(RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5)
THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.
IN BRIEF: An well crafted but bias love-fest about this great director.
SYNOPSIS: A document that celebrates the films of Mr. Spielberg.
David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia inspired him to become a director. As a teenager, filmmaking kept "those scary whispers" from starting up, providing him a security that life itself could not deliver. His use of close-ups, stationary angles, fluid camera movement, personal storytelling, and quick cuts established his unique style. His sanitized view of suburbia and the Americana, his sentimental view of nostalgia, and his love of childhood and family can be found in most of his films. This is Steven Spielberg. And Susan Lacy's well made documentary examines this legendary filmmaker with much skill (and just too much adoration).
The documentary gives us all the facts about this great director using archival footage, interviews with friends and associates, and snippets of his many movies. Turned down from USC film school, he snuck off the tour bus on Universal Studios and observed directors like Hitchcock at work. He later worked at that studio as a first time director gaining knowledge and experience by creating television episodes and movies before his big blockbuster summer hit, Jaws, changed the film industry forever.
Using his own personal experiences and his avid love of cinema encouraged him to explore many genres: sci-fi (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., A.I. Minority Report), war movies (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, Empire of the Sun, War Horse) horror (Jurassic Park, Jaws), adventure (Duel, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Adventures of Tintin), historical biographies (Lincoln, the underrated Bridge of Spies), even comedies (1941, Always, The Terminal).
Spielberg delves into his beginnings very effectively. Upset with some critics' assertion that he was primarily a successful commercial and mainstream filmmaker, Mr. Spielberg took up the challenge and created films on more serious subjects such as racism (Amistad, The Color Purple), terrorism and 9/11 (Munich, War of the Worlds), and genocide (the aforementioned Schindler's List). This documentary spend a great deal of time on one of his greatest achievements about the Holocaust ever made, with numerous segments from that Academy Award winning film.
Ms. Lacy's film, though well researched, purposely skips over some of his lesser works and allows Mr. Spielberg himself to sidestep his early personal life with the former Mrs. S. (Amy Irving). Yet it still manages to flaunt his happy marriage with his current spouse (Kate Capshaw) and his now happy family life.
Directors Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, Francis Coppola, J.J. Abrams, and Brian DePalma were his friends and creative rivals and their comments in interviews add great insight to the technical aspects of this man. In fact, the point is made numerous times that his films dealing with technology advancements were living examples of state-of-the-art filmmaking themselves. (CGI use in Jurassic Park, Minority Report, A I., War of the Worlds, Close Encounters, etc. elevated the bar in cinematic terms)
The documentary is always entertaining with special moments to savor: Spielberg's own reminiscences of filming of his two masterworks, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler's List, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski discussing his camera work with fascinating details in conjunction with the director's vision on the latter epic, scenes of him directing a young Drew Barrymore and Henry Thomas on the E.T. set that are very insightful and gives us a glimpse of his extraordinary technique as a director. The director himself gives due credit to his artisan family who are his crew for many movies, including composer John Williams. However, his personal life and hardships are glossed over such as his first marriage and divorce and his film duds are rarely acknowledged (Hook, The BFG, his comedies).
The film becomes a love-fest rather than a serious chronicle of an artist. It continuously lauds him. Janet Maslin, Todd McCarthy, J. Hoberman, and A. O. Scott analyze his films with much admiration. Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Oprah Winfrey, and Ben Kingsley speak eloquently of working with him. Yet, except for his estrangement with his father, there are no warts at all in this depiction of Mr. Spielberg and that becomes a bit of the problem for such a flattering documentary.
One wishes would have could have shown a more balanced vision of this immensely talented man with at least a margin of human error, but that does not exist in The World of Spielberg. Just as some of his films rely too heavily on uplifting and positive viewpoints, so does this documentary and that prevents this film from becoming a great work of art about a great director. Perhaps the subject himself could not give up complete control to Ms. Lacy to make an completely honest portrait of an artist.
Still, while the documentary shows this visionary director in the best of light, with little shading, it also shows us some of the best films of the last 40 years that emerged from a master craftsman who celebrates "pure movie-making". Spielberg is a fine testament about one man whose love for the movies made the world a better place.
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