Introducing: Series Spielberg – #00

Spielberg-dirigiendo-a-un-dinosaurioGreetings, fellow pandemic survivors. If you’re like me, then you probably haven’t been going to many movies lately. Also, if you’re like me, you’ve been using the extra time to catch up with some old favorites, as well as some recent streaming-only hits (Tiger King, anyone?). In lieu of having anything more worthy of talking about for the foreseeable future, I am embarking on a new series for Film Sentinel, a project the likes of which I hope to see more of in the days ahead on this blog: a full, in-depth filmography review of one of cinema’s greatest directors, and I propose a start with one modern film’s most recognizable icons, Steven Spielberg.

A director with one of the longest, and most prolific careers in the history of the business, Steven Spielberg has directed any number between 30 and 40+ films, depending on whether you count TV-only movies, pilots and short films, as well as some other notable works, such as Twilight Zone: The Movie, which was a collaboration between several filmmakers; or Poltergeist, which is credited to Tobe Hooper, but is rumored to have been dominated by Steven behind the scenes, though he is only credited as producer and screenwriter.

The proposed schedule I have worked up will stretch across 38 weeks, and will include each and every feature film directed by Steven, as well as a few noteworthy titles that weren’t directed by the man, but were at least produced by him, and are essential to any overview of Spielberg’s work and impact (The Goonies and Super 8, for example). We will start here by providing some backstory on the filmmaker, as well as discussing some of his early work, before next week when the first official film review will go up for Duel, which is most often considered Spielberg’s directorial debut.

From then on, the plan is to release a new review every Tuesday. You can check the schedule on this post if you’d like to follow along and watch the films as well. The Tuesday following Duel we will go over The Sugarland Express, and the Tuesday after that will kick off the traditional summer blockbuster season on May 4 appropriately with the granddaddy of all summer blockbusters: Jaws, and we will continue on from there, with a spectacular season that will include great works such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and so much more.

A couple of films, including The Post and Ready Player One, have already been reviewed on this blog once before, but could benefit from being reviewed again as part of this holistic perspective. The bottom of this post will serve as the official schedule, and will be updated from time to time with links to reviews as they come up, as well as adjusted dates for when the posts will be released. The remainder of this entry will lay some foundation by providing a little backstory on Steven, as well as discussing his early work prior to hitting it big with successes like Jaws and Jurassic Park.

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Steven Spielberg is, without question, one of the most influential directors in the history of the medium. In a sense, our entire perspective of film in this modern era has been molded by the likes of Spielberg, along with other 70’s film directors such as George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and so on. But Steven has commanded a level of authority over the commercial space to an extent that is almost entirely without precedent, churning out a staggering level of classics over the course of a 5-decade career, with an enviable lacking of major failures no less.

Along with a relentless work ethic that shows no signs of slowing down, the man possesses an almost sixth-sense behind the camera, boasting an ability to interpret subjects and their environments through visuals and sound that both impresses and stimulutes emotions with an equal power. He is often accused of  being too sentimental, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another director with such a wide variety in a of body work, all while retaining as high an average level of quality, as well as an unmistakable style in craft. He may not be the greatest in terms of sheer artistry, but Spielberg is doubtlessly the preeminent figure in the context of commercial film.

Steven Spielberg was born on December 18, 1946 in Cincinatti, Ohio, and spent the majority of his formative years growing up in Phoenix, Arizona. His family was Orthodox Jewish, and as a child, Steven was the victim of mild-to-severe bullying by his non-Jewish classmates, leading him to hide his Jewishness among his peers.  At about age 16, he saw the film Lawrence of Arabia, and was completely astounded. Also around this time, his father left the family, and his parents divorced. All of these experiences, and this last one especially, would inform Steven Spielberg’s persona as a director, and the classics that would follow.

Steven made his first movie at the age of 12, a depiction of a train wreck with toys. He would soon make his next one on an 8 mm camera, a Western titled The Last Gunfight. Around the age of 13, he directed his oldest surviving films: a pair of war epics entitled Fighter Squad and Escape to Nowhere, battle actioners involving his pre-pubescent buddies running around clever step-traps that kicked dirt up in the air to simulate grenade detonations. Fighter squad also slyly cut together scenes of his school friends sitting in the cockpit of a decomissioned fighter plane with explosive stock war footage (some of it directed by John Ford).

From an early age, it’s clear that Steven had a taste for the spectacle, a partiality that pervades him to this day. At age 17, Steven made his big-screen debut in his local Phoenix Little Theater with his first feature-length film, Firelight. A pre-cursor to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this little sci-fi picture regarding UFO abduction represented an early iteration of one of his most personal visions by employing high school acquaintances as actors, and providing work for local aspiring cinematographers and the like. Steven would also use such methods to produce his key into the industry: the short film Amblin’.

Amblin’ is the first full surviving work of Steven’s we have available to discuss, available for free on YouTube. A delightful little indie tale of two hitchiking lovers who cross paths on the road, the film heavily featured the twangy music of a folk group called October Country, and included no dialogue, enabling Steven to showcase his full range of skillset behind the camera, including tracking shots that made deft usage of the terrain, cross-cutting, sillhouettes and shots that were perfectly staged to subert viewer expectations. The short even featured a rare poetic side of Steven with a pitiful-yet-charming ending.

Whatever he sought to achieve with this short, it worked, as Universal vice president Sidney Sheinberg, whom Steven worked for as an unpaid intern in the editing department at the time, offered him a seven-year directing contract. His first proffessional directing role was for the first episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, a spiritual successor to The Twilight Zone. Under this contract, he would later direct an episode of Marcus Welby, M.D., around a dozen episodes of the wheel series The Name of the Game, two episodes of The Psychiatrist, and the first regular series-episode of Columbo.

During this time, Steven would also direct a handful of made for television films/extended pilots, the most famous of these being Duel, which had a very successful debut on television and was the only one of these to be later released theatrically. It’s because of this that it is most commonly considered Spielberg’s feature directorial debut, and it is where we will begin Series Spielberg starting next week. If you’re interested in watching it, it’s available on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well for digital rental from Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play and YouTube. See you next week!

Tentative Schedule:

Release Date Film Title Director Review Date
1971 Duel Yes 4/21/2020
1974 The Sugarland Express Yes 4/28/2020
1975 Jaws Yes 5/5/2020
1977 Close Encounters of the Third Kind Yes 5/12/2020
1979 1941 Yes 5/19/2020
1981 Raiders of the Lost Ark Yes 5/26/2020
1982 Poltergeist No (Tobe Hooper) 6/2/2020
1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Yes 6/9/2020
1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie Partial 6/16/2020
1984 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Yes 6/23/2020
1984 Gremlins No (Joe Dante) 6/30/2020
1985 The Goonies No (Richard Donner) 7/7/2020
1985 The Color Purple Yes 7/14/2020
1987 Empire of the Sun Yes 7/21/2020
1989 Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Yes 7/28/2020
1989 Always Yes 8/4/2020
1991 Hook Yes 8/11/2020
1993 Jurassic Park Yes 8/18/2020
1993 Schindler’s List Yes 8/25/2020
1996 Twister No (Jan de Bont) 9/1/2020
1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park Yes 9/8/2020
1997 Amistad Yes 9/15/2020
1998 Saving Private Ryan Yes 9/22/2020
2001 A.I. Artificial Intelligence Yes 9/29/2020
2002 Minority Report Yes 10/6/2020
2002 Catch Me If You Can Yes 10/13/2020
2004 The Terminal Yes 10/20/2020
2005 War of the Worlds Yes 10/27/2020
2005 Munich Yes 11/3/2020
2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Yes 11/10/2020
2011 Super 8 No (J.J. Abrams) 11/17/2020
2011 The Adventures of Tintin Yes 11/24/2020
2011 War Horse Yes 12/1/2020
2012 Lincoln Yes 12/8/2020
2015 Bridge of Spies Yes 12/15/2020
2016 The BFG Yes 12/22/2020
2017 Spielberg No (Susan Lacy) 12/29/2020
2017 The Post Yes 1/5/2021
2018 Ready Player One Yes 1/12/2021
2020 West Side Story Yes TBD, set to be released on December 18, 2020.

Schedule Updates:

Twister added, dates adjusted 4/20/2020.

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