Tuesday 16 January 2018

David Gritten: Why Spielberg is the world's most successful director and why the critics are sometimes sniffty

Steven Spielberg’s family drama War Horse
Steven Spielberg’s family drama War Horse

IS there a more contradictory and unknowable filmmaker than Steven Spielberg? He is the world’s best-known director, and the most commercially successful in the entire history of cinema. Audiences adore his work, while critics are sniffy about his sentimental streak. The adjective "Spielbergian" can accurately be attached to films with remarkably wide-ranging styles and themes: rollicking adventure fantasy (like his Raiders of the Lost Ark); realistic accounts of war (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List); stories from a child’s viewpoint (E?T, Empire of the Sun) and effects-driven science fiction (War of the Worlds, Minority Report).

Spielberg, whose latest film, War Horse, opens next weekend, has enjoyed phenomenal success in all these genres, to the extent that even his fans may wonder where his heart really lies. He can make films that honour war veterans with the same zest as he makes dinosaurs come to life on screen.

He’s sober-minded enough to depict man’s inhumanity to man in close-up combat scenes, but is equally at home with plodding stories about social injustice or sentimental accounts of boys and their absent fathers.

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