top twenty? That’s surprising.Now its time for us to choose Spielberg’s signature film; the film which encapsulates his career and which he is most widely recognized for. I know which one I am choosing but I want to know what you two think first.

NigelFogs: Gotta be E.T., right?
IanIan: Yeah. It’s gotta be.
PG CooperCooper: This is actually really tough. E.T. might be the film he’s most known for, but I think Raiders is like a kaleidoscopic of everything Spielberg. Tough call, but I lean slightly towards Raiders.

IanIan: Cooper’s always gotta be different…

Alright, time to wrap this up. Lets use this wrap up to make one final statement about Spielberg, his career and how its affect us as moviegoers. For myself, I have to say that he has been the most prominent director of my movie enthusiast career. He was the first director I learned about, and through him I learned what a director actually was and what they did. Many of his movies are some of my all time favourites. He has such an enthusiasm about storytelling that I find infectious.

Being stuck here in Saskatchewan, I don’t have many celebrity encounters, nor do I care to honestly. But I will say that if I had to choose one celebrity figure to have dinner and a conversation with, it would be Spielberg, hands down. I’ve always admired his work, and probably always will.

NigelFogs: That’s a good point, Ian. Actually, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were the two directors I learned of first. I’m not sure which one beat which one to actually be first, but those two guys were the two whose names I learned first, and caused me to realize what directing was. Nice point man.
I think he’s obviously going to be remembered as one of the most popular directors of all time, with so many of the best films in movie history to his credit. He’ll be remembered as one of the greatest populists ever, without a doubt.
PG CooperCooper: He’s also one of the first directors I started noticing. Like Fogs said, Spielberg will go down as one of the most popular filmmakers ever. Rightfully so too. The man is extraordinarily talented and the amount of great films he has under his belt are staggering. He might also be one of my top five directors.
IanIan: And there we have it. I hope everyone enjoyed our Spielberg discussion. This has got to be the lengthiest Director’s Talk we’ve ever had, but I think it’s warranted in this case. Please leave your comments with your own thoughts on what you’ve read here today. For all of us here at Director’s Talk, thanks for stopping by!


One Response to “Director Talk: Steven Spielberg”

  1. Spielberg stopped making good films in 1998 😉

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