Thursday, May 26, 2011

Guest Blog: Spielberg: Giving audiences what they want, but not what they need

I asked for bloggers and now I have to own up to it. At least once a week I'll try and post a guest blog on top of my two. This week's blog comes from Malcolm, a fellow movie buff who also has his own blog. Any comments I make are in italics.
-Don Woods

I hate Stephen Spielberg.

That’s not really a fair statement. Most of his films are harmless popcorn movies, such as E.T., Hook (I love Hook. To this day I don't believe that's really Dustin Hoffman) or the Indiana Jones franchise. But the Spielberg brand means much more than just the man these days; it has become synonymous with big Hollywood blockbusters. It's been like that ever since Jaws made almost half a billion dollars on a seven-million-dollar budget. The film itself wasn’t bad, it was almost Hitchcockian. But its success completely revolutionized Hollywood, for the worse I think. It set the standard for the Hollywood blockbuster. As a result big studios now depend on these types of movies. But, as I’ve said, these films are mostly harmless. It is when these films are mistaken for cinematic masterpieces that I take issue.

I doubt 1941 is one of those flicks.

Side note: Spielberg would return to Hitchcock-territory with 2002's Minority Report. Yes, the ending was a bit too Spielberg for my taste but the rest of the film is a gripping thriller, based off of Hitchcock's "wrong-man-on-the-run" genre of movies. One scene was even based off of a cut sequence from North by Northwest.

Exhibit A is Schindler’s List, the touching story of Oskar Schindler, a businessman who risked everything to save hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. Spielberg adapted this story into film in 1993 and it went on to not only win Best Picture, but also to place in the top ten American films of all time in an AFI ranking.

Pictured: Wrong AFI

I hate Schindler's List. The first time I saw it, it rubbed me all the wrong ways. However, everyone else hailed it as a masterpiece. I was mortified that Spielberg had made what I considered a sentimental film about the Holocaust. Stanley Kubrick said it best when he began work on his own Holocaust movie. When Frederic Raphael, screenwriter of Eyes Wide Shut, asked Kubrick what he thought about Shindler’s List, Kubrick responded, “Think that was about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed. 'Schindler's List' was about six hundred people who don't.”

Spielberg Oscars for directing: 2. Kubrick's: 0. It's a damn shame...

It reminds me of those films that came out a few years ago about September 11th that were so controversial. I remember September 11th quite well, and am glad it's over. Any film that does anything but depict the true horrors of that day will only lack perspective. These are human failures, and to view them as success stories in any way, to me, belittles history. This wasn’t the only thing that bothered me about the film. The portrayal of Amon Goeth, the Nazi who distrusts Oskar Shindler, is also shown out of perspective. Spielberg portrays him as a stone-cold killer with no human qualities, and at the end of the film there is a cathartic moment for the viewer as he is hanged. Fair enough, since this is how the historical Goeth died, but what about all the former Nazis that continued to live alongside the Jewish survivors following the war? Killing Goeth symbolizes the end of the Holocaust, and, to me, that shows only a rudimentary understanding of the Holocaust.

This is the man who took the guns out of E.T. He anesthetizes everything he touches.

As anyone who knows me, or reads my blog, or even read the first half of this entry knows, I bring almost every film discussion back to Stanley Kubrick. To me, he is the unrivaled master of filmmaking. Stanley Kubrick died in 1999, and I believe nobody could be angrier with that than Kubrick himself. Before he died however, he had already lined up his next film project – A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Kubrick spent almost thirty years thinking out this project, writing and rewriting screenplays, directing voice acting sessions, coming up with character and art directions and planning filming locations. In the early 90s, after seeing Jurassic Park, Kubrick decided that Spielberg should direct the film, with Kubrick collaborating closely as the films producer. Spielberg said yes at first, but later opted out, saying that Kubrick should direct it. Following Kubrick’s death, Spielberg was convinced to make the film, based on the extensive amount of work Kubrick put in to it. The film, which should have been a Stanley Kubrick production of a Steven Spielberg film, became completely Spielberg. Like Eyes Wide Shut, A.I. was going to push the limitations of the MPAA’s R rating, but Spielberg softened everything about it to ensure a more audience friendly PG-13 rating.

All the adult concepts are dropped, and the movie is given just about the happiest ending imaginable. The only Kubrickian part of the movie is the first act. It is a reworking of the biblical Cain and Abel (except in this case Cain is a robot). After the first act, it all goes to shit. Kubrick isn’t even personally mentioned in the credits, that’s how far from his vision Spielberg went. There’s no doubt that Spielberg’s version is more popular with audiences than Kubrick’s version would have been, that’s just how Hollywood works.

Haley Joel Osment was also kind of insufferable.

I agree that A.I. should of been 20 minutes shorter. Ending with him frozen under the ice praying to the Blue Fairy for all eternity has a nice poetic sound to it. It's about the futility of fate and the hopes of a little boy. What we get, however, is an epilogue so obviously tacked on that it is almost laughable.

I am quite certain many people will openly disagree with me on many parts of this article. What I am attempting to do is bring down a man who’s the biggest figure in the Hollywood system, and he has many devoted fans. I welcome your arguments, that’s when I feel I learn most about films, when I’m forced to argue about them. If you liked this entry, or hated it and want to let me know, check out my blog, Welcome to Pottersville, at

Thanks Don for letting me have this spot this week, best of luck on future endeavors.

-Malcolm Coates

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