“I dream for a living.”
— Steven Spielberg
Steven Allan Spielberg was born on this day in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA in 1946. He is 66 years old.
Spielberg grew up in Haddon Township, New Jersey and Scottsdale, Arizona. He made 8mm films that he charged his friends a quarter a piece to see, his sister sold popcorn. He’d do special effects train wrecks using his model trains. He earned the photography merit badge in Boy Scouts producing an 8mm movie called “The Last Gunfight. (Spielberg went on to become an Eagle Scout.)
While attending California State University, Long Beach he took an unpaid internship at Universal Studios. When studio VP Sid Sheinberg saw his 26 minute, silent film Amblin’ he offered Spielberg a seven-year contract with Universal Television. Thus making Spielberg the youngest director to be signed to a long-term deal with a major motion picture studio. He left Cal State, Long Beach to take the gig, but eventually finished his degree in 2002.
At Universal Television he directed episodes of Marcus Welby, MD, Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery, The Name of the Game, The Psychiatrist, Columbo and TV movies.
His first feature film was The Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn (1974). Sugarland Express was a good first effort, and the critics liked it, but it got tepid reaction at the box office.In 1975 he made everybody afraid to get into the water with Jaws. Based on a Peter Benchley novel Jaws had that mix of small town life invaded by something big and ominous — in this case a great white shark named “Bruce” — that became a Spielberg hallmark. Jaws starred Roy Scheider as the mild-mannered sheriff, Marty Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as smart, hyper Matt Hooper and Robert Shaw as crusty Quint. Jaws was the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars knocked it off the top of the list.
He revisited the theme of an earlier, student, film, Firelight, to make his third film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Firelight had a budged of $500 and, with tickets that cost $1 each and the film made a profit of exactly $1. The budget and profit for Close Encounters was considerably larger. He wore both writing and directing hats on Close Encounters.
World wide adventure came calling with Indiana Jones in 1981 in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first [and best] of the Indiana Jones series.
Then he came home for another small town meets alien film with E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. [Spielberg fans are generally split on this one with some voting it as their favorite and others dismissing it as over sentimental and saccharine. I’m on team saccharine. Discuss.]
He did two segments of the Twilight Zone movie (no, not the Vampire one with Edward Cullen) and a couple of TV shows before making the wonderful The Color Purple. Based on the Alice Walker novel, the film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards — but not for directing — however, it didn’t win any Oscars.Empire of the Sun is a war movie and is set in almost the same time frame at the Indiana Jones flicks, but it couldn’t be more different. Based on the J.G. Ballard novel and with a screen play by Tom Stoppard this move starred John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Nigel Havers and a young Christian Bale (in one of his first roles for film.) Empire of the Sun did well with the critics, although it did not do as well at the box office as some of Spielberg’s more action packed films. It (along with Color Purple) marked a transition point for the film maker. From here on out he had the chutzpah to make a full-fledged drama. [Empire is my #1 favorite Spielberg film. It is beautifully filmed, has amazing performances, and a wonderful score, go put it on you Netflix queue right now.]
He closed out the 1980s with the third installment in his Raider’s series — this time with Sean Connery along for the ride with Harrison Ford; and an under appreciated movie about daredevil pilots who put out forest fires, Always. Spielberg teamed up with Richard Dreyfus again for Always, and it’s Audrey Hepburn’s last role.
Hook, a spin on the Peter Pan story came in 1991, followed by Jurassic Park. Both seem like a perfect fit for this director who revels in letting his inner child come out on the screen. Jurassic Park has DINOSAURS! What’s not to like? [Well if you’ve read the book, you might cite a the lack of character or plot development, which Michael Crichton taut novel had in spades. The movie relied more on special effects and product placement than writing. — Seemed to work though, they made a LOT of money and squeeze out a couple of sequels.]Schindler’s List is another of his best movies. It won Spielberg his first Academy Award for Best Director (it also won for Best Film). He found a very human way to tell a very inhumane story. Like Empire of the Sun it is a WWII drama, and it also takes place largely in a concentration camp. But Schindler’s List is in the European theater and it encompasses a larger scope. Amazing acting, story, sets, and it is largely done in black and white. [It is my other favorite of Spielberg, and needless to say, you ought to put it on your queue.]
After another dance with dinos in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, he returned to drama with Amistad. Amistad tells the true story of an uprising that took place on the slave ship La Amistad and the legal battle that followed. Look for Anthony Hopkins as [my guy] John Quincy Adams. Amistad lacked box office appeal, but did well critically.
Saving Private Ryan showed yet another side to WWII, this time from the US soldier’s point of view. It was a big box office hit. and Spielberg won his second Academy Award as Best Director. Wonderful acting, especially from his lead, Tom Hanks, again a great story line, and beautifully shot. [A bit too realistic in the graphic depiction of the battle scenes for me, but still a great movie. Queue it.]
2001 brought A.I. Artificial Intelligence, which was started on Stanley Kubrick’s watch. 2002 gave us Minority Report based on the Philip K. Dick novel. Both are nearish future sci-fi stories. Catch Me If You Can goes back in time (a little) to tell the story of a con artist played by Leonardo DiCaprio and the cop that chases him, Tom Hanks. Hanks stars again in The Terminal as kind-hearted Eastern European traveller stuck in an airport when his country experiences a coupe. [All of them deserve a spot in your queue. As does…]Spielberg’s reboot of War of the Worlds is creepy good with a capital C. The director joined forces again with Tom Cruise for this blockbuster, and it pulled in the big bucks — but it was also a darn good movie.
[It seems odd to me that I have seen SO many Spielberg movies, and yet after the 2005 War of the Worlds I haven’t seen any! How did that happen? I want to see Munich; War Horse; and definitely Lincoln. Any body up for a movie night?]
- Happy B-Day, Mr. Spielberg (marciokenobi.wordpress.com)
- Spielberg invited to screen ‘Lincoln’ on Senate floor (wtvr.com)