Spielberg is still one of the greats

Spielberg is still one of the greats

Posted by Sean Stangland on Mon, 05/19/2008 - 21:44

In recent years, it has become almost fashionable to use the words "overrated," "sentimental" and even "terrible" when talking about Steven Spielberg. The Internet geek community has been particularly harsh to the most successful director of all time, and more specifically to the way he ends his movies. Common gripes:

• "A.I." was too sappy. (You weren't paying attention if you think so. And no, those aren't aliens in the final reel, either.)

• The sex scene at the end of "Munich" was laughable. (This reaction doesn't surprise me, as the common moviegoer simply cannot take sex seriously.)

• The cold virus kills the aliens in "War of the Worlds." (Blame H.G. Wells, it's his ending.)

• He's holding our hands through the climax of "Minority Report." (Well, yeah. You kinda got me there.)

If this ending is so happy and sappy, why am I always so
depressed when it's over?

Say what you want about the ending, but this scene
from "WOTW" is as scary as it gets.

And so on and so on.

And now Spielberg will be derided again for doing what he must have thought the masses wanted. Some reviews complain that he's going through the motions with "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," but what else would he be doing? You don't make a fourth installment of an action-adventure franchise because you want to make important, daring cinema.

The funny part is that Spielberg has been making nothing but daring films this decade. And as a hardcore Spielberg fan, I argue that the 2000s have given us Stevie's most consistently intriguing work.

True, nothing he has made in recent years comes close to the transcendent experience of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but the man who gave us the thrills of "Jurassic Park" and the shock of "Schindler's List" in the same year in the '90s has, in the '00s, found a way to marry entertainment with art like he never could before. "The Terminal," "War of the Worlds" and "Munich" are a light human comedy, a sci-fi extravaganza and a taut thriller, respectively, but they also all have things to say about the post-9/11 world, whether it's our fear of the unknown or the unending cycle of retaliation.

So while I am extremely excited to see Dr. Jones on the big screen again, it is a bit of shame that Spielberg has taken time away from the most imaginative chapter of his career. What other director could deliver, in two years' time, three films as grand and accomplished as "A.I.," "Minority Report" and "Catch Me If You Can"?

Spielberg's immediate future doesn't look as intriguing on paper as the last ten years have. He's slated to direct biopics on Abraham Lincoln and the Chicago 7, which will likely be classy, well-received pictures, but not daring. He's also launching the "Tintin" trilogy with Peter Jackson, which seems like an odd step backward for both men. The project on the slate that really raises my eyebrows is "Interstellar," which IMDB describes as "An exploration of physicist Kip Thorne's theories of gravity fields, wormholes and several hypotheses that Albert Einstein was never able to prove." That doesn't exactly sound like safe cinema for the masses.

Spielberg is one of the greats -- and maybe the greatest -- because he bridges that gap between those who want entertainment and those who want to be challenged. He is an ordinary man with an extraordinary enthusiasm for the cinema, and he shares that enthusiasm with us every few years. And while he may never make a dark epic on the level of P.T. Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," or a philosophical meditation like Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," or a biopic as brutal and unforgiving as Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull," he will, as always, make movies we all want to watch, again and again. And that has to count for something.

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