Steven Allen Spielberg (born December 18, 1946) is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, video game designer, and studio entrepreneur. In a career of more than four decades, Spielberg's films have covered many themes and genres. Spielberg's early science-fiction and adventure films were seen as archetypes of modern Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking. In later years, his films began addressing humanistic issues such as the Holocaust, the Transatlantic slave trade, war, and terrorism. He is considered one of the most popular and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema. He is also one of the co-founders of DreamWorks movie studio.
Spielberg won the Academy Award for Best Director for Schindler's List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). Three of Spielberg's films—Jaws (1975), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and Jurassic Park (1993)—achieved box office records, each becoming the highest-grossing film made at the time. To date, the unadjusted gross of all Spielberg-directed films exceeds $8.5 billion worldwide. Forbes puts Spielberg's wealth at $3.2 billion.
Spielberg is the most financially successful motion picture director of all time. He has directed and/or produced an astounding number of feature films that have become enormous box-office hits, and this has given him enormous influence in Hollywood. As of 2004, he has been listed in Premiere and other magazines as the most "powerful" and influential figure in the motion picture industry. He is seen as a figure who has the influence, financial resources, and acceptance of Hollywood studio authorities to make any movie he wants to make, be it a mainstream action-adventure movie (Jurassic Park) or a three-hour-long black and white drama about a controversial historical subject (Schindler's List).
Spielberg is known by film historians as one of the famous "movie brats" of the 1970s: along with fellow filmmakers (and personal friends) George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, John Milius, and Brian De Palma, Spielberg grew up making movies. He was making amateur 8mm "adventure" movies with his friends as a teenager (scenes from these amateur films have been included on the DVD edition of Saving Private Ryan), and he made his first short film for theatrical release, Amblin', in 1969 at the age of twenty one. (Spielberg's own production company, Amblin Entertainment, was named after this short film.) His maiden directorial work was a segment of the pilot film to Rod Serling's Night Gallery. While working on this segment its star Joan Crawford collared a production executive and said, "Keep an eye on this kid, he's going places." After directing episodes of various TV shows, including an early Columbo TV movie, Spielberg directed his first well-known feature with a 1971 TV "movie-of-the-week" entitled Duel (later released to theatres overseas and eventually in the U.S.A.). This film, about a truck mysteriously terrorizing an average citizen, has become a cult classic, having been released on video several times over the years.
Move to theatrical films
Spielberg's debut theatrical feature film, The Sugarland Express (takes place and filmed on location in Sugar Land, Texas and is about a husband and wife attempting to escape the law), won him critical praise and enough studio backing to be chosen as the director of a summer movie that would secure him a place in the history of motion pictures. Jaws, a horror film based on the Peter Benchley novel about a killer shark that attacks people off the coast of a small island. Jaws won four Academy Awards (for editing and sound), and grossed over USD$100 million at the box office, setting the domestic record for box office gross.
In 1976, Spielberg was asked by Alexander Salkind to direct Superman, but decided instead to expand on a pet project he had had in mind since his youth: a film about UFOs, which became Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). The film remains a cult sci-fi classic among its fans.
The success Spielberg was beginning to enjoy, as well as his eventual tendency to make films with wide mainstream and commercial appeal, also subjected him to disdain in critical circles by film reviewers. For example, Spielberg's next film was 1941, a big-budgeted World War II comedy farce set in L.A. days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, with the two top stars from Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, along with other all-stars. Although the film did make a small profit, it is considered by some to be Spielberg's first flop, although today it is also considered a cult classic. An expanded version has been shown on network television and later on Laserdisc and DVD.
Spielberg at his pinnacle
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
One year later, Spielberg returned to his alien visitors motif with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a Warner Bros-loving story of a boy and the alien whom he befriends (and is trying to get back "home" to outer space). E.T. went on to become the top-grossing film of all time for many years.
When E.T. was released, Steven Spielberg, a Porsche 928 aficionado, had his car's moon-roof button re-designed with the movie's logo as both a gag for passengers, and a tribute to the movie's success. Despite their enormous appeal, few film scholars and critics place such Spielberg films as Muppets or E.T. in the same class as The Godfather, Citizen Kane, or many other classics of the cinema.
In 1993, Spielberg decided to once again tackle the family genre, as he directed the movie version of Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park, about dinosaurs rampaging through a tropical island park. The adaptation muted the novel's message about the consequences of mankind tampering with nature, instead focusing on the adventure aspects of the story.
Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan
It was in that same year that Jurassic Park was released that Spielberg finally won the critical acclaim he had long sought for making Schindler's List (based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a man who sacrificed everything to save 1,100 people from the wrath of the Holocaust). That film earned him his first regular Academy Award for Best Director (it also won Best Picture).
Another of Spielberg's most critically acclaimed films, the World War II drama Saving Private Ryan, was released in 1998. Spielberg considered it one of his finest works, yet in a highly publicized "showdown", it lost the Best Picture Oscar at the 1999 Academy Awards to Shakespeare in Love. However, Spielberg would win his second Academy Award for his direction in the war epic.
