Insight: Is Spielberg Completely Overrated

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If you took a random person off the street and asked them to name a film director, I’d feel very confident in thinking that a large majority of them would name Steven Spielberg. It’s unsurprising really. His name is synonymous with massive blockbusters, directing some of the world’s highest grossing films and most recognisable franchises. When looking a bit closer at his seemingly incredible portfolio, though, it certainly looks like Spielberg’s name may be the most impressive thing about him.

What’s the point of films? Bit of a vague question; maybe, but really think about. I like to think that the whole idea of cinema is more than just a two hour escape filled with explosions and should keep you thinking. Of course there will always be a place for the blockbuster, and it’s as good for cinema as pop music is for the charts. It’s light, it’s fun but it has to be taken for what it is. It’s a movie, not a film.

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In the same way that I will never respect Michael Bay or James Cameron as filmmakers, I will always feel a bit of, well, ‘meh-ness’ towards Spielberg. Saving Private Ryan is one of the greatest films of all time, but I attribute that to the stellar cast and the unbelievable story. I think this is where there’s a bit of confusion when judging a film, people are so quick to call a film great but then question the performance of an actor, but most combine the idea of direction and the film as one. It’s not the same.

What brought this idea to me again was how much anticipation I have for Django Unchained. If we’re looking at a director that has a massive impact on cinema, then look no further than Tarantino. The greatest films work because they are the fulfilment of a vision and of a story that needs to be told. I can’t deny that a lot of people hold films like ET or Raiders of the Lost Ark as personal favourites, but watching them back I honestly feel like there’s distortions of nostalgia.

DjangoOne of the my biggest complaints with directors like Spielberg is that they use massive events or time periods and then either get lost in them or just play out the same story but in that period. James Cameron is a slave to this. Titanic may have been the highest grossing film of all time, but it was just Love Story on a boat. DiCaprio and Winslet put in great performances and the stunts are incredible, but there’s nothing particularly epic about the direction. The same with Avatar, there’s so much focus on special effects that everyone forgets that it’s just Dances With Wolves but with smurfs.

Someone like David Fincher embraces the time period or the event. Zodiac couldn’t have happened in any other time period. The Social Network resonates a cultural significance. Even Marc Webb, two films in is doing this better than Spielberg. Look at how he adapted Peter Parker as an indie outsider instead of the classic nerd stereotype that is so outdated.

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Looking through Spielberg’s filmography the films that really stick out as my favourites are Catch Me If You Can and Saving Private Ryan, they are stories that were made to be told and make great use of their eras. But for those two there’s a plethora of Jaws, ET and the Indiana Jones series. Just big summer blockbusters.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with blockbusters. I saw Gangster Squad last week and had two great hours of entertainment and escapism. It’s a great movie, but not a good film. That’s the distinct difference and when looking at Spielberg as a filmmaker it has to be seen that to legitimately consider him as one of the greatest filmmakers of his time is more than an exaggeration.

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8 thoughts on “Insight: Is Spielberg Completely Overrated

  1. 1. “I will never respect Michael Bay or James Cameron as filmmakers…” James Cameron is far superior to Michael Bay. The dude makes genuinely compelling films with interesting people and top notch production values. His films also have a large amount of thematic depth, particularly his early work. The Terminator, Terminator 2, and Aliens are some of the best films of their genres.

    2. “Saving Private Ryan is one of the greatest films of all time, but I attribute that to the stellar cast and the unbelievable story.” The cast is fine, but none of the performances are really noteworthy. The story is also very straight forward with little twists. Saving Private Ryan’s biggest strength is that it takes the viewer through what it was like in World War Two. This is Spielberg’s doing. It’s his direction that guides the viewer through these events and makes the film so poignant.

    3. “James Cameron is a slave to this. Titanic may have been the highest grossing film of all time, but it was just Love Story on a boat. DiCaprio and Winslet put in great performances and the stunts are incredible, but there’s nothing particularly epic about the direction.” The incredible effects, stunt work, and the film’s sense of scale can all be attributed to Cameron’s direction. The man worked his ass off to make the film. Your issues are with his script and not his direction.

    4. “The same with Avatar, there’s so much focus on special effects that everyone forgets that it’s just Dances With Wolves but with smurfs.” For someone complaining about originality, you seem to have no problem using the exact same joke everyone and their grandma has been using since 2009. Also, like Titanic, your issues seem to be with the script. Everything great about Avatar (the effects, excitement, scale, imagination, etc.) is because of Cameron’s direction.

    5. “Even Marc Webb, two films in is doing this better than Spielberg.” (500) Days of Summer was okay and Amazing Spider-Man was terrible. Comparing Webb to Spielberg is ridiculous.

    6. “Looking through Spielberg’s filmography the films that really stick out as my favourites are Catch Me If You Can and Saving Private Ryan, they are stories that were made to be told and make great use of their eras.” And The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Schindler’s List, Amistad, Munich, and Lincoln. And though Minority Report takes place in the future, the film’s themes make it extremely relevant in the modern world. A similar argument could be made for War of the Worlds.

    7. “there’s a plethora of Jaws, ET and the Indiana Jones series. Just big summer blockbusters.” Those films have a timeless quality and don’t need to be tied to a specific era. It’s also foolish to merely dismiss those films as blockbusters. Just because they made shit tons of money doesn’t say anything about the quality of the films. Jaws, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Last Crusade are extremely well made films with great characters. They may not be bursting with thematic depth, but they are very well told stories. Which is incidentally Spielberg’s greatest skill; his abilities as a story teller. I would also say E.T. has some great thematic undercurrents and says a lot about the kid inside everyone. Raiders of the Lost Ark can be seen as a metaphor for accepting faith. Thematic depth can also be found from Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Munich, and Lincoln.

