Steven Spielberg, the most successful director in history, certainly doesn’t need me defending him, especially since Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan earned him the critical acclaim that for twenty years seemed to elude him. I say “seemed” because I’m not sure where that generally-held impression came from. Jaws and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial had already become classics, which is two more than most directors have produced. Maybe the impression was based on his reputation for being a good director, but not a serious director. Whatever the reason, he now has both the success and the respect. And yet…
There is still a segment of film buffs who use him as the ultimate symbol of mainstream Hollywood: too commercial, too sentimental, too manipulative. Spielberg hasn’t received the same level of hipness that Scorsese and Kubrick have. Maybe his films are so entertaining that it’s easy to miss how often Spielberg makes very thoughtful and effective creative decisions:
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Schindler’s List (1993)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
There’s no question that Spielberg can be a little too fluffy at times (Always, Catch Me If You Can). Sometimes his attempts at serious films feel forced (Empire of the Sun, Amistad). And he should probably avoid making sequels (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Lost World: Jurassic Park). But we should judge artists on their successes, not their missteps.