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Steven Spielberg, cut to size by NYTimes readers

Steven Spielberg by rwpike
Steven Spielberg, a photo by rwpike on Flickr.

Calgary, AB
Spielberg has entertained more people than anyone in history. His films have evoked laughs, fear, wonder, rage and empathy. He has crossed genres, not always successfully but fearlessly. He might not be the critics' darling, but with his body of work, he is likely the greatest American film director.

valley village ca
I think the reason is in the article. He wants to be loved and so he has movies that dumb down, that explain everything, that give an audience what he thinks they want (apparently they do) but never makes the really tough artistic decisions that truly great directors make, often pictures that aren't easy, aren't lovable. There's no question about his technical expertise, but his artistic judgement is, it seems to me, cheap, easy, kitschy.

Stu Freeman
Brooklyn, N.Y.
To the short list of Spielberg movies whose central characters are children one should certainly mention A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. True enough, that film revolved around a robot designed to resemble a human child but, along with E.T. and the underappreciated Empire of the Sun, it's the only one that examines childhood as a state of being. The less said about Hook the better.

Westchester NY
Two movie directors: Steven Speilberg and George Lucas, from the 1970's into the 1990's basically ruined Hollywood as a place to depend on for films that have human beings and all the wonderful, comic as well as tragic material that comes from the human person as their subject matter. I am thinking of films such as "Meet John Doe", "The Philadelphia Story", "Dark Victory" and "Now Voyager", "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House", "City for Conquest" up to "On the Waterfront", and the realism of the late 60's and early 70's "Bonnie and Clyde", "Midnight Cowboy". Instead of people living human lives as our main characters we had sharks, aliens, dinosaurs, comic strip characters. Special effects became a major attraction instead of incisive (theatrically influenced) dialogue. So now when you want to make a choice of which American made film to see it is like, "Well, let's see should I go see another Batman film or Spiderman 7, or some apocalyptic drama where aliens are arriving in DC to spread a deadly virus and only man can stop them, played by either Denzel Washington or Tom Cruise.

All I can say is - Steven Spielberg is the MOST OVERRATED director of all time in Hollywood.

Art and Spielberg, I am afraid, is an oxymoron. The $3.8 Billion says it all. He knows the popular mind and how to move it. Take, for instance, the artfully incongruous instant of the girl in the red dress in Schindler's List. Does the Holocaust need a gimmick? Must suffering be underlined? Would an artist impose it? Polanski knew that less is better and proved it with The Pianist. I have no trouble with Mr. Spielberg, the very wealthy director/producer of commercial films. Mr. Spielberg, the artist? Well, Kurosawa was an artist. Orson Welles, when he made the movies he wanted to make; David Lean; Ingmar Bergman; Mizuguchi; Kubrick and a few others. Art is one thing. Success and entertainment quite different.

Josh Hill
New London, Conn.
Spielberg's problem is that he wants to be considered a serious artist, but isn't. His serious films are neither intellectually nor emotionally challenging. They pander, even when he's trying very, very hard not to. As a consequence, his films lack the "peculiar honesty" that T.S. Eliot ascribed to great art.

It isn't a question of to whom the films are directed. Alfred Hitchcock made films for a mass audience, and so did Charlie Chaplin, yet both produced great art. Spielberg just doesn't understand the difference between a good film and a great one. And so he's really at his best when he's making good films, like Jaws, rather than trying to do something for which he doesn't have the requisite sensibility.

Rye NH
The pollution of our culture by the junk dialogue and characterizations of Star Wars is a sin beyond forgiveness. Spielberg is a schlockmeister of the first order, always the money, the money, the money. Pitiful.

All I can say is that the trailer for War Horse made me cry like a baby.

JF Brunet
How can the NYT pronounce the word "art" concerning Steven Spielberg? He is a very successful entertainer, which is not nothing, but that's it. His innovations are purely technical. The trailer of "Tintin" is enough to demonstrate that he has understood nothing of the poetry in Hergé. His films, one after the other, become unwatchable in a matter of a decade. Nothing will remain of his work.

Jon Jost
Mr Spielberg is of the 1% and his films show it. When he tries (hard) to be an "artist" - as he periodically does, he falls flat on his face. He is a "commericial" director par excellence. And nothing more.

El Paso Texas
Critics or wonks defining art is ludicrous. Steven judges Steven first and the consumer judges him by their movement. Art is as hard to define as is the artist based mostly by movement as well. The bar and the planet are in motion so that stagnancy is the enemy. Steven has been in motion and his work shows this movable feast. Leave art to the artists and commerce to the consumer. Critics live between the two and serve neither.

