Trevor Hogg profiles the career of legendary Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg in the fifth of a five part feature... read parts one, two, three and four.
“I admired [Stanley] Kubrick for the sheer variety of his films,” stated Steven Spielberg of the reclusive and revered American filmmaker. “Paths of Glory  was the best antiwar film ever made… Lolita  was, for me, the best picture about the social mores in America. It was way ahead of its time.” Spielberg had an opportunity to meet his cinematic idol. “I was happy to find that he was a nice guy, that he laughed and liked movies. He talked about the movies he liked, as opposed to so many of my other contemporaries who are haughty, supercilious about films, critical of them, and don’t give much credit to other people.” The two men collaborated on A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), an adaptation of a short story by Brian Aldiss called Super-Toys Last All Summer Long. In the futuristic tale, a child android named David (Haley Joel Osment) has the ability to love.
Stanley Kubrick had been developing the project since the early 1970s. “Stanley gave up because he wanted to do this boy [in the film] by building a robot,” revealed producer Jan Harlan who worked with Kubrick for over thirty years. “The UK has very strict labour laws with children, and to make a film where the child is in every scene… We tried to build this robot which was a disaster. It just didn’t work. He also figured that computer graphics would be much, much better in a few years time.” Kubrick decided to give the directorial reins of the picture to Spielberg and planned to act as a producer. “Had he lived and given the direction to Steven Spielberg, he would have left Steven Spielberg completely alone,” believes Harlan. “He was a man who would never tolerate anybody interfering with him.” Jan Harlan was in agreement with the selection of Spielberg. “Steven is the only living director who had the authority to take this and make it his own, because he was authorized by Stanley himself.” As for what the movie would have been like if Stanley Kubrick had stayed behind the camera, Harlan remarked, “It's a Spielberg film. It's not a Kubrick film. Had Kubrick directed it, it would have been a different story. It would have been much, much darker.” The producer clarified his remark by adding, “It would still be the story about the boy who wants to become real, and the fairy tale. All of that was untouched by Steven. That’s all in Stanley’s script. It is just individual characters that were much more pessimistic and much darker.”
“A.I. is about the end of the entire human race that is superseded by the Frankensteins that man has put on the planet in the greedy effort to make a boy who could love you,” said Steven Spielberg. “I think it is a very tragic story, and I think I was as true to Stanley Kubrick’s vision as I possibly could be.” Selected to portray the human adoptive mother for the main character was Francis O’Connor (Mansfield Park). “I read the whole story once, while I was at Amblin [Entertainment, the director’s production company], but I wasn't allowed to take it away with me; then a month before we started shooting, I got my part of the script to work on.” Spielberg decided to cast Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) as the child android David. “I think Steven has been secretive about it for a lot of reasons, and a big one has to do with his respect for Stanley Kubrick,” observed Osment. “Stanley was very secretive about all of his films, and he would have been the same way with A. I..” Cast in the role of Gigolo Joe, the male prostitute android who accompanies David on his journey to be reunited with the human family that abandoned him, was Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes). “I think the most important concept has been preserved in A. I..” stated Law. “Stanley Kubrick envisioned the project as a futuristic fairy tale, rather than a doomsday thriller. Stanley had talked about the story as a kind of futuristic take on Pinocchio. And I think that Steven has been completely faithful to Stanley's vision.”
“This is a world where humans feel in control because of their technological advances, but the reality is that they've become dependent on these 'mechas,' these mechanicized robots, to do everything for them,” remarked Jude Law. “In terms of giving Joe an organic energy that mixed with his mechanical side, I studied mime, some dance and even peacock movements. As a robot that is programmed to display various kinds of seductive behavior, I had to be skillful in the art of attraction, and multiple transformations and physical movements to go along with that.” To make the character more relatable to audience members, a compromise was made with the makeup. “At first they were going to give me prosthetic features for my entire face, but that idea was dropped as it was too synthetic looking. What they settled on eventually, in order to retain some human element, was a prosthetic jaw.”
Haley Joel Osment was initially intimidated by the idea of working with Steven Spielberg. “When I first got the role, I thought I'd be very nervous,” said Osment. “I really didn't know what to expect from him. But once I went in and met him, I immediately felt very relaxed. Once I got on the set, he made it all so easy.” Questioned on how he went about portraying his on-screen persona, the young actor replied, “We began with obvious things such as his body movements and his way of perceiving the world around him. Then we took those elements and gradually diluted them as the film progressed, so that you see David become less mechanical and more human. But we also kept some of his robotic characteristics through the whole story, so that you're always aware that he's still a robot underneath everything he learns.”
