Auteur of the Week: Steven Spielberg (3 of 4)

Before my computer died last week, I was set to start on week three of my four-part Auteur of the Week series on Steven Spielberg. Luckily, this week I am able to use a shared computer (my new one should be here in the next few days!) and finally bring you part three! If you haven’t had a chance yet, you can read part one here and part two here.

The 90s was overall a very successful era in Spielberg’s career. Three of his most memorable and critically lauded films were released at that time; two in the same year. He also was nominated for Best Director by the Academy twice, winning the award both times. Personally, I love all six of his films that he made in the 90s. I was a child at this time, but I saw all of the films before the decade was over, four I think I saw in theaters. This was the Spielberg era wherein I became aware of him as a director. This is also when I saw many of his earlier films for the first time, including the Indiana Jones series, Jaws, Close Encounters, etc. I remember watching both ceremonies when he won his two Best Director awards. I think he may have been the director that made me first understand what it was a director did. In fact, when I was about ten years old I declared that when I grew up I wanted to be a director and I wanted to be better than Spielberg! I was a rather ambitious child.

Apparently, 1991’s Hook was in production as earlier as 1985, with Dustin Hoffman already cast as Captain Hook, but after the birth of his first son Spielberg decided to drop out of the project and Nick Castle was brought in as director. After massive delays and a change in studios, Castle was eventually fired (though he was given a $500,000 settlement) and Spielberg was brought back on as director. Robin Williams was cast in the lead and the script went under varies rewrites before shooting actually began. The film’s original budget was $48 mil and ballooned to between $60-80 mil before production wrapped. This was due to filming going 40 days over its original 76-day shooting schedule. Despite its early financial problems, the film grossed over $300 mil worldwide and was deemed a financial success. It was not, however, a critical success and currently only Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Best Original Song.

I don’t care what the critics had to say about this film at the time, I loved it then and I still love it now. It always blows my mind that Dustin Hoffman plays Captain Hook, he so disappears into the role. I love Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell. She’s fun and spunky and the vibrance of her performance says a lot about her talent; apparently she was in the middle of going through a tough breakup with Dylan McDermott at the time. Though Spielberg found it difficult to work with her, the result is one of her best performances. I know at least one hardcore Peter Pan fan who hates this film, so I guess it’s a good thing I’m not a huge fan (I’ll admit, I’ve never read the original stories). I thought the idea of a grown up Pan was a great idea and I think the way in which the film addresses childhood is wonderful. I also will always love Rufio, even if he is a little punk. He’s a punk who learns about honor and sacrifices himself for the greater good. Many a tear was shed when I first saw this film and many a tear was shed every time I’ve seen it since.

1993 saw the release of two of Spielberg’s most memorable films. The first of his two films released that year was an adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. The film was made on a $63 mil budget and grossed over $914 million worldwide; at the time the highest grossing film ever. The film currently holds an 87% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning all three: Best Visual Effects, Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing. I also have to mention that Jurassic Park was one of the early pioneering films in the CGI (computer generated images) revolution, inspiring such filmmakers as James Cameron, George Lucas and Peter Jackson. Film historian Tom Shone has said about the film’s innovation and influence, “In its way, Jurassic Park heralded a revolution in movies as profound as the coming of sound in 1927.”

I remember seeing this in theaters when I had just turned seven years old and it gave me such nightmares! Since then I have seen it countless times and have grown to love it dearly. It has such a great cast, filled with people I love: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeff Goldblum, Wayne Knight (Newman!) and Richard Attenborough. It has such a great and quotable script. I definitely count it among my favorite films of all-time. If I were forced to pick a favorite of Spielberg’s films, it would be a hard choice between this film and Jaws and, well, all of his film practically! I would say I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like this film, but I recently discovered someone who doesn’t. How that’s even possible I don’t even know.

Released about six months later, Schindler’s List proved that not only could Spielberg tell a chilling story and break box office records, he was also capable of telling moving, culturally important stories as well. The film had a $22 mil budget and made $321 mil worldwide. The film holds a 97% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, in 2004 it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry and the American Film Institute placed in on several of its 100 Years. . .100 Movies lists: AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies –  #9, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #8, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes and Villains – Oskar Schindler: hero #13,  Amon Göth: villain #15, AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Cheers – #3, AFI’s 10 Top 10 – #3 epic film. The film also received twelve Academy Award nominations, winning seven: Best Makeup, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes, Best Actor Liam Neeson, Best Original Score (won), Best Art Direction (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Adapted Screenplay (won), Best Director (won) and Best Picture (won).