I remember being a ten year old kid and going to see 'The Sugarland Express". Like seeing "Bang The Drum Slowly" around the same time, both films made me think and consider the adult world around me in a differt way and the fragility of life. Sugarland Express left a lifelong impression on me. I only wish the Director of that films could talk to the Producer of Transformers and explain to him how important feeding kids something serious, adult and perhaps a few years beyond their keen can help nourish their imaginations and challenge them to make sense of the adult world. Here's hoping 'War Horse' has a bit of that going for it.

I think perhaps a few of Mr Spielberg's films would have been improved if he had said to Mr. Williams "I don't like that." The closing minutes of Amistad and Private Ryan were (for me at least) irreparably harmed by the overbearing and schmaltzy use of loud music over the words of Adams and of Lincoln.
I also think his direction of "Catch Me If You Can" and "The Terminal" has been undervalued.

fresno. ca.
Why did he choose to ruin Tintin? Why? He has demonstrated his lack of ability to discern true quality, subtelty and depth, and should be celebrated, just like Jobs, as another capitalist who is good at making money for himself, without any awareness of what truely matters in the world.. Just imagine if Jobs had required that all his products were made in america and manufactured without impact on the earth, either in the process or when done..It must have never even occurred to him, just as the real great parts of Tintin elude Speilberg.

Spielberg should give himself a break - the comparisons to Wilder and Coppola are a bit off, given that Coppola and Wilder had multiple roles in their films - both writer and director; whereas Spielberg mostly limits himself to producing and directing.

With two Oscars for Best Director, he ranks up there with a rarefied few directors who have won more than one Oscar - only William Wyler, Frank Capra and John Ford have won more Oscars than Spielberg for Best Director.

He's just not a very deep person.

There's an unusual irony that Spielberg may be the most commercially recognized of mainstream film makers working today, yet unlike, say, Ford or Hitchcock, high profile film makers of comparable iconic status in their own day, Spielberg - specifically, his body of work - fits no neat summary. For example, critical discussion, often keynoting on his forays into childhood-themed films, still overlooks the extraordinary triad of films at the center of Spielberg's filmography, the historical-realist epics Schindler's List, Amistad and Saving Private Ryan, which, resp, deal with genocide, slavery and war, yet share the greater theme of the historical body in crisis. This theme in particular has reverberated through Speilberg's work with remarkable effect, taken up again and re-examined, for example, through the sci-fi prism of AI and War of the Worlds, both brilliant. Genre is clearly no boundary to Speilberg. Rather, what intrigues is how he can move a seminal idea across genres, often with insightful, even breathtaking results. A genuine full critical appreciation of what he's done has yet to begin.

The Future
"If Hollywood had a Mount Rushmore, Mr. Spielberg would get two heads." That statement (aside from being highly visual) says a lot, Most of us go to Mr. Spielberg's movies to be entertained, frightened, validate emotions or what have you. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts, like film critics often appreciate movies and directors filmography for quite different reasons than the movie goer. The Oscars more often than not are examples of Hollywood taking care of its own. As Pauline Kael wrote "Good movies make you care, make you believe in possibilities again. If somewhere in the Hollywood-entertainment world someone has managed to break through with something that speaks to you, then it isn’t all corruption." I'm amazed at how often a thoroughly enjoyable movie gets trivialized, trounced or ignored by critics, and how genuinely awful films seem to be critiqued solely for the purpose of advertising. I don't want to imagine my life without the least of Spielberg's vision and inspirations.

New York
Every time Spielberg tells a story, it shrivels up and dies. He is just like George Lucas.

Ken Gedan
Spielberg is not a director; Spielberg is a brand. The sheer volume of his production and iffy quality proves it.

He reminds of a Czech/American "author" who had a stable of writers churning books. At the end, the "author" would just read the final product, approve it, and placed his well known name to it.

It did not end well.

David Olden
Victoria, BC
Kubrick wanted A.I. to be Spielberg's, "A Stanley Kubrick Production of a Steven Spielberg film," is how Stanley tried to sell it to him. He really genuinely felt that this suited Steven's sensibilities more so than his own.

Jan Harlan (Kubrick's producer, and producer on AI), said that had Stanley lived to produce AI, he would very much have been a hands off producer, in that he would not have micro managed. He'd have let Spielberg make his own film.

So, I think we got a LOT more than "an echo" of what might have been.

Kubrick, in the end, got what he wanted, and the credits show it: "A Stanley Kubrick Production of a Steven Spielberg film."

That's Kubrick, word for word.

Out of respect for the master, Kubrick, A.I. should never be mentioned as only Spielberg's movie, but as an orphan he adopted and developed the best he could.

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What Makes Spielberg Jump?

“I didn’t get it?”

Steven Spielberg, film rebel, sputtered at the lens in mock fury and disbelief.

“I wasn’t nominated? I got beaten out by Fellini?” he howled, on learning that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had nominated “Jaws” for a best-picture Oscar, but had snubbed him as the movie’s director.