Upon being released, the $100 million production grossed $236 million worldwide and received Oscar nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score. At the BAFTAs, A.I. Artificial Intelligence contended for Best Special Effects and the Golden Globes nominated it for Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor – Drama (Jude Law). The Mainichi Film Concours presented the science fiction tale with the Reader’s Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film, while the Young Artists Awards handed out nominations for Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Jake Thomas) and Best Young Actor in a Motion Picture (Haley Joel Osment).
Venturing into the realm of science fiction writer Phillip K. Dick, Steven Spielberg produced a cinematic adaptation of Minority Report (2002). In the near future, mutated psychics known as “precogs” are used by law enforcement agencies to predict and prevent crimes. “What first attracted me was that there are two alternative belief systems to this whole Phillip K. Dick idea,” explained the filmmaker. “The one belief system is self-determinism; you are in charge of your destiny. Every move you make is your move and you’re in control of your own life and you can determine the outcome. And the other school of thought is that we are following a map to our destinies that were written by a higher power and we’re just following a script that somebody else wrote. So if Tom Cruise’s character has been fingered to kill somebody, can he change his destiny?”
“Science fiction has always been a first level alert to things to come. It's easier for an audience to take warnings from sci-fi without feeling that we're preaching to them,” stated Spielberg. “I tried to set the movie in a current reality… because I wanted it to be relatable to today.” In the movie, the computer that Tom Cruise (Top Gun) uses by waving his hands around was based on a working prototype built at the MIT Media Lab. “I ended up building a system called the Luminous Room that was all about bringing together input and output and letting people attach digital meanings to physical objects,” revealed John Underkoffler, the Chief Scientist at Oblong Industries. “I was just finishing that work in about 1999 when the Minority Report pre-production team visited my lab.” The hardest film set to create was the containment chamber prison. “It was a set that stayed dormant for a long time because Spielberg had a vision of a graveyard with headstones,” recalled production designer Alex McDowell (Fight Club). “And beneath those headstones were all of these people in storage. We went to giant underground locations. We looked around a lot for somewhere that could contain that. But there were a lot of practical issues, and the vision was hard for everyone to get their head around.” Another challenge for McDowell and his team was the construction of the jet-propelled police backpacks. “Most of that design work was done with 3D design and animation. The props in this movie were complex and expensive because they had to work, and they had to look really good close-up.”
“Janusz Kaminski [the movie’s cinematographer] in conversation with Steven and myself made a decision that we, as the audience, needed to take it [the set] for granted,” said Alex McDowell. “If they want to see more, they have to pay attention; it's not just being presented to them in a way that some other, more stylised films might do. I think it went a long way to breaking the science fiction convention.” In describing the film, Steven Spielberg commented, “Minority Report was 50% character and 50% very complicated storytelling with layers and layers of murder mystery plotting.” The director found a willing collaborator with his leading man Tom Cruise. “We were always concerned about giving away too much of the plot on Minority Report while we were working together. We were working like writers on a script in our director-actor relationship, making sure that the story has being told well.” As for the scene where Cruise disappears with a pre-cog portrayed by Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown) into a sea of umbrellas, the moviemaker confessed, “I love umbrellas in a movie. Remember Foreign Correspondent ? Everything was original about that, especially the high angle on all the umbrellas. When the shooter escapes, you can only tell the direction he’s running because the umbrellas are being jostled one after the other.”
Minority Report stars the acting talents of Colin Farrell (The Way Back), Max von Sydow (Snow Falling on Cedars), Steve Harris (Bringing Down the House), Neal McDonough (88 Minutes), and Kathryn Morris (Resurrecting the Champ). The Hollywood production cost $102 million to make and earned $358 million worldwide. The science fiction tale received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing as well as one from the BAFTAs for Best Special Visual Effects. The American Cinema Editors nominated the picture for Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic, and the Young Artists Awards handed out nominations for Best Young Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture (Andrew Sandler) and Best Young Actor Under Ten in a Motion Picture (Dominic Scott Kay). At the César Awards in France, Minority Report contended for Best Foreign Film.
