Thursday, June 30, 2016

You Used to Be Soooooo Good: Steven Spielberg

Welcome to another edition of You Used to Be Soooo Good, where Justin and I, Dan Moore, discuss things used to be awesome but now, eh, not so much. This week we discuss a true master of the cinema. A man responsible for some of the hightest-grossing, most iconic films of all time.

Steven Spielberg:  You Used to Be Soooo Good

DAN:  For decades, Mr. Spielberg has created the most memorable scenes in film history. Chief Brody shooting his fishy nemesis. Henry Jones Jr. getting chased by a Rushmore-sized stone. Elliot chauffeuring ET across the nighttime sky. A giant thunder lizard magically popping outta nowhere and eating tiny bird-like monsters. Incredible moments forever burned into people’s brains…but those were all a looooooong time ago.  For sure, he has made some great movies in the intervening years, especially Saving Private Ryan, which I believe is his last great movie. But for me, his output in the last two decades besides that one stellar film has been…eh…I’ve liked some of them, but none have blown me away, or necessitated repeated viewings like his early Jones movies, E.T., and Jurassic Park.

What an iconic image....

There have certainly been entertaining films. Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can are both enjoyable to watch. But they are one-and-done type movies for me. I remember liking both when I saw them, but not enough to seek them out and watch again. His films in the last few years have not stuck out to me like his earlier works. Perhaps that’s unfair, being that those are some of the biggest hits of all time. But the truth hurts sometimes.

JUSTIN: I'm forced to largely agree with you, though I'll grant Steven one more recent great film, Minority Report.  I consider that one of the best sci-fi movies of this young century.  Great story, intriguing cerebral concepts, fine performance by Tom Cruise.  But even that was 14 years ago (which blows my mind by the way), and while he's had a few other good films (Lincoln, Catch Me If You Can), yeah nothing has compared with his plentiful iconic work of the 80s and early 90s.

What's extraordinary about Spielberg is that he's been able to make films that appeal to a very broad audience without pandering.  His big summer blockbusters have mostly been a lot of fun to watch but also contain heart and a brain.  Jaws, Raiders, E.T., Jurassic Park to a lesser extent - all action or fantasy-driven but with characters we can all relate to and a pervading sense of wonder.  But at the same time Spielberg is capable of making truly important, culturally significant films like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a more versatile commercially successful director out there.  Spielberg knows how to create and present stories in a way that mass audiences can be fully swept up in the story but also feel like they were intellectually engaged.

Just a smorgasbord of awesome.....
To be fair, he had some missteps back in the day as well.  Always was hardly an all-time classic, Hook is pretty abysmal, and while I enjoy the first Jurassic Park movie, it's a step down from blockbusters like Raiders and Jaws.  But lately his popcorn fare has been forgettable at best and puke-inducing at worst (Don't get me started on Indy 4 - never happened.  NEVER HAPPENED I SAID!), while his Oscar bait films have mostly just been pretty good.

DAN: I found Lincoln to be a tad on the boring side. It was more a Day-Lewis affair than Spielberg, really. I liked the film somewhat, and Danny boy hit it out of the park, as usual, but overall it seemed more like a history lesson than an entertaining piece of cinema. As you said, seemed to be Oscar bait—BEST ACTOR IN THE WORLD PLAYING THE BEST PRESIDENT EVER DIRECTED BY THE BEST DIRECTOR IN THE WORLD…where’s our gold statues?!?!?

I think this is very similar to our Metallica case (here). The arc of work was so incredible early on, so mind blowing and great that anything less than that is bound to be disappointing. After watching Indy traipse all over the world destroying Nazis and saving priceless artifacts that belong in a museum is going to make a boy’s love affair with his horse during a war seems a tad lackluster in comparison. War Horse is a good example of the current state of Spielberg. It was a fine flick to watch once, which I did, and immediately forget about it. It doesn’t stick with you. It doesn’t make you seek it out again. It’s a paint-by-numbers, Hollywood feel-good movie. And for it to be done by Spielberg is terribly disappointing when I’ve seen him do much greater things.

Wait, THIS is the Macguffin?  Where'd you get this, Hot Topic??
(And as far as Indy 4 goes…yes, its garbage, yes there’s too much CGI, and yes Shia is God awful…but I liked it)

JUSTIN: I mean it's tough to make a movie like Lincoln where the drama is centered around events that happened 150 years ago and we all know how they turned out, but given that handicap I thought it was really well done.  Certainly not on the level of SPR or Schindler, but I consider it a worthy Spielberg entry.  But yeah, he set the bar so high for himself three decades ago that eventually you almost always run into the law of diminishing returns.  I hope sometime soon that ol' Steve'll be able to truly match his early-to-mid-career efforts and present more films that really stand the test of time.  As it is he's easily one of the top two or three greatest film directors of all time and any young filmmaker should yearn to have even five Spielberg years on their resume.

Incidentally my top five Spielberg films in no particular order are: Raiders, Saving Private Ryan, Jaws, E.T., and Minority Report.

DAN: My favorite Spielberg films are Jaws, Raiders, Saving Private Ryan, Last Crusade and Jurassic Park. The man is a brand unto himself. Whatever he makes will be talked about and seen by large audiences, regardless. It’s not as if he’s making complete crap movies. His movies are still good. Just not great, like his earlier output. His latest project is The BFG (short for "Big Friendly Giant") based on the book written by Roald Dahl. Perhaps he can recapture the magic of E.T., and avoid the silliness of Hook with this new feature film.

And there ya go. Always looking forward to what Senor Spielbergo is up to, but now it is with a tad more trepidation than anticipation of the old days. Join us again next week for some more complaining!

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