Darwin's Film Club: Spielberg's phenomenal career
Those of you who are mere youngsters may think of ol' granpa Spielberg as the guy who pumps out hammy, mediocre sequels (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull 2008) and hammy, earnest remakes (War of the Worlds 2005) but there was a time when he was a God Who Walked The Earth.
Let me put it in the form of a little story.
You do a low-rent TV movie (Duel 1971) which plays like an episode of the Twilight Zone on cocaine. An impressive début which opens a few doors and eventually allows you to make another road chase film (Sugarland Express 1974), this time with an actual cast. And not a bad result–but still what you'd call a 'regular' movie.
That three year gap must have seemed endless at the time. 'C'mon, c'mon! I've got so many ideas. Let me at 'em!'
The next year (Jaws 1975): Blam! Biggest movie sensation of the year. A thriller, a drama, a horror film, a comedy–all in one package. A guy could retire on this one. It's a Citizen Kane of a film.
Two years later (Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977) you make a movie that would redefine sci-fi just as much as Star Wars would from the very same year.
But while Star Wars boasted the sleek look and effects of 2001: A Space Oddessy, it was a kid's fantasy. Close Encounters is a serious film, a mature film. Sci-fi for grown-ups; making Spielberg, rather than Lucas, the natural heir to Kubrick.
Four years later you move into the outer stratosphere of film-making. The lofty podium of cinema classics that only holds a few dozen names at best. The release of an epic brawling, bullwhip adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981) ensures Spielberg's place at the table, if ever a Last Supper painting of cinema saints were to be daubed by a neo-Leonardo.
Indiana Jones remains a perennial classic and will no doubt be enjoyed fifty or a hundred years from now, just as we watch Dr. No, The Wizard of Oz, and Metropolis. Could there be anything left for you to do now?
Not four years later, not two years later, but the very next year saw the release of an emotional kids' sci-fi/fantasy (E.T. The Extra-terrestrial 1982) that inspired a kind of Beatlemania in its fans. Infinite quantities of little green man products were unleashed and devoured in a frenzy of rabid consumerism that I doubt we have seen since.
At this point, your star was shining its brightest–there was no bigger director. Not Lucas, Coppola, not Scorsese, not even Lean. It was a magical time to be a Spielberg fan. All those magnificent creations in his past, all the wondrous spectacles that undoubtedly were to come.
And yes, they came, but somehow I still harbour some nostalgia for that feeling of sheer anticipation, the raw excitement that prefigured every one of Spielberg's releases.
Of course he's had a few stand-out successes since then (The Color Purple 1985, Jurassic Park 1993) but over the last twenty-five years he has probably been at his best when providing us with noble war movies (Empire of the Sun 1987, Schindler's List 1993, Saving Private Ryan 1998) or more interestingly when greenlighting projects for other directors (Gremlins 1984, Back To The Future 1985, Twister 1996, Men In Black 1997, Shrek 2001, Transformers 2007).
Seems he's got a good eye.
So here's to you Steven. I simply can't imagine how empty the IMDB would be without you.