    8. “It’s a great movie, but not a good film.” The whole distinguishing of movies and films is stupid. They’re the same damn thing. It doesn’t matter if you call Citizen Kane a movie or a film, it’s still a masterpiece. And if you think I’m crazy, Roger Ebert (the most famous film critic of all time) feels the same way.

    9. “ to legitimately consider him as one of the greatest filmmakers of his time is more than an exaggeration.” List of great Spielberg films: Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report, and Munich. Temple of Doom, Schindler’s List, War of the Worlds, and Lincoln are also all quite good.

    1. 1, 3 + 4. I was using James Cameron and Michael Bay as examples, it’s not a wholly significant point of mine to be criticising them, but I stand by what I said. I’ve yet to find a sane person that’ll argue Bay as even an adequate filmmaker, but Cameron really is just as bad in my opinion. I’m just gonna stick all the Cameron talk into this point. The problem I have with Titanic, and with Avatar, is that they don’t feel like the kind of epic that they should be because they don’t allow the story to be lost in it’s setting. The intricacies and romanticism of Titantic’s script are the best things about it, followed by the standout performances of DiCaprio and Winslet. The direction isn’t especially anything, no-one came out talking about the crash sequences, they were talking about the chemistry between the actors and why she let go. In a film like Django Unchained, everyone’s lost in the world. The same if we look at someone like Fincher in Zodiac. We’re completely immersed in 1960s San Francisco but still captivated by the story. That’s something Cameron can’t master, he gets too lost in either the story of it, and then by completely exaggerating the setting. He never finds balance. And the Avatar/Dances With Wolves comparison is completely legitimate, the fact that it’s so constantly and consistently brought up just makes that more clear that it’s so obvious.

      2. I’m not going to disagree that there is some incredible direction in Saving Private Ryan, I may be guilty of over-exaggerating a little on that point, but the point itself is still valid. Spielberg does incredibly well in establishing a great setting, but then again all people remember is the opening scene. It’s one of my favourite films, but I definitely fell in love with the story and characters first.

      5. I’m not gonna get into discussing Webb’s work too thoroughly because those are my two favourite films (note, there’s a difference between favourite and what I think is the best). But I brought it up just as a reference to state how he’s taken a completely familiar story and updated to make it refreshing and original.

      6, 7. Maybe a bit controversial, but is it really that hard to make a great WW2 film? He makes good movies, good two hour bursts of escapism but people get lost in nostalgia and when watching them back, objectively, it’s very easy to see that they’re not the incredible pieces of filmmaking that we like to think they are. My favourite film of all time is the original Star Wars, but if I watch it back now I can understand that it’s very cheesy and a bit OTT. There isn’t a lot of great acting performances, but it’s still my favourite and I love it more than any other film. There’s nothing wrong with Jaws, ET and Raiders, they’re fun and people love them, but they’re not great films. I’m sorry, but they’re just not. I don’t understand how someone can objectively tell me that in comparison to a film like The Social Network, we should be considering Jaws one of the greatest films of the last fifty years.

      8. I’m just trying to make the point that there is a difference between a movie like Gangster Squad and a film like Django Unchained. I had a great time watching both, but it’s very hard to compare them both as films. It’s just a point of distinguishing the different types of cinema.

      1. You say Cameron can’t master setting, yet setting is arguably the strongest asset of both Titanic and Avatar. And the only people who walked out of Titanic saying the chemistry was the best part of Titanic were the casual movie goers who often don’t acknowledge great technical work. More importantly, your basing your entire opinion of Cameron’s directorial talents on two films. Thoughts on his Terminator films or Aliens?

        People remember the opening sequence because it’s the best part of the film and that scene relies entirely on Spielberg’s talents. It’s cool that your into the story and characters, but I’d say it’s Spielberg’s talents that make up Saving Private Ryan’s greatest strengths.

        Fresh and original? The Amazing Spider-Man is beat for beat the same origin story Raimi told. Sure, some of the little details are changed but at the end of the day the story is the same.

        Is it really that hard to make a WWII film? It is when one is trying to give audiences an authentic experience while still providing an engaging story. And why do you say Raiders, Jaws, and E.T. aren’t great films? Because they’re blockbusters? Blockbusters can be great films too provided they’re made with care and precision by a talented director, and most Spielberg blockbusters are. People love those films because they connect with them on an emotional level and are masterfully well made.

  2. I, for one, thought it was extremely well-written and incisive. It’s always amazed me that Spielberg made showboating alarmist flicks like Jaws as well as artistic, intelligent masterpieces like Lincoln. Did you watch that? Do you think it fits with Spielberg’s general style? Cameron and Bay are just hacks. Tarantino is wonderful, in his own twisted, over the top way. Intelligent analysis.

    I’ve heard that the writer of Gangster Squad is hard at work on the screenplay for Justice League. =( And here I was hoping for an intelligent, emotional film.

    1. Thanks a lot! Yeah, I’m with you on the Justice League film. I have no idea where they’re going with it or what kind of film they’re trying to make. I think the whole world just wants Nolan to be given the keys to it, but looks like they might be trying to push into The Avengers target market.

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