Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Is Steven Spielberg the G.O.A.T.?

I had an interesting conversation at brunch this weekend. I asked the question: Is Steven Spielberg the greatest of all time? People immediately had lots of things they wanted to say on the topic. Others just shook there head, "No." I assume they said "No" so quickly because they reject the notion that any one person could be considered the G.O.A.T. of any field. Some people just reject the notion of exceptionalism. One person asked, "What is your criteria for measuring?"

I suppose my criteria consists of 1) box office haul, 2) awards and accolades, 3) how well-received and iconic the movies that he's made are, and 4) how much they have influenced culture over the years. For those of you who don't know too much about Steven Spielberg, a rundown of his film credits off the top of my head include the following (in no particular order):

1) Jaws
2) Close Encounters of the Third Kind
3) E.T.
4) Schindler's List
5) Raiders of the Lost Ark
6) The Color Purple
7) Jurassic Park
8) Minority Report
9) Saving Private Ryan

And even his box office bombs have some entertainment value to them. For example, in War of the Worlds I love seeing the scene where the train goes flying by and every cabin is on fire. That's a pretty emotionally packed scene. And then there's the scene in The Lost World where Julianne Moore falls onto some glass and it starts to crack. That scene sends chills through me every time I watch it. It's even better with surround sound.

One quote that Steven Spielberg said that stuck with me ever since I read it was, "Why pay a dollar for a bookmark? Why not use your dollar as a bookmark?" It's very simple, but it's a kind of window into his mind. He has a knack for looking at the obvious and then showing it to people in a way that most had never thought of, and maybe that's one reason (or one measure) of how we could arrive at the correct answer of someone being labeled "The Greatest of All Time."

Can they look beyond the obvious to find myriad ways and angles and flavors and perspectives to an old story?

Do you legitimately enjoy the directing? It's a good question, right? I cool was it in Jurassic Park when the impact tremor of the T-Rex made the water on the dashboard of the jeep begin to shimmer and jump? That was pure Spielberg.

And he's also the master of the long take (a single scene that's all in one shot that follows its actors around), which is a trick he uses that's virtually undetectable because he wants it to be that way. The effect is that he teleports you into another world. He didn't invent the shot, but it's fantastic for what it does for storytelling.

Look, for a guy that's seventy years old and has spent his entire career of 40 years making movies, I think that his resume kind of speaks for itself. A lot of his films are timeless. They've infused pop culture to ridiculous levels. I can think of half a dozen places where the bicycle in front of the moon (or something in front of the moon) has been copied. Jaws influences are everywhere from "Bad Hat Harry" film productions to "We need a bigger boat." Raiders of the Lost Ark has influenced everything from The Librarians to Tomb Raider.

The first season of Stranger Things was a love letter of sorts to Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter.

So is Steven Spielberg the Greatest of all Time? Is he the G.O.A.T.? I think he is. I'm curious as to what you think.


  1. He's seventy? Crap, we're both getting old.
    There are only a couple directors I would place close to number one and he is one of them. There is a quality to his movies, a human quality, that just sticks with you. Plus his movies hold up over time. Compare Star Wars and Close Encounters side by side - Close Encounters doesn't look dated (other than yeah, it's the seventies), still feels fresh, and the special effects still look special.

  2. Monetarily probably. I'm not sure he's better than Hitchcock or Bergman or someone old school like that.

    1. In a funny coincidence yesterday Butler Blue III's handler found a dollar in a used book. It must have belonged to Spielberg! 😁

  3. I love Spielberg. I don't think he's close to being the best artistic director but I don't think anyone else is close to him at tapping into human emotions and mainlining it into the viewer.

    The man scrambling to get on the dock in Jaws. The moon shot in ET. The red girl in Schindler's List. The D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan. The creeping spiders in Arachnophobia. Bringing dinosaurs to life in Jurassic Park. Futuretech in Minority Report. The twin towers at the end of Munich.

    He's got an amazing eye in how to frame movies with a overarching sense of narrative so his story rarely gets muddled.

    HBO recently did a Spielberg documentary that goes through his life movie by movie. It was long but I loved every minute. I found it interesting just how much of his personal life ended up in his shows, especially around the father figure.

  4. I suppose it depends on what you mean. Greatest of all time what?
    Greatest director?
    Greatest story teller?
    Just the greatest?
    Greatest is such a subjective term, though.

  5. Did you see the Spielberg documentary on HBO? One thing struck me. He talks about how when he was starting out, some film critic said he was all surface and no depth. And people objected to that description. But Spielberg himself said what the critic said was true. At the time. Since then, he has gained depth.

    He's gone through a lot of growth. And his movies entertain. Greatest of all time? I don't know. But he's definitely on the list.