“I committed to directing Catch Me If You Can  not because of the divorce component, but principally because Frank Abagnale did things that were the most astonishing scams I had ever heard,” remarked Steven Spielberg who was impressed with screenwriter Jeff Nathanson’s (Rush Hour 2) adaptation of the autobiography by conman Frank Abagnale, Jr.. By the age of nineteen, Abagnale had handed out millions of dollars worth of forged cheques while posing as an airline pilot, a medical doctor, and a lawyer. “Frank was a twenty-first century genius working within the innocence of the mid '60s, when people were more trusting than they are now.” When translating the story to the big screen some alterations needed to be made. “The poetic license that Jeff Nathanson, Walter [Parkes] and I took with this movie simply was to motivate; what made Frank run?” Spielberg went on to give an example, “For instance, keeping his father [Frank Abagnale, Sr., played by Christopher Walken] in the story longer than he actually was in Frank's life. When Frank ran away from home, he never saw his father again. And I wanted to continue to have that connection where Frank kept trying to please his father by making him proud of him.” Spielberg added, “I don't think I would have told the story had the family not been the key motivation that made this boy run away from home…I really think the divorce motivated everything.”
As for why he did not change the various real life exploits of the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg stated, “The reason I couldn't embellish the scams is that I don't have the imagination he did. As a fiction director I never could have dreamt up how he always eluded the FBI [and Carl Hanratty].” In the eyes of his director, DiCaprio embodied Frank Abagnale, Jr.. “Leo had such a wiley intelligence in his eyes, he had such a great presentational style. Frank got away with everything he got away with based on 80% presentation, only 20% imagination.” Amongst Spielberg’s favourite scam movies are The Flim-Flam Man (1967), Scarecrow (1973), Elmer Gantry (1960), The Sting (1973) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). “This is one kind of example where life is more imaginative than art,” marvelled the filmmaker who wanted to brighten the cinematic atmosphere of the picture. “I said to Janusz [Kaminski], ‘We've done all these dark, backlit, contrasty movies for almost nine years. Let's, for the first time, put lights right in people's faces. Let's make this whole era blossom the way I remembered it.’”
Included in the cast for Catch Me If You Can are Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Nathalie Baye (Face), Amy Adams (Enchanted), Martin Sheen (Badlands), James Brolin (Traffic), Nancy Leneham (Beauty Shop), Jennifer Garner (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), Ellen Pompeo (Nobody’s Perfect), and Elizabeth Banks (The Next Three Days). Critical reaction was positive for the picture which grossed $352 million. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “This is not a major Spielberg film, although it is an effortlessly watchable one.” Ebert’s colleague Mick LaSalle stated in his review for the San Francisco Chronicle, “The colourful cinematography, smart performances and brisk tempo suggest a filmmaker subordinating every impulse to the task of manufacturing pleasure.” When broached on how he felt about the picture, Frank Abagnale, Jr. responded, “I know Hollywood has made a number of changes to the story, but I am honoured that Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tom Hanks participated in the making of the movie inspired by my life. It is important to understand that it is just a movie not a biographical documentary.” At the Oscars, Catch Me If You Can was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Christopher Walken) and Best Original Score; while the BAFTAs awarded the biopic with Best Supporting Actor (Walken) along with nominations for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, Best Costume Design, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The Golden Globes lauded the picture with a nomination for Best Actor – Drama (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the Screen Actors Guild Awards handed out the trophy for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role (Christopher Walken).
“I didn’t want Catch Me to be the only movie I made in the beginning of the twenty-first century that was a bit of a romp,” remarked Steven Spielberg who, as a follow-up, directed the comedy-drama The Terminal (2004) with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Mask of Zorro). “I wasn’t so willing to jump into something else that was grounded in history or was an important subject. I wanted to do a movie that made me smile and could make other people smile.” Viktor Navorski is stranded in New York at JFK International Airport when a coup in his homeland results in his becoming a man without a country. Serving as a major influence was the true-life tale of Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri who lived in Terminal One of the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris for eight years after his passport had been stolen. “Initially it was my story and I was just concerned that the themes of it were too close to The Truman Show ,” stated New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Niccol (Lord of War). “It was another prisoner in paradise. So, the reason that I didn’t want to write it or direct it really was because I felt I’d covered that ground before. It would be better for someone else to have some input into it. I really couldn’t get better input than [that of] Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.”
