The Master of Modern Hollywood! Is Steven Spielberg Really Losing His Magic?


Dec 1, 2011
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First off: This is NOT a Thread about Comics or Comicbook-Movies. Captain Obvious has spoken. If you re not interested in a Thread about "normal" movies do not read it.

This is a VERY long post. I will first explain how Spielberg received his praise and his fame. I will do so in a very detailed manner. After that I will explain what i think about the "New Spielberg", lets say from the year 2000 onwards.

Only keep on reading if you are REALLY interested in the subject matter. I dont want to bore you.


Still here? Okay then.

For all of you who decide to read - Well, I had that feeling for a long time, the feeling that I have to defend Steven Spielberg in some way. All of us know this man, he was one of the guys leading transforming the Old Hollywood into New Hollywood (alongside George Lucas, Francis Ford-Coppola and others), he brought us some of the finest entertainment-blockbusters in History, including the very first one. Spielberg already has achieved unspeakable greatness in the first two decades he was directing movies.

And thats where we get to the point. There are MANY film interested people out there (including professional critics) who constantly say that the best times of Steven Spielberg are over, that he is only a shadow of the man he once was. You can find that opinion in very many forums either. It has become a quite popular opinion. And even though Spielberg is still making films which are UNDENIEBLE good, and if its only for the film-making aspect, he still gets all the hate from the "fans".

Of course many of these people are only stupid haters who find themselves unable to come up with founded reasoning for their ranting. As all famous persons Steven Spielberg got his share of haters.

But besides the typical online *****ebags, there are also people who write quite good and crafted articles about Spielberg losing his edge in filmmaking. Some come up with good reasons. But are they right? Is Spielberg really taking a downhill road?

I say NO!!! Thats why I write this article. I want to defend him. Also I want to come up with reasons why the harsh critizism on Spielberg is wrong. Or at least exaggerated.

While we all know it would be very true to say those things about George Lucas, it is clearly not the case with Spielberg. But in order to explain why he is still good today, I obviously have to take a look BACK, a look back into the 70s, the 80s and partly the 90s. First we have to find out what made him so famous, beloved and succesful. What built him such an immense fanbase?

Many people would answer this question like this: Its because of the MAGIC Spielberg puts into his films. Its because of the way he directs suspense, making it feelable for everyone watching his movies. Its the way he handles his characters, giving them incredible profile, yet not making them complicated.

Spielbergs feature film-making career (he made several TV Episodes before) started in 1971 with the TV-film "Duel". A TV-film which would later get a theatralic release due to its success. That alone is saying alot.

Well, "Duel" was astoundingly simple. It was about a man in a car getting chased by a Truck on a desert highway. Thats really all there is in terms of story. But the way it is executed is just...unheard of. At least it WAS unheard of when it was released. I am not good in analyzing editing, the usage of music or camera work. I am not a professional. But the way it all comes together is just breathtaking. Spielberg creates touchable suspense out of a car stalked by a truck. It is just executed in a way, that you cant escape from. "Duel" really was a striking starting point for Spielberg.

Then came 1975 obviously. The year of "JAWS"! No one would have thought that Spielbergs adaption of Peter Benchlys novel could be an success. The making of the film was an utter mess. Spielberg got in harsh arguements with his acting stars, the studio wanted him to make the movie faster as he could, he needed way more shooting days than planned and the Shark anamatronic was not working all the time.

But when it was released it became the first summer blockbuster ever, as well as the then highest grossing film of all time. Why did that happen?

It clearly wasent because of a film about a shark eating people. Audiences have seen movies about monsters eating people before. It was because of Spielberg telling a story about a killer shark, yet not FOCUSING on the shark. Instead he was focusing on his stars, his characters. The dialouge in this film is very well written, the charaters are given profile, the whole first half of the movie is a painstackingly yet highly interesting setup for what to come.

When the men finally get on the boat to hunt down the shark you know WHO they are. You care for them. That goes even deeper in the scene in which they talk in the boat at night. The night before the final battle aggainst the shark.

