Recently The Daily Beast posted an article by Michael Tomasky in which he briefly describes what he considers to be some of Steven Spielberg’s most overrated and underrated films. I feel that I must share my own views on this.
Regular readers probably know by now that I love Spielberg. LOVE. I think my adoration with him began when I realized he at the very least produced and in several cases directed most of my favorite childhood movies. And even though his focus and themes have changed over the years, I remain ever loyal to his cinematic greatness.
That being said, there are of course films of his that I like better than others. And, with the exception of Tintin and 1941, I have watched every single one of his full-length feature films. So without further adieu, I share my thoughts on just a few of Spielberg’s films (though I’ll divide my list between Love and Didn’t Love).
Schindler’s List: Tomasky felt this film was overrated, but even now I can’t listen to the theme without getting chills. In fact, it was on a mix CD in my car just this morning. Itzhak Perlman’s violin talent is pure perfection when paired with John Williams’ composition. The movie is stark, brutal, and yet beautifully shot. The little girl in the red coat haunted me long after the last credits rolled, and the performances by Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes were brilliant.
The first three Indiana Jones movies: Harrison Ford. George Lucas. Steven Spielberg. A trio of greatness. I know many people didn’t love Last Crusade, but I simply adore it. (“We named the DOG Indiana!” cracks me up every time.) And Raiders is just great fun. And while Temple of Doom is my least favorite of the original three, it has a great opening scene in Club Obi-Wan, and a guy gets his heart ripped out of his chest. Don’t tell me you didn’t love that scene as a kid, and probably still do.
Jurassic Park: Ok, it departed from the book a bit, but the scenery is breathtaking, and this is arguably the film that truly ushered in the digital age. No more stop-motion. CGI had made all other forms of special effects nearly extinct. I remember seeing this in the theater and was blown away at the superb sound quality, and boy, those impact tremors on the big screen. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched this film.
E.T.: This film has entered into family lore, and I hope my dear relative isn’t embarrassed by this. But the story is that when a family member (who shall remain nameless) saw the government agents searching for E.T. at the beginning of the film, he shouted, “G.I. Joe is there!” Out loud. In the movie theater. Of course, he was maybe three at the time, so it was somewhat understandable. But this is a movie about feeling alone and misunderstood and finding someone you can connect with, even if they happen to be from another planet and prefer Reese’s Pieces over M&M’s.
Hook: Honestly, when I first watched Hook, I didn’t love it. I think the thought of Peter Pan growing old depressed me a little. But upon further viewings (it came on cable a lot), I realized what a beautiful film it is. It’s about growing up but retaining your youth. It’s about believing in the unbelievable, of loving your family, of embracing your destiny. And when Peter soars over Neverland, I feel like I’m soaring right along with him. Oh, and Dustin Hoffman as Hook is fantastic. There’s a vulnerability to him that almost makes us sad when the crocodile gets him one last time.
Always: I didn’t hate this film, either, but I never really connected with it. I’ve seen it a few times and mostly recall the cinematography. The haziness, the muted colors, like watching the events through a gauzy curtain. It’s not bad, but it’s not great.
Amistad: I wanted to love this film. Brilliant casting, strong performances, but all I remember from it is a lot of scenes in a courtroom, and there’s enough of that on television. I need to go back and view it again, and maybe I’ll appreciate it more, but it just felt long and boring to me. It was the film that brought acclaim to Djimon Hounsou, though, and I think he’s an incredible actor, both in Amistad and Gladiator.
Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: This movie just made me sad. Sad at how Harrison Ford had aged so visibly in between this and the previous Indy installments, sad at how the story wasn’t better. The characters weren’t more memorable. Though I did love that they brought Marion back, but I’m not a fan of Shia. My favorite part actually was the brief mention of Indy’s time with Pancho Villa, which was a subtle reference to the premiere episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and my first introduction to Sean Patrick Flanery.
So there you have it. My thoughts on just a few of this director’s films. If you made it this far, then feel free to share your own favorite (or not-so-favorite) Spielberg films, since this list is only the tip of the iceberg.