“Viktor is not a clown and he is not a buffoon,” believes Spielberg. “We are not making fun of an immigrant from a fictitious land around the Black Sea. In fact he is a very dignified person who is extremely trusting and is always filled with positive hope.” Cast as the endearing main character is Tom Hanks who observed, “Viktor is in a position where he says, ‘Hey, one of the best things that’s ever happened to me is that I got stuck in an airport for awhile and I got to meet this lady.’” The lady in question is flight attendant Amelia Warren portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones. “She is always looking for love and trying to find a person who will be her prince,” reflected Zeta-Jones. “Amelia is desperate to have someone to talk to and listen to her; she finds that person in Viktor.” For Hanks, the tale is not entirely fanciful, “It is a very adult relationship that is a recognition of a kindred soul who could use some help.”
The airport setting allowed for a lot of lucrative product placement deals for the $60 million Hollywood production. “It was a similar situation for The Terminal as for Minority Report,” said production designer Alex McDowell, “that in order to portray a real world, you've got to accept that advertising, and product and corporate puff is in your frame. It gives you back a value.” Starring performers such as Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), Barry Shabaka Henley (Miami Vice), Kumar Pallana (Rushmore), Diego Luna (Criminal), Chi McBride (I, Robot), and Zoë Saldana (Star Trek), the movie grossed $219 million worldwide. The reception for The Terminal was equally divided among film critics. Peter Howell of The Toronto Star wrote, “The small joys it has to offer are wholly dependent on the willingness of the audience to indulge in the proverbial suspension of disbelief. And believe me, much indulging is necessary.” At the New York Observer, Rex Reed was of an entirely different attitude; he wrote, “A feel-good film of such originality and sweetness in a summer of otherwise derivative sequels and remakes that it practically qualifies for miracle status.”
“I wanted to do War of the Worlds  ever since I read the book in college,” said Steven Spielberg of the classic tale written by British author H.G. Wells. “It is a great story and a great piece of 19th-century classic literature. It began the entire revolution in science fiction and fantasy.” Tom Cruise portrays a dockworker struggling to protect his family, while the earth is attacked by space aliens. “I can't imagine that anyone believes that we're the only intelligent biological life form in the entire universe,” remarked Steven Spielberg. “I certainly can't imagine living without the belief that the universe is teaming with life.” Cruise agreed with the filmmaker, “I think it's supreme arrogance to think that we're the only beings in all the universe.” For Spielberg, the movie reflects a present day mentality. “In the shadow of 9/11 there is a relevance to how we are all so unsettled in our feelings about our collective futures.” Steven Spielberg also liked the idea of following in the footsteps of a legendary British filmmaker. “I thought, well, why can’t I try my hand at the kind of film that Ridley Scott made when he did the first Alien , which is my favorite scary science fiction movie.”
Shot over seventy-three days in Connecticut, New York, California, Virginia, and New Jersey, the Hollywood production used five different sound stages. The story features narration by Morgan Freeman (Unforgiven) as well as appearances by Ann Robinson (Gun Brothers) and Gene Barry (Soldier of Fortune) who were the lead actors in the 1953 version; other cast members in the $132 million invasion epic include Dakota Fanning (The Runaways), Justin Chatwin (The Invisible), Miranda Otto (Flight of the Phoenix), Tim Robbins (Mystic River), Rick Gonzalez (In the Valley of Elah), Lenny Venito (Solitary Man), and Lisa Ann Walter (Bruce Almighty). Long-time Spielberg collaborator and producer Kathleen Kennedy noted, “When we first started developing E.T.  and Close Encounters of the Third Kind , it was a much edgier, darker story which evolved into something that was more benign. I think that the edgier, darker story has always been somewhere inside him. Now he’s telling the story.” The movie was shrouded in secrecy at the request of the director. “I know some people would always say, ‘Oh, everything is so secret,’” recalled Miranda Otto. “I think it’s good. In the old days people didn’t get to know much about movies before they came out and nowadays there’s just so much information.”
“I have to say that I love how Steven Spielberg deals with families in his movies,” admired Tom Cruise. “I find them to be very real, unique, like that scene in Close Encounters with the son in the bathtub.” Reminiscing about his third feature film, Spielberg observed, “It was about a man whose insatiable curiosity and developing obsession drew him away from his family. Only looking back once, he walked onto the mother ship. Now, that was before I had kids. That was 1977. So I wrote that blithely. Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and going on the mother ship. I would have the guy doing everything he could to protect his children, so in a sense, War of the Worlds does reflect my own maturity.”
