It’s going to be an interesting year for Steven Spielberg, as his upcoming adaptation of ‘The BFG’ is due to be released to UK audiences on the 22nd July 2016, and I for one am very much looking forward to it. As a child, this Roald Dahl novel about nasty and nice giants was one of my favourites, so it will be interesting to see how Spielberg’s vision fairs. The novel is obviously aimed at younger audiences, yet it also holds a real sinister edge, which I absolutely love.
Spielberg is often criticised for being overly sentimental in his films (War Horse being a near-unbearable example of this), so I do hope Spielberg finds a perfect balance between the dark edge and family-friendly tone of the novel. With this and the recent announcement that Spielberg and Harrison Ford would be re-teaming to create a fifth instalment in the ‘Indiana Jones’ saga, I thought now would be a good to go through my favourite Spielberg films. Here’s my top 5.
5. Saving Private Ryan
Criticism of this film is levelled at its sentimentality, and its inability to improve on what is one of the most groundbreaking opening sequences in cinema history. The D-Day landings which open the film is as brutal, powerful and moving now as it was upon release in 1998. I agree that the rest of the film does not reach the dizzy heights of the opening, but for me, it remains one of Spielberg’s most accomplished technical achievements. I also agree that its sentimentality becomes a little cloying by the end, but there is no doubting the technical brilliance and moving story at the heart of this film. Also the acting is superb, particularly from Tom Hanks, who delivers one of the most interesting performances of his career. Hollywood’s treatment of battle sequences changed forever after this film and it’s clear that the technical achievements have inspired other filmmakers (Paul Greengrass for example). ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is undoubtedly one of the finest war films ever made.
4. Minority Report
This film really is an underrated gem. To tell the truth, my first viewing of ‘Minority Report’ left me uninspired; I thought it was just another middle of the road sci-fi movie. But one Christmas, I remember watching it on TV while flicking through the channels. Within seconds I was hooked and I saw a completely different movie than I did the first time around. I think this is one of Tom Cruise’s finest performances; he is so captivating and charismatic in this role it’s hard to think of another film where he is so watchable. Not to mention the beautiful cinematography which adds so much atmosphere. Where the special effects create a unique vision of the future, it is the oppressive light in the background that creates a heady mixture of noir and science fiction. The atmosphere is creepy, claustrophobic and strangely chilling. This overexposed light technique is something Spielberg has used quite often in his modern movies; he even used the technique in the recent ‘Bridge of Spies’ and it is clearly a device he will continue to use. The storytelling is also executed brilliantly and the set pieces are exhilarating.
3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
A moving and expertly-crafted family story where, once again, Spielberg’s unquenchable thematic exploration of an absent father is at the film’s heart. Of course, it ends on a syrupy-sweet note but there is no doubting the films power and you would be hard pushed not to be swept up in the film’s majesty. This is a film that is as timeless as any, and E.T. himself is one of the most recognisable movie characters in history. A spellbinding performance from Henry Thomas who plays Elliot, Spielberg really did get the best from an incredibly young cast. One of the key quotes from E.T. is “I’ll be right here” and I’m sure he will be for many a year.
2. Jurassic Park
I personally think this is one of the finest films ever made. It is a rollercoaster ride that has all the thrills and spills you expect, as well as plenty of spectacle. But there are deep philosophical mutterings underneath the still gleaming surface, such as the fear of fatherhood and the morals of genetic engineering. This was a film long in the making for Spielberg; it is ‘Jaws’ on land and has some of the most iconic action sequences in recent cinema; the bloke on the toilet?! Wow. With strong performances throughout and Jeff Goldblum showing why he was one of the coolest actors of the ’90’s, this is one of Spielberg’s finest films and a movie that rewards repeat viewings.
Of course Spielberg’s finest film has to be ‘Jaws’. Films like ‘Jurassic Park’ would not have existed if it was not for this work of genius. With the now infamous production problems with the animatronic shark, the film is an example of how financial restrictions often spark the most interesting creativity. With recent big-budget superhero films being released – films which I believe fundamentally lack imagination and creativity – ‘Jaws’ is a lesson in how to stretch a budget and invent filmmaking techniques to achieve your cinematic goal. Not seeing the shark ultimately proved to be the greatest strength of this film, because it somehow amplified the scare-factor and cranked up the claustrophobia. It was also the first film to smash the box-office; word of mouth and large publicity meant this film was sold out for weeks. Now every big-budget blockbuster tries to emulate this feat and to be honest, it works – just look at ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’. Thanks to a carefully moulded marketing campaign, no amount of bad reviews can stop a juggernaut of this scale. It is, by far, Spielberg’s greatest achievement both technically and on a commercial level. The film has inspired so many of his colleagues and even himself in recent years and will continue to do so for many more.