Into a new century
In 2001, Spielberg filmed fellow director and friend Stanley Kubrick's final project, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, a project planned by the two directors for many years but which Kubrick was unable to finish during his lifetime. The futuristic story of a humanoid android longing for love, A.I. featured groundbreaking visual effects, but unfortunately was not the blockbuster film Spielberg had hoped for. The film polarized both critics and audiences, some stating that the film was overly long and pretentious, while others believed it to be a masterpiece.
In recent years, Spielberg has consolidated his popularity with more mainstream fare such as Minority Report (2002), starring Tom Cruise as a futuristic cop on the run from his own fate; and Catch Me If You Can (also in 2002), a bittersweet comedy about a con-man (with Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks), which completed the director's unofficial "Running Man" trilogy following both A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report. Spielberg used Hanks again in 2004 for The Terminal, the story of an East European traveller who has to live in a terminal at JFK International Airport.
War of the Worlds
Spielberg's latest released film, a modernized adaptation of War of the Worlds, featuring Tom Cruise, was released in the U.S. on June 29, 2004. As with past Spielberg films, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) provided the special effects.
In his films E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Spielberg portrayed alien visitors as potentially friendly for human beings willing to connect with them. War of the Worlds marked a departure from those optimistic themes; more violent alien invaders visiting havoc on the earth.
Spielberg's films often deal with several recurring themes. Most of his films deal with ordinary characters searching for or coming in contact with extraordinary beings or finding themselves in extraordinary circumstances. In an AFI interview in August 2000 Spielberg commented on his interest in the possibility of extra terrestrial life and how it has influenced some of his films. Spielberg described himself as feeling like an alien during childhood, and his interest came from his father, a science fiction fan, and his opinion that aliens would not travel light years for conquest, but instead curiosity and sharing of knowledge.
A strong consistent theme in his family-friendly work is a childlike, even naïve, sense of wonder and faith, as attested by works such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Hook, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence. According to Warren Buckland, these themes are portrayed through the use of low height camera tracking shots, which have become one of Spielberg's directing trademarks. In the cases when his films include children E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, etc.), this type of shot is more apparent, but it is also used in films like Munich, Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal, Minority Report, and Amistad. If one views each of his films, one will see this shot utilized by the director, notably the water scenes in Jaws are filmed from the low-angle perspective of someone swimming. Another child oriented theme in Spielberg's films is that of loss of innocence and coming-of-age. In Empire of the Sun, Jim, a well-groomed and spoiled English youth, loses his innocence as he suffers through World War II China. Similarly, in Catch Me if You Can Frank naively and foolishly believes that he can reclaim his shattered family if he accumulates enough money to support them.
The most persistent theme throughout his films is tension in parent-child relationships. Parents (often fathers) are reluctant, absent or ignorant. Peter Banning in Hook starts off in the beginning of the film as a reluctant married-to-his-work parent who through the course of his film regains the respect of his children. The notable absence of Elliott's father in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, is the most famous example of this theme. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it is revealed that Indy has always had a very strained relationship with his father, who is a professor of medieval literature, as his father always seemed more interested in his work, specifically in his studies of the Holy Grail, than in his own son, although his father does not seem to realize or understand the negative effect that his aloof nature had on Indy (he even believes he was a good father in the sense that he taught his son "self reliance," which is not how Indy saw it). Even Oskar Schindler, from Schindler's List, is reluctant to have a child with his wife. Munich depicts Avner as a man away from his wife and newborn daughter. There are of course exceptions; Brody in Jaws is a committed family man, while John Anderton in Minority Report is a shattered man after the disappearance of his son. This theme is arguably the most autobiographical aspect of Spielberg's films, since Spielberg himself was affected by his parents' divorce as a child and by the absence of his father. Furthermore to this theme, protagonists in his films often come from families with divorced parents, most notably E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (protagonist Elliot's mother is divorced) and Catch Me If You Can (Frank Abagnale's mother and father split early on in the film). Little known also is Tim in Jurassic Park (early in the film, another secondary character mentions Tim and Lex's parents' divorce). The family often shown divided is often resolved in the ending as well. Following this theme of reluctant fathers and father figures, Tim looks to Dr. Alan Grant as a father figure. Initially, Dr. Grant is reluctant to return those paternal feelings to Tim. However, by the end of the film, he has changed, and the kids even fall asleep with their heads on his shoulders.
Most of his films are generally optimistic in nature. Critics frequently accuse his films of being overly sentimental, though Spielberg feels it is fine as long as it is disguised. The influence comes from directors Frank Capra and John Ford.
A video essay titled "The Spielberg Face" focuses on Spielberg’s use of close-ups throughout his career. This essay makes the case that Spielberg has deployed the venerable cinematic technique as skillfully, and as thoughtfully, as anyone before or since, using it to depict everything from "sudden shock or creeping dread" to "the trauma of remembering the past, or of confronting the future, discovering humanity in another person, or discovering humanity in oneself." Spielberg has used the close-up as a stand-in for the audience’s reaction to the movies, and that, through his close-ups, Spielberg has interrogated that reaction, and its meaning, in film after film, starting with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The essay calls this work the "breakthrough" for the director, a movie that is less about aliens than it is "about Spielberg discovering the full power of the face" and exploring "the perpetual wonder of seeing things new." The essay moves forward through Spielberg's work, stopping at A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which it calls Spielberg’s "most profound" reflection on the face and what it reveals.