Reacting to the controversy surrounding the “happy ending”, the director stated, “I have hope for the future, which is probably why I'm not the best person to tell a story that leaves you with nothing to hope for.” The science fiction picture earned $592 million in worldwide box office receipts and was praised by Ken Tucker of New York Magazine who wrote, “Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds is huge and scary, moving and funny – another capper to a career that seems like an unending succession of captivations.” Orlando Sentinel film critic Roger Moore was less enamored, he wrote, “Spielberg is pretty much incapable of making a terrible movie anymore. But he has plainly forgotten a lot of what makes a good popcorn movie since his Jurassic period. Where’s the fun?” The Academy Awards nominated War of the Worlds for Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects while the Razzie Awards handed out a nomination for Worst Actor (Tom Cruise).
The death of Israeli athletes at the hands of the Palestinian militant group Black September during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games was an international event witnessed on television by Steven Spielberg. “I was watching a Wide World of Sports live broadcast from Munich when the news suddenly flashed in, and the well-known sports commentator Jim McKay became a man for the hard facts of world politics,” recalled the director. “I was glued to the TV for the next few hours. I think it was then that I heard the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ for the first time.” Unknown to the world, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir sanctioned the deployment of hit squads to avenge the killings. The covert operation came to light when Canadian journalist George Jonas interviewed one of the Israeli assassins and published the book Vengeance. “I declined [the project] for several years because I didn't like the scripts and because I considered it too complex a problem,” confessed Spielberg. “I discussed this film with all kinds of people who mean a lot to me, in the hope that they would talk me out of it, even my parents and my rabbi. But no one would do me that favor. So my scriptwriter Tony Kushner and I took on the project as seriously and politically unbiased, and as uncompromisingly as possible.” The filmmaker does not doubt the validity of the story by George Jonas which serves as the basis for Munich (2005). “Together with scriptwriter Tony Kushner, I met the former agent described by Jonas known as Avner. We spent many hours together. I trust my intuition and my common sense; the man is not lying, he is not exaggerating. Everything he says is true.”
“Naturally, it is a terrible, despicable crime when, as in Munich, people are taken hostage, people are killed,” remarked Steven Spielberg who elected to take a balanced point of view with the controversial subject matter. “But probing the motives of those responsible and showing that they also are individuals with families and have their own story does not excuse what they did. Wanting to understand the background to a murder doesn't mean you accept it.” As for his cinematic portrayal of the government ordered assassins as being self-doubting accomplices, the director remarked, “Every single Israeli reprisal was also designed to cause fear and terror in the enemy. I don't believe that any of the agents involved enjoyed killing, or took pleasure in hiding a bomb under the target's bed. Killing was the job of these men, and they did it as well as they could. At the start they were all convinced they were doing the right thing – and they couldn't begin to imagine what the consequences would be for themselves, for their personal development, for their own souls.” Spielberg added, “A campaign of vengeance, even though it may contribute towards deterrence and preventing terror, can also have unintended consequences. It can change people, burden them, brutalize them, lead to their ethical decline. Even Mossad agents do not have ice water flowing through their veins.”
“I believe that Israel's Prime Minister [Golda Meir] had to respond to the monstrous provocation of Munich,” stated Steven Spielberg. “So in principle I think she did the right thing.” However, the filmmaker does not believe that vengeance killings are a final solution. “Violence usually engenders violence.” The Cincinnatian does not feel he has betrayed his heritage. “As a Jew I am aware of how important the existence of Israel is for the survival of us all. And because I am proud of being Jewish, I am worried by the growing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the world. In my film I ask questions about America's war on terror and about Israel's responses to Palestinian attacks.” George Jonas, who supports the Israeli action, was not impressed with the neutrality of the movie. “With due respect to pop culture and its undisputed master,” said Jonas, “one doesn't reach the moral high ground by being neutral between good and evil.” Spielberg was taken back by the critical reaction to Munich. “I find it kind of astonishing that people who don't like this movie are saying that I'm trying to humanize terrorists; as if it was ever acceptable for me to dehumanize anyone in any of my pictures.” The filmmaker carried on to say, “This film clearly states that the Black September of the Munich murders were terrorists. These were unforgivable actions but until we begin to ask questions about who these terrorists are and why terrorism happens, we're never going to get to the truth of why 9/11 happened, for instance.” Steven Spielberg remains unapologetic. "My film refuses to be a pamphlet. My screenwriter Tony Kushner and I were hoping to make it a visceral, emotional and intellectual experience, combined in such a way that it would help you get in touch with what you feel are the questions the film poses.” One particular condemnation stood out to the director. “There was an article in USA Today by a Los Angeles rabbi, accusing me of 'blind pacifism.' That's interesting, because there is not any kind of blind pacifism within me anywhere, or in Munich. I feel there was a justified need to respond to the terrorism in Munich, which is why I keep replaying images of the Munich massacre throughout the movie.” Reflecting on his reason for producing the picture, Spielberg remarked, "I guess as I grow older I just feel more responsibility for telling the stories that have some kind of larger meaning.”