The year was 1976, and Mr. Spielberg — long haired, loose and tongue firmly in cheek — was hurling outrage at the makers of a sassy documentary about the year’s Oscar contest. “This is called commercial backlash,” the young Spielberg explained, in a final and perhaps not entirely feigned moment of exasperation. “Everybody loves a winner,” he said. “But nobody loves a winner!”

Mugging for the camera at the age of 30, he had found the fault line in his own colossal career. It would totter — and totters still — between loud, popular, popcorn movies, like this year’s “Real Steel” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” for which Mr. Spielberg was an executive producer, and his untiring push for recognition as an innovative director.

Now Steven Spielberg the contender will try again, as he twice enters the awards race, once with an ambitious 3-D, motion-capture animation film, “The Adventures of Tintin,” and again with a period drama, “War Horse,” based on the children’s book whose stage adaptation on Broadway won the Tony Award for best play in June.

Mr. Spielberg declined to be interviewed about those films. This month, his representatives said, he was busy in Richmond, Va., in the second week of production on “Lincoln,” a long-planned drama about leadership and turmoil in the last months of Abraham Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Likely to be released late next year, it looks like yet another bid to become the kind of winner everyone can love.

Still, the line between art and commerce can be a scary place. Time and again Mr. Spielberg has held the audience in the palm of his hand. Now 64, he is not simply the best-selling film director of all time; his domestic ticket sales, at about $3.8 billion, roughly match the combined sales of his next two rivals, Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron. If Hollywood had a Mount Rushmore, Mr. Spielberg would get two heads.

Yet Spielberg the Artist has often struggled, as if the box-office hits were a handicap to be overcome. Who could forget the Great Snub of 1986, in which “The Color Purple” got 11 Oscar nominations — though not for Mr. Spielberg’s directing — and won nothing? (That tied a dubious record set a decade earlier by “The Turning Point,” directed by Herbert Ross.)

In 1987 Mr. Spielberg won his first Oscar, an honorary Irving G. Thalberg award. After some ferocious campaigns, three more Academy Awards would follow, for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Those helped fill the mantel but have left him short of the recognition given Walt Disney, with his 26 statuettes, or even Billy Wilder, with 7, and Francis Ford Coppola, with 6.

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Lately Mr. Spielberg has been working as if he intends to close the gap. By most measures he appears busier than at any time in his professional life. If “Lincoln” is released by DreamWorks and Walt Disney Studios in late 2012, he will have directed three major films in the span of a year. He has recently shared producer credits on another four movies, including “Super 8” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” while shouldering corporate responsibility for others, like “The Help” and “I Am Number Four,” which come from DreamWorks, a company he owns and manages in partnership with Stacey Snider.

The movies have come on top of television ventures that have included “Terra Nova,” the time-travel series he has produced in partnership with Peter Chernin for Fox, along with “Falling Skies” for TNT, “The River” for ABC and “Smash,” for NBC. It is a pace that startles even Kathleen Kennedy, a producer of “The Adventures of Tintin,” “War Horse” and “Lincoln,” who has worked with Mr. Spielberg for more than 30 years.

“He’s often choosing for emotional reasons,” Ms. Kennedy said of decisions that helped add Mr. Spielberg’s three directing assignments to an already large stack of productions. “I do think that plays a role in what he chooses to do.”

For those who wonder what drives him (money is no object: The Los Angeles Business Journal recently listed him as this city’s eighth richest person, with a net worth estimated at $3.2 billion), Mr. Spielberg has left clues. Perhaps the most telling was tucked away last year in the teacher’s guide to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition of Norman Rockwell works from the collections of Mr. Spielberg and George Lucas.

In the guide Mr. Spielberg discusses the painting “Boy on High Dive,” in which a boy crouches on the end of a diving board, looking fretfully over the edge. “For me, that picture represents every motion picture just before I commit to directing it — just that one moment,” he says of a work that has long hung in his Amblin Entertainment office at Universal Studios.

The painting is about fear, and so are Mr. Spielberg’s films this year — and, at some level, almost always.

As an Oscar contender “The Adventures of Tintin,” based on the Belgian artist Hergé’s classic series about the capers of a teenage reporter and his dog, faces a threshold question — still to be determined — as to whether the Academy will allow it to compete for an animation award, given that it uses computer techniques, rather than illustrations, to transform real actors.

But the core of the story, and Mr. Spielberg’s hope of moving the Academy’s voters, turns on his use of digital magic to communicate a stomach-churning sense of threat to a boy and his beast.

