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spielberg: end of the line?

I do love to comment on film articles in The Guardian, which are often excellent, but this obituary for Spielberg's genius does seem to have arrived several years late. From where I sit, the high tide of Spielberg magic (assuming there was such a thing) took place nearly 15 years ago.

That would be the period from 1993 - 1998, in which we had Schindler's List, Jurassic Park and Saving Priavte Ryan. There was also Amistad and Jurassic Park 2, but nobody's perfect. Even SPR is only excellent in parts, but it's a film I was able to watch again recently, and enjoy. For me, that is always the test. A) can I bear the idea of seeing a film for a second time, and B) when I do, is it still enjoyable? Let's call it the STT (Second Time Test).

Since 1998, the following Spielberg films fail Part A of the STT: A.I., Minority Report, The Terminal,War Of The Worlds, Munich, Indiana Jones 4 and now Tintin. Only Catch Me If You Can passes A, but has yet to be subjected to B. His other new film, War Horse, has already filled me with dread, though I remain thrilled at the prospect of a film about Abraham Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis, due next year - because Dan is in it, of course.

The thing with Spielberg is that he has been built up by so many people for so long to be a director of genius, when in fact what I think he's good at is getting films made. While he has directed 28 films in 40-odd years, he has produced or executive produced nearly 130. I think that shows where his real interests lie. The Scorseses and Eastwoods of this world don't have that kind of credit imbalance. Spielberg is 65 next month, and a very happy birthday to him. His contribution to modern cinema is immense, and some of it - the blockbuster phenomenon via Jaws (as well as Star Wars) - has been negative. But no one could wish that his films had never been made, and several will always be popular (though not, of course, Always).

The problem lies in the media's attempts to label him The Greatest Film Director In The World. It's not that he doesn't deserve the title, it's just that no one does. Maybe Lionel Messi is the Greatest Footballer In The World, because there are statistics that can support that claim, but even if you tot up all the box office takings for Spielberg's films, all you're going to get is The Most Profitable Film Director Of All Time. Genius is subjective, and is unlikely to be sustained over a long period. All that matters is the work, a fact which I suspect Spielberg is as aware of as anyone. I don't think he'll lose any sleep over articles like this, because he probably never believed in the hype in the first place. I certainly hope so.

 

Phil Raby
 

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