I still remember that day when my parents asked me to watch this little film called Jurassic Park. It started at what was once a prime premier time for a new movie – 9 PM, Sunday, on Star Movies. I was probably in 6th standard and had no idea of what was coming. When the movie ended, I was petrified and engulfed in this world of dinosaurs- which will remain in my head for days to come. It was an immensely satisfying experience which showed the power of cinema and triggered an eagerness to explore it further.
At that point of time, I was neither aware of the director nor his other films. Soon, in the following years, I would end up loving Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, E.T, Catch Me If You Can and realized that they were all from the same director! Now, over a decade later, after watching all his films, I still find it hard to believe that the one man who directed tense and mature movies like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Amistad had also directed light-hearted children-friendly movies like The BFG, The Adventures Of Tintin, E.T.
As quoted in his 2017 documentary film Spielberg, the narrator says “Steven shook the very bones of Hollywood. The one kind of a madness and an obsession with movies.”
Today, being 5 decades into the filming industry, Spielberg has directed 32 movies so far, apart from numerous production credits. And he is planning to direct and release the remake of musical West Side Story followed by fifth entry in Indiana Jones franchise. The most unique feature is not the number here, but the quality and the versatile nature of all his films. He has tried his skills in a vast array of genres and mastered many genres including war, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, history, biographical, mystery dramas. He’s probably the only director to do so. With making films becoming easier and many more pouring in to try their hand behind a camera, it becomes difficult for an aging director to remain relevant to the changing priorities and transforming visions of the industry. Yet, today, a movie opening with ‘A Steven Spielberg film’ is able to pull enough audience and the content entice enough critics to praise it.
In one of his interviews, Spielberg reflects how Sir David Lean’s masterpiece Lawrence Of Arabia offered him an outlook on cinema. This served as a fuel to drive Spielberg towards cinema. Most of his movies have an essential touch from his own life – his childhood fears, bullying by other friends, being shamed for being a Jew in his movies, his distress relation with his father to name a few.
However, Spielberg is blamed for not taking the risks and always preferring tested material for his movies. He was repeatedly blamed for being too commercial, critics even called him an unworthy contender for awards.
It all boiled down to this – 1993 saw Spielberg directing Holocaust survival film Schindler’s List which became a horrifying and depressing masterpiece because of its honest portrayal of Jews in wartime Germany. It went on to win Best Picture & Best Director award for Spielberg. Added to this, 1993 also saw the release of another milestone in cinema – Jurassic Park, which gained massive positive reviews & box-office collection. 1993 is probably the best professional year for Spielberg- until now. Hardly any director achieves critical & box-office fame in a single year. The genres and the audience of the two movies were poles apart. In 1997, he received his 3rd Oscar- Best Director for Saving Private Ryan. Saving Private Ryan gained both box-office success & critical acclaim especially for the harrowing 27 minutes sequence which had never been witnessed before in any war movie. This thumped Spielberg’s position in one of the greatest directors of all time.
Overall, if we were to divide the trend in his filmography: 1971 to 1980 saw the experimental Spielberg with movies like Duel, The Sugarland Express, Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. 1981 to 1990 saw the fantasy side of Spielberg with movies like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, E.T., Temple Of Doom, Last Crusade. 1991 to 2000 evolved Spielberg into more real-life issues: serious war and slave dramas hence the war side of Spielberg. 2000 to 2010 saw the sci-fi Spielberg with movies like AI, Minority Reports, War Of The Worlds which questions the evolving human society through fictional elements. 2010 onwards we see a very different Steven Spielberg, invested mostly into historical dramas like Lincoln, Bridge Of Spies, The Post.
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Whether you like it or not, his stature and his influence over industry and audience remains as monumental as the Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs and the wide as Schindler’s deed.