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.
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.
One 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.
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.