A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001): A Film by Steven Spielberg
by Carson Lund
Frankly, A.I. possesses qualities of the termite and the elephant: on the one hand, there is the haphazard, messy presentation in service of a scatterbrained script that bursts with potentially intriguing ideas and on the other, there is the superficial slickness, the empty-headed spectacle, and the ultimately watered-down substance. The tension makes for an experience that is profoundly aggravating during the fact and somewhat of a growing curiosity after. The aggravation met its pinnacle for me in the much-discussed "double ending" of the film, in which Spielberg almost concludes with a succinct and affecting summation of the film's thematic preoccupations only to burst into an outrageously didactic and less satisfying coda. One of the most revelatory images in all of Spielberg's career is that of David in his sunken futuristic cargo staring straight ahead at a glowing blue fairy while trapped inside a Coney Island Ferris wheel. Not only is it visually thrilling but it also presents a rather penetrating and accurate insight into the state of the human race: we are constantly looking ahead to our goals, believing in the unreachable, and even if we are trapped in a fundamental way, unable to fully enlighten ourselves, it doesn't make the experience of searching any less fulfilling. Never mind Spielberg's irksome tendency to dilute the simple power of his images in this scene (David's stuffed bear sidekick's reiteration of "we're trapped") and in the scene directly prior (William Hurt's spelling out of this very philosophy) - this is thoughtful filmmaking at a blockbuster level.
Escapism as Art: Steven Spielberg's Duel
by Eric Kohn
My growing awareness of Spielberg’s mainstream qualities engendered a short-lived disdain for his work, the feeling that he had exchanged talent for showmanship, as if the two were mutually exclusive. Actually, if it took sheer cinematic skill to make the modern Hollywood blockbuster click, Spielberg was the man to do it—an artist-as-movie-brat with strong awareness of the medium’s power over the spectator. But it must be said, for better or worse, that “Duel” displays a sign of things to come. It perfectly lays out the commercial potential of speed (See: “Speed,” of course, and more recently “Unstoppable”) and captures the profound craft behind escapist entertainment—in the right hands, anyway.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
by Ratnakar Sadasyula
In sharp contrast to other alien movies, which generally depicted them as nasty, scheming monsters, Spielberg actually breaks ground here by showing them as friendly and of course he takes it further in E.T. by showing the bonding between an alien and a young boy. Actually in a way the fascination for UFO’s and aliens, is a reflection of average American paranoia. During the cold war it was of course those Russians. So this constant fear of the other, could be Russians/Germans/Japs, some how explains the plethora of literature and movies dealing with aliens attacking planet Earth. Of course the extreme manifestation of this paranoia could be seen in movies like Independence Day. James Cameron again attempted a similar theme of human-alien bonding, in The Abyss, but there it went a bit deeper, with the aliens warning Earth of destruction, if the arms race was not stopped.
Something Evil vs. Duel
by Simon Abrams
If you compare Something Evil, an obscure, made-for-tv Rosemary's Baby knockoff Steven Spielberg directed in 1972, with Duel, his more well-known 1971 TV movie about a man menaced by a killer truck, you'll see how far the artist regressed over the course of a year. While it's easy to blame writer Robert Clouse's weak screenplay for Something Evil's shortcomings, Richard Matheson's script for Duel could have just as easily automatically sank the project beneath the pretension of it macho premise. The key difference between the two films is their subject matter: Something Evil is about a mother's fears of losing influence over her children while Duel is essentially about gay panic inspired by a traumatic car accident (or at least, the film's comparatively more interesting first half is). Though I readily admit that I could be making something out of nothing here, the fact remains: Spielberg has never successfully made a movie centered around a woman's world. The absent father figure is a staple of his cinema because his movies are typically about men struggling to regain their agency. No dad means no manly influence, which means a lot more in Spielberg's world than you might suspect at first glance.
Loving and Hating My Idol
by Fei Meng
Unlike most or all of the other contributors to this blogathon, I identify myself as a filmmaker. No, I'm not a professional yet, but having gone through film school and directed a number of shorts myself, I can at least offer the perspective of a filmmaker. The hardcore technical aspects of the craft are irrelevant to the discussion; what I wish to relate is what I think about Spielberg as a fellow artist of cinema and what he means to me in that context. For me, loving and hating Spielberg is not so much about the movies themselves as it is about about what he represents as an artist.
Memories of Jurassic Park
by Rob Humanick
What I realized, with so much hindsight, was that the reason Jurassic Park disturbed me at that age - raw and easily overloaded with the emotions, sometimes disturbing, on the screen - was that this was a film that took death seriously. Unlike most of the flimsy monster movies I'd seen up until that time -- in which a cop snatched from traffic by the hungry jaws of a monster was just a throwaway figure -- this was the work of someone who considered the spirit and flesh and blood of everyone involved, even the cowardly lawyer and pudgy, greedy hacker. He was too wise and experienced even at that point in his career to not be aware of a certain inherent silliness in the material, and yet this awareness grounds it, by relocating the narrative pull away from the physical action (which is beautiful as well) to the universal human impulses (life finds a way). It's this core of humanity that appeals to me so strongly in all of Spielberg's films, and yet he's not one without his darker sides. If Jurassic Park (and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, among others) tells us anything, it's that Steven likes to kill people. And do I ever love him for it.
Sad that it's ending today... but all good things must end. Many thanks to all those who contributed to the blogathon, advertised it, and read the pieces during what is the busiest time of the year for all of us, no less. We couldn't have done it without you.
Happy New Year, everyone. Much love.