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The Pocket Essential Steven Spielberg

The Pocket Essential Steven Spielberg by James Clarke
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At the pinnacle of his career and now in his fourth decade as a director, Steven Spielberg is firmly established as the world's most popular film-maker. Celebrated for his mastery of spectacle and fantasy he has, more recently, proven his skill as a craftsman of compelling populist drama. He is an icon of late twentieth century popular culture. From the thrills and zestful adventure of Jaws and the unflinching recreation of Auschwitz in Schindler's List, to the tender idealism of ET and the sombre hymn to brotherhood of Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg takes his audience on new journeys, to places often unknown to the eye but always familiar and recognisable to the heart. With his films AI, Minority Report and Catch Me If You Can, Spielberg continues to invest powerful emotion into familiar genres. His work has become more nuanced and shaded, but its sense of optimism remains. This Pocket Essential examines every Spielberg film since Duel and includes a career overview of a singular director whose work has transcended its origin to become the cinematic vision for a generation of moviegoers.
Pocket Essentials; Read online
Title: The Pocket Essential Steven Spielberg
Author: James Clarke
As the summer of 2001 cooled, Steven Spielberg’s latest movie AI: Artificial Intelligence divided, confounded and frustrated critics and audiences who had been expecting something akin to the ‘warm embrace’ (to quote Spielberg) of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET:The Extra Terrestrial. Instead, the new movie fused the chilling, the unsettling, the breathtaking and the melancholy. It wasn’t as easy on the heart and mind as his other fantasy pieces had been. The film did not leave audiences with an up feeling but instead a real sense of sadness as David, the boy robot at the heart of the story, seeks out his place in the world and the approval that comes with love. Staying true to the apparently exhausting but, for audiences, hugely welcome multi-picture pace that he established in 1989, Spielberg followed AI with Minority Report (far more Kubrick inflected than AI ironically) and then the lighter, brighter but still emotionally resonant caper chase movie Catch Me If You Can. Without doubt, Spielberg’s ever strengthening interest in diversity (at least on the surface) in his choice of screenplays was apparent to all. At the time of Minority Report’s release Spielberg noted ‘Not a lot of scepticism has gotten into my work . . . I feel as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more courageous.’ (WIRED, June 2003, Spielberg in The Twilight Zone, by Lisa Kennedy, pp. 106–113, p. 146 – this excerpt from p. 112) By 2003, Spielberg’s TV producing track record had also proved compelling evidence of his contribution to small screen pop culture, on a wide-ranging scale. In autumn 2001,American TV broadcast the mini series Band of Brothers, which followed American citizen soldiers under fire in Europe during World War Two. Based on the book of the same name by historian, the late Stephen J. Ambrose, and something of an expansion of the milieu of Spielberg’s 1998 hit Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers was a hugely successful project, which looks to be succeeded soon enough by another Spielberg supervised World War II series set in the Pacific Theatre of War. In contrast to the historical realism of Band of Brothers (its opening credits sequence and theme music by Michael Kamen were exquisite), Spielberg was also the executive producer of Taken, a science fiction series that spanned the second half of the twentieth century, dramatising encounters with extra terrestrial life. The opening episode, directed by Tobe Hooper who had achieved great things twenty years before with the film Poltergeist (incidentally based on a Spielberg storyline), recalled Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Spielberg’s Amazing Stories episode The Mission (1985). The series was a massive hit, reminding us of the allure of the ‘great out there’ and Spielberg’s take on it. Film critic J. Hoberman wasn’t far off the mark when commenting that: ‘If there is a universal personality in contemporary cinema it is surely Steven Spielberg.’(Sight and Sound, p. 16, Sept 2001, The Dreamlife of Androids)

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