Australian actor Eric Bana (Hulk), who portrays Avner in the $70 million Hollywood production, stars alongside Daniel Craig (Casino Royale), Ciarán Hinds (The Debt), Mathieu Kassovitz (Birthday Girl), Hanns Zischler (In the Shadows), Ayelet Zurer (Angels & Demons), Geoffrey Rush (Shine), Gila Almagor (Three Mothers), Michael Lonsdale (Moonraker), Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace), and Moritz Bleibtreu (Soul Kitchen). Munich grossed $130 million worldwide and received Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The American Cinema Editors nominated the historical thriller for Best Edited Feature Film – Dramatic, while Steven Spielberg was honoured with a nomination from the Directors Guild of America. At the Golden Globes, Munich contended for Best Director and Best Screenplay.
2005 saw DreamWorks SKG lose its financial independence as the studio was sold to Viacom, the parent company of Paramount Pictures. Despite the setback, Steven Spielberg carried on by expanding upon a trilogy he started with fellow American filmmaker George Lucas (THX 1138) by producing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). “I always said I had the most fun in my life making those three movies and it’s just going back to revisit the fun,” remarked Spielberg. “The reason there hasn’t been a movie since the last one in 1989 is because we never had a good story until now.”
“George came up with the idea that he wanted to do a paranormal story that would be a cross between psychic phenomena and the whole UFO craze,” recalled the filmmaker. “But I had done E.T., and I had done Close Encounters… I’d had my fill of extra-terrestrials, so I resisted for many years.” Steven Spielberg chuckled, “Working with George is still the same. We still argue, we still compromise, and we still deal with each other like the brothers we are.” George Lucas remained undaunted. “The compromise was I wouldn’t have any flying saucers in this movie,” revealed Lucas, “but I would have aliens. That’s when I came up with the Lost City of the Gods, with a crystal skull as the MacGuffin.” The idea intrigued Spielberg. “I had heard about the crystal skulls,” said the director. “Whether you believe that the crystal skull was carved by humans or an entity beyond the human race is the stuff that legends are made of.”
Filmmaker Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) was recruited to script the idea; he completed his third draft on November 4, 2003. “After more than a year of working closely with Steven Spielberg developing the story,” remembered Darabont, “I had completed a screenplay that Steven loved and was hoping to shoot. However, George Lucas had issues with the script and slammed on the brakes in order to rework the material himself.” Jeff Nathanson was brought in as a replacement but he soon found himself serving two conflicting masters. “Finally I approached an old friend and collaborator who had written brilliantly for me, beginning with Jurassic Park  – that would be David Koepp,” said Spielberg. “I considered him to be more than likely our ‘closer’ – our best bet to get this leviathan onto thousands of movie screens.” David Koepp had no intention of wiping the creative slate entirely clean. “It’s the fourth time I’ve written a movie for Steven,” remarked Koepp who wrote the first two Jurassic Park pictures and War of the Worlds. “Every time is different. In this case I tried to be aware of the history of the project. They had worked on a number of scripts over the years, with a number of writers, so I tried to be mindful of what worked and what didn’t.” The contributions of Koepp’s screenwriting predecessor had a major impact on the project. “When Frank Darabont did his draft for me,” explained Steven Spielberg, “he introduced the idea of bringing Marion back. I accepted it and Frank put it into the script. When David Koepp came in, Marion was one of the ideas I tenaciously held on to.” The director encountered no opposition from his frequent screenwriting collaborator. “In Raiders [of the Lost Ark, 1981] you fell desperately in love with Marion,” confided Koepp. “The fact that they ended up not getting together beyond Raiders was maddening. So, in this one, Marion is the focus of the search; Indy doesn’t know it, but she is what he’s been searching for the last twenty years.” The reunion idea was expanded upon. “Once we put Marