Have we run out of superlatives to describe Steven Spielberg?

We may have, so let’s start with the facts –

He’s a film and television producer and director. At the time of writing (December 2013) he has just turned 67. He has won three Oscars for Schindler’s List (Best Picture and Best Director) and Saving Private Ryan (Best Director). According to Forbes, he’s worth $3.3bn. He has homes in the Hamptons where neighbours include Martha Stewart and Calvin Klein and also in Malibu (which is available to rent for the modest sum of $125,000/month). He married actress Kate Capshaw in 1991 and they have five children.

So just who is Steven Allan Spielberg?

He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1946 to Leah and Arnold Spielberg and from an early age, it was evident what he’d end up doing. As a teenager, he made adventure films (staged crashes of his Lionel train set) on an old 8mm camera and charged his friends 25c to watch them while his sister sold them popcorn.
Around this time he made a nine-minute film called The Last Gunfight to fulfil a requirement for the Boy Scouts. ‘My dad’s still-camera was broken, so I asked the scoutmaster if I could tell a story with my father’s movie camera. He said yes, and I got an idea to do a Western. I made it and got my merit badge. That was how it all started.’

As is evident in later work, Spielberg has a passion for history and WWII in particular and when he was 13, he made a 40-minute war film called Escape to Nowhere. Three years later, his first independent film, Firelight, a sci-fi flick that would go on to provide the inspiration for Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a budget of $500 and made a net profit of $1.

In a classic Homer Simpson-esque ‘D’oh’ moment, he was turned down not once, but twice by University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television and enrolled at California State University, Long Beach and while he was there he interned in the editing department at Universal Studios. At Universal, he made his first film for theatrical release called Amblin’, a silent 26-minute, 35mm hippie love story set in the 1960s. Amblin subsequently became the name of his production company.

When Universal VP Sidney Sheinberg saw the film, he made Spielberg the youngest director signed to a long-term deal. He left university and started on a path to greatness.

Spielberg’s work has been played out in the public domain. So important is he to the world of popular culture that in 1997, a Wall Street analyst said ‘there are only two brands in the business – Disney and Spielberg.’

His major directorial filmography reads like a list of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid. How many have you seen?

  • Jaws
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • ET The Extra Terrestrial
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • The Color Purple
  • Empire of the Sun
  • Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Jurassic Park
  • Schindler’s List
  • The Lost World: Jurassic Park
  • Amistad
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • AI: Artificial Intelligence
  • Minority Report
  • Catch Me If You Can
  • The Terminal
  • War of the Worlds
  • Munich
  • Lincoln

That list notwithstanding, he has Producer and Executive Producer credits for Poltergeist, The Goonies, Gremlins, the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Men in Black, Deep Impact, Shrek and loads more films in your DVD collection!

Steven Spielberg acceptance speech – Oscars, Best Director – Schindler’s List

Weaving comparisons with ‘other-worldly’ celebrities like Michael Jackson, Spielberg has an almost childlike sense of faith and wonderment and a recurring theme in his body of work is of seemingly ordinary people contacting or being contacted by extraordinary beings (ET, Close Encounters, Jaws, Hook, AI et al). In an interview with the American Film Institute in 2000, he said his interest in sci-fi came from his dad and he was of the opinion that aliens wouldn’t travel across time and space for confrontation and conquest, rather than curiosity and the exchange of knowledge.

The predominant themes that shine through his films are fractious parent-child relationships with protagonists often coming from broken homes as well as coming-of-age and the loss of innocence. His signature shot is the low-level tracking camera shot which validates the opinion that he shoots his films through the eyes of children.

Occasionally criticised for his films being vaguely autobiographical, slightly too optimistic and overly sentimental, Spielberg, by any criteria in which success is measured, remains the most successful and influential film director in the history of motion pictures.

Premiere magazine listed him as the most powerful and influential figure in the film industry, Time magazine had him on their list of the 100 Most Important People of the Century and Life magazine named him the most influential person of his generation.

While still a prolific filmmaker, Steven Spielberg is one of very few names in the movie industry that essentially guarantees a film’s financial success (think Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, George Lucas and perhaps Quentin Tarantino). Crowds flock to see anything tagged ‘a Spielberg production’ and the enduring popularity and entertainment of his cinematic output will undoubtedly keep him at the top of the tree for years.