Combining those geniusly outlined characters with gut-wrenching action and suspense, directed in a crafy and technical near perfect manner - THAT is EXACTLY the combo which makes Spielbergs films WORK. Its the Spielberg- Combo, since he is the director who led this technique to perfection. Thats the reason for "JAWS" becoming the first ever summer-blockbuster.

And that formula remained mostly unchanged for the next 20 years.

Whilst many people say that Spielberg goes too far with the using of pathos in his movies, that he is too much after making the audience cry, that he only goes for the chills - This is what brought him the title "Master of Audience manipulation". And lets face it: A good director is always a manipulator. There can be many ways to manipulate an audience. Spielberg does it with emotional assaults and insanly entertaining action. Tarantino does it with dialouge. Cameron makes you forget the outside world. Jackson draws you into another world. Fincher does it with serious and brooding atmosphere.

One could say that Spielberg chose the cheapest way. But whatever works so fine cant be wrong at all.

It doesnet matter if we talk about "ET- The Extra Terrestrial", the "Indiana Jones"- trilogy or "Jurassic Park". Its always the same. Spielberg gets the audience by combining entertainment with profile. And he really is the only director I can think of who does it so incredible flawlessly.

Another thing that makes Spielberg truly stand out is the fact that he is also capable of something else. Something totally different. He is capable of making serious and brooding, dark and complex films, that grab you violently, forcing you to hear into your heart and building an own opinion.

Spielberg really lost his family-friendly innocece with 1993s "Schindlers List". Not neccesarily the best film ever, but most definatly the most important. He STILL uses his typical tools of audience manipulation in his serious films, yet here they are more subtle, not making a drama become cheesy.

Spielberg has made "serious" films before "Schindlers List". "Empire of the Sun" and "The Colour Purple", to name only too. However, those had still the very NAIVE tone about them, that naive tone Spielberg is famous for. But "Schindlers List" really was an game-changer. It brought Spielberg respect, deep respect, even amogst the most hardcore film-critics.

Why so? Because when you watch "Schindlers List", you do not only experience an compelling and TRUE story, but also, and this is the important point, you throughoutly FEEL how UNCOMFORTABLE and SAD it had to be MAKING this film. It was really no movie where the Cast and the Crew would have fun on the set. This was more like a serious mission: Spielberg and his crew did not make "Schindlers List" because they wanted to make it, it was because they needed to make it. It was important. Spielberg really deserves every bit of respect he got from that movie, proving once and for all that there are really TWO Spielbergs inside him.

And now I will FINALLY come to the point. Why I think Spielberg is good today!

1998 has to be the first year in which voices rised, saying that Spielbergs formula was overused and not really working anymore. It was the year of "Saving Private Ryan". Whilst most fans and critics agree that it is probably the best WAR-FILM ever when it comes to the technical side, esspecially the amazing camera usage, there are also many voices who say that Spielberg eventually went to far with pathos and patriotism on this film. Lets focus on the pathos, since I hate the "patriotism-card" in movies. Its such a stupid thing to talk about. Well, is undeniable part of the Spielberg formula, and I personally would say it had been overused in a film before - "ET"!

It still is beloved amongst fans. But this time it was different, many people were angry at Spielberg that he overused the pathos in such an SERIOUS film. He had the perfect balance in "Schindlers List", but apparantly he went too far with "Saving Private Ryan". To an certain extent I have to agree with the critizism here. In the last act "Saving Private Ryan" somehow felt awkward, if not...well, cheesy.

And that was the point where fans and critics started to RAMBLE and RANT about that subject in every Spielberg film to come. Seriously, they wont ever stop bringing up that arguement. They never did it in such fashion before, but after 1998 Spielberg was always the king of pathos! And now that was labled as a BAD thing.

The point here is, from that moment on Spielberg could do whatever he wants, he never again was able to please those people. Why? Beacuse those "so called" fans and critics DID NOT EVEN WANT to be pleased by Spielberg anymore.

Its like someone would say:

"Yeah, that Marvel Studios movie was ****, I guess that means every Marvel Movie to come will be **** too."