This was one film I didn’t see in theaters, as it was definitely a little too graphic for a seven-year-old. I did, however, see it unedited on ABC a few years later. As I recall, my mother told my brother and I that the film was not an easy one to watch, but she felt it was important for us to know about the events depicted within it. I think I was about ten at that point and had been enamored with Spielberg for a while already. I also was already obsessed with the Academy Awards, so I felt it was also an important film for me to watch because it was a Best Picture Winner. It was definitely a life-changing experience. I already vaguely knew about the Holocaust, but after watching this film I knew a whole lot more. This is a hard film to write about because there are so many themes going on and everything comes together so perfectly, so I’m just going to stick with a little bit about the performances. Both Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes give some of the finest performances in their pretty stellar all-around careers. I would be hard pressed to choose between Neeson and winner Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, both performances as so wonderfully heartbreaking. As for Tommy Lee Jones vs. Ralph Fiennes, I barely remember The Fugitive and definitely need to re-watch it, but I highly doubt I’ll be more impressed by Jones than I was by Fiennes, who plays perhaps the scariest, most sociopathic Nazi in film history.

Spielberg then took four years off directing, before coming back with another double-header year in 1997. The first film to be released that year was a sequel to Jurassic Park, based on Crichton’s 1995 novel The Lost World. The Lost World : Jurassic Park was made on a $79 mil budget and grossed $618 mil worldwide. Although it was a financial success, it was not very well receive by critics and currently holds a 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Academy Awards, but lost the award to James Cameron’s Titanic.

This is another case wherein I don’t agree with the critics. I mean, yes, it’s not as great as the first film. But it’s still wildly entertaining and again filled with an amazing cast: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Richard Schiff, Peter Stormare and Vince Vaughn. There was a time in my life wherein I watched this film on a daily basis. I think this is partly due to my love of Goldblum and his character Dr. Ian Malcolm.

Released in December of the same year, Amistad was made on a $44 mil budget and just barely recouped that sum with a total gross of $44 mil. The film currently holds a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was nominated for four Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actor Anthony Hopkins, Best Actor in a Drama Djimon Hounsou, Best Motion Picture Drama and Best Director. It was also nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Dramatic Score, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor Anthony Hopkins.

I really love this film. It’s another one I didn’t see in theaters, but it wasn’t because of my age. It was because it didn’t come to out local theater. We had to wait and rent it in order to see it. I really loved Anthony Hopkins in this film, but I was shocked that his performance got all the awards love, when it is Djimon Hounsou’s performance that really makes this film something special. He is so intense and complex. His performance in this film definitely goes on my list of all-time great Oscar snubs.

The last film Spielberg made in the 90s was released in 1998. Saving Private Ryan was made on a $70 mil budget and grossed $481 mil worldwide. The film currently holds a 92% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning five: Best Original Score, Best Makeup, Best Art Direction, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound (won), Best Sound Editing (won), Best Film Editing (won), Best Cinematography (won), Best Actor Tom Hanks, Best Director (won) and Best Picture.

I saw this film in theaters, and, like pretty much everyone else, was in awe of the opening storming of Omaha Beach scene. Now, in my opinion, the best film of 1998 was Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (it’s also one of my Top Ten Favorite Films of All-Time), but I do think Saving Private Ryan is an amazing film. Tom Hanks gives one of his greatest and most subtle performances of his career. I will admit, I’ve only seen this film a few times and I think it’s about time I give it another viewing.

Next week I’ll cover Spielberg in the 2000s, a decade in which many of his films were box office successes, though not as successful with critics or the Academy.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these films, you can do so here.

About Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on November 10, 2010, in Auteur of the Week and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. What’s “wrong” with Hook (besides a few of its own internal problems) is that it totally goes against what happens the original stories by J.M. Barrie. How can they be so disrespectful?

    There is a faithful continuation out there: Click!

    And here’s a grand “What if?” adventure, which, even tho it strays, never loses sight of the themes and such of Barrie:


  2. Jurassic Park grossed $914 BILLION worldwide? I think you mean million.

  3. Jurassic Park grossed $914 BILLION worldwide? I think you mean million.

  1. Pingback: Auteur of the Week: Steven Spielberg (4 of 4) « the diary of a film awards fanatic

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