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In that sense “Tintin” forms a matched set with “War Horse,” which is adapted from the 1982 book by Michael Morpurgo, about a boy, played in the movie by the newcomer Jeremy Irvine, who follows his horse into the carnage of World War I. The confluence, said Ms. Kennedy, who spoke by telephone from the set of “Lincoln,” is partly accidental. “Tintin,” she noted, is an elaborate production that actually began six years ago and involves an intricate collaboration with Peter Jackson, another of its producers, while “War Horse” was hurried into existence in the last year or so.

In a brief e-mail exchange Mr. Spielberg said he sees the two films as being completely different. “They are each other’s polar opposite,” he said, without elaborating.

And it is a canard, of course, that Mr. Spielberg, through his directing career, has been hung up on a child’s point of view. Having directed roughly 30 films (depending on how one counts odds and ends like the “Amblin’ ” short or his contribution to the “Twilight Zone — The Movie”), among his full-length features he has focused squarely on the young only in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Hook” and “Empire of the Sun.” But this time around Mr. Spielberg seems more than casually intent on tapping the power of youth. Before diving into his current pair of pictures, he flirted with the possibility of directing “39 Clues” and “Chocky,” both about the young.

“War Horse” and “Tintin” each also have a connection with one of the best contemporary films about childhood hopes and fear, “Billy Elliot,” about a working-class boy who, improbably, becomes a ballet star. Beneath a digital gloss Jamie Bell, who played Billy, now portrays Tintin. “War Horse,” meanwhile, counts Lee Hall, who wrote both the movie and stage versions of “Billy Elliot” as one of its writers, along with Richard Curtis.

Again, Ms. Kennedy said, the convergence is accidental. Mr. Hall, she said, was working on a “War Horse” script before Mr. Spielberg became involved. As adapted for the screen, she added, “War Horse,” without the puppetry of the stage play, is “about the nobility of real horses.”

But a child’s panic, Mr. Spielberg has explained, is at the core of his art. “I was born a nervous wreck, and I think movies were one way of transferring my own private horrors to everyone else’s lives,” he told an interviewer for Rolling Stone magazine in 2007.

To observe him now, gray haired and accomplished — in January he will receive yet another lifetime achievement award, this one from the Producers Guild of America, to match the Thalberg, Cecil B. DeMille, Britannia and other industry prizes — is to see a filmmaker who has worked to flush that anxiety from his professional life while fighting to preserve and heighten it in pictures like “War Horse” and “Tintin.”

(Asked what he wished for the film industry at large, Mr. Spielberg in his e-mail said he would like to see as much passion devoted to storytelling and “the discovery of new voices” as has gone toward the quest for new technologies.)

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To an unusual extent the mature Steven Spielberg is insulated from jolts by multiple layers of business protection. As of last year he has been represented by not one but two of Hollywood’s most powerful agencies. The Creative Artists Agency handles his film career, while the rival William Morris Endeavor Entertainment represents both Mr. Spielberg and DreamWorks in television.

His corporate life is split between DreamWorks and a personal production company, Amblin Entertainment. In a further complication he keeps a tight alliance with the Kennedy/Marshall Company, owned by Ms. Kennedy and her husband, Frank Marshall — more insulation.

The Indian financiers who support DreamWorks through their Reliance Entertainment group are certainly not out to cause anxiety. “It’s been a privilege to partner with Steven, and get to know him through our regular meetings over the past three years,” wrote Amitabh Jhunjhunwala, who represents Reliance on the DreamWorks board, in a reverential e-mail this month.

Mr. Spielberg’s exalted status this year let him do what no one else in Hollywood likely could have achieved: He cornered both Paramount Pictures, which is releasing “Tintin” in the United States on Dec. 21 (and earlier abroad, where it has split territories with Sony Pictures), and Walt Disney, which has “War Horse” on Dec. 25, into placing his pictures on prime holiday season dates within days of each other. The studios are hungry for his promotional support — or even a screening-ready print of “War Horse” — but Mr. Spielberg, for the moment, is absorbed with “Lincoln.”

Inside his creative cocoon he relies on a small corps of fellows including the editor Michael Kahn, the cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and the composer John Williams. All three have contributed to “The Adventures of Tintin,” “War Horse” and now “Lincoln.” Mr. Kaminski is the baby, at 52. Mr. Kahn, who is 75, has been Mr. Spielberg’s editor since “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” released in 1977. Mr. Williams, 79, dates at least to “The Sugarland Express” (1974), Mr. Spielberg’s first feature film.

“We’ve never had an argument or disagreement about anything in all those years,” Mr. Williams said. “He’s never once said to me, ‘I don’t like that.’ ”

Asked what keeps the partnership fresh, Mr. Williams pointed to the diversity of Mr. Spielberg’s work, and to new technical challenges, like that of scoring animation, which he has not previously done.

There is that. And the eternal panic of a boy who wants everyone to love his pictures — audience and Academy alike — and is still diving in.