See how stupid this is? That is exactly what happened to Spielberg.

Spielberg always used sledgehammer emotion and pathos to a certain extent, but in his golden times that never was a problem for both fans and critics.

While I admit taht Spielberg had some boring films, and also some films which really focused on odd subjects, as well as films that were executed quite cheap - I will never accept the "pathos-card" for not liking Spielberg anymore.

See, most of Spielbergs films have a different focus, there are adventures, there is Science Fiction, there are Dramas, there is pure guilty pleasure action. If you dont like some of this genres, well, thats fine. I doesnet mean the film is bad.

Well, of course some Spielberg films are obviously weaker then others. If you compare, lets say "Raiders of the Lost Ark""Minority Report". I think its a easy telling who wins.

Movies like "Indiana Jones 1-3", "Jurassic Park" or "JAWS" are movies in which the Spielberg formula comes in perfect usage. Films like "War of the Worlds, "Hook" and "Always" not so much.

Yes, its true, not all of Spielbergs films are masterpieces. How is this even possible? Only a mad fanboy would say all of his films are great equally. It also depends on what films you like. If you just CANT STAND straight forward Adventures, you even might find yourself unable to like Indy. Its all about taste.

While many Spielberg films are flawed, very many critics and fans dont really focus on those flaws while critizise Spielberg. Sooner or later they all go for the "pathos"-thing.

And its obvious why: You cant critisize Spielberg for bad technical filmmaking. You just cant do that. So they have to critisize Spielberg for the subject of the film ("AI", "Minority Report") or weak and odd character usage ("War of the Worlds"). I would agree with them to a certain extent. Recently Spielberg has failed on such parts. But he also did before. So why is he now suddenly "losing his magic"?

I think we could say Spielberg is going downhill if he had only make bad or weak or uninspired films for the last 12 years. Yeah, if you do the count Spielberg had MORE weaker films in the new millenium than he had before. But that doesent say much.

Look at 2003s "Catch me if you can". This film is brilliant, its probably one of the most entertaining and likeable "Crime-Dramas" ever. It is so light-hearted and playful, you just have to like this movie.

Or 2006s "Munich". If you would ask me this film is almost equal to "Schindlers List". It is a compelling character study as well as a mournful and serious drama.

We all know that 2008s "Indy Revival" was not so good. But it didnt rape the legend. If you wanna see a raped legend take a look at Spielbergs buddy Lucas.

My point is that while Spielberg might not aim so high anymore with his newer films, and while he has more stinkers recently, he still is the best man to execute great storys. He still is as crafty as ever. He still know how to grab the audience by the hearts and by the balls. He still takes you on wild rides, he still makes you cry. The problem is just that many critics and fans dont WANT to see that anymore, and even if they would see it, they would never admit.

Bottom line:

Spielberg is not losing his magic. He is still the greatest story-teller in Hollywood. The man is a legend, he doesent have to prove a thing anymore, yet he is still putting out great films every few years. We all should respect him. He never went bad. He might have his "times-off", but he never became bad at all.

Spielberg will always be the King of New Hollywood!

What are your opinions on the "old" and the "new" Spielberg?

Woah...that's wayyyy too long for my attention span, hehe. Kudos for the thought-filled analysis though. I'll keep my short, sweet, and straight to the point...

...Spielberg is a legend, but he's also human. I don't think any of his films are bad, just some (Indy 4 in particular) aren't on the same level as his others. I feel that Spielberg, like any other film maker, is going through evolutionary changes in his taste and style. In his youth he made fun films that appealed to the inner child in us. Then as he got older his focus started shifting to more serious, philosophical minds but he was still about to create fun films (Jurassic Park). Now that he's an older and wiser man, most of his films are more cerebral. He's tried to make a couple of "fun" films (Indy 4 and Tin Tin) but because of his age he doesn't quite hit "fun" bulls eye anymore.

Spielberg always has and always will make great films. It's just that his style and taste has changed over the years. When he was making E.T. and Temple of Doom there's no way he could make a movie like Munich because he wasn't mature enough and vice versa, now-a-days his "fun" films aren't as ace because he has matured.
I don't think he's losing his magic at all. He still makes great films as last year's War Horse shows. I think the problem is that he missed on two big summer blockbusters, War of the Worlds and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That is based on general opinion, not my own as I actually think that Indiana Jones was pretty good. It has flaws, the biggest of which Spielberg could do nothing about (Harrison Ford not being able to do what he used to), but it is still pretty good and still very much feels like an Indiana Jones film. It is certainly a better film than his Jurassic Park sequel from a decade earlier. Spielberg has always made bad films now and then, but that's been true from the beginning, not something that has just started recently. His worst film (1941) is from way back in 1979, right when he was supposedly at his peak.

Even in the last decade he's had four great films, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, Munich, and War Horse. So I definitely don't think he's losing his touch. The same is true of Scorsese, another legend who gets much the same criticism these days.
I loved War Horse, Tintin, Indiana Jones and Munich. His last 4 so no I don't think he is
Spielberg needs to get into, for him, new territory. He needs to do modern-day fantasy adventures, superhero adaptions, westerns, horror etc
He's still the king (somewhat), but his shine has lost a little of its magic. Nowadays, people look more forward to stuff by Cameron, Scott, Jackson, Nolan, Burton and Tarantino. Well, perhaps not Burton so much, but still.
It's just like what happens to most artists when they get older. They don't necessarily lose their talent, it just becomes more of a habit rather than something they have to work hard for. Technically, their work is still brilliant, and perhaps even better, but the idealism and experimentation of youth is gone.
IMO, Spielberg and Lucas working together are much, much greater than either of them working individually. This is uncontroversial when said about Lucas, but I think it really is true for Spielberg, too. His solo work tends towards the, for lack of a better word, colorless.
I don't agree with that.

Unless Lucas had involvement with Jaws and Schindler's List and Spielberg had involvement with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.
I enjoyed War Horse very much. I had some problems with it, but directorially it was great.

I have extremely high hopes for both Lincoln and even Robopocalypse (which if the movie gods are merciful will be renamed Robocalypse.)
I have extremely high hopes for both Lincoln and even Robopocalypse (which if the movie gods are merciful will be renamed Robocalypse.)

What are you babbeling? The official title for the movie is "Robocalypse".
No it isn't it's RoboPOCalypse, just like the book.
I don't agree with that.

Unless Lucas had involvement with Jaws and Schindler's List and Spielberg had involvement with Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.

Outside of recommending Williams to score the picture, about the only other involvement I can recall (off the top of my head, anyway) Spielberg is known to have had on ANH was when he tried to cheer Lucas up when Lucas was visiting Spielberg on the CE3K shoot prior to ANH's release, by offering Lucas 2% of the profits of CE3K in exchange for 2% of the profits of ANH. So basically Spielberg managed to get a piece of the pie. :woot:
I think it's just far too common. You have young guys rising up with inspiration from Spielberg, the originator is bound to blend in. Today's young film makers inspiring those of tomorrow and so on and so forth. With actors, think it's just the scripts in all honesty (talking Pacino & DeNiro for example because they get a couple great performances mixed in with the direct to DVD faire (which I'm unsure why they are doing) which adds to the 'older lose talent?' Question). Just see it with actors, possibly, while everyone else it's just their inspired film makers are now making films making them in turn just blend in more.
JAK®;23958891 said:
It's just like what happens to most artists when they get older. They don't necessarily lose their talent, it just becomes more of a habit rather than something they have to work hard for. Technically, their work is still brilliant, and perhaps even better, but the idealism and experimentation of youth is gone.

That is 100% what has happened with Spielberg and, like you said, most artist from one point on, career and/or age-wise.

And, to the original poster, when you talk about art, it's better not to use words like "undeniably". The wall of text you posted was invalidated to me because of elements like that, which made your... article look like a rant not unlike the ones you accuse Spielberg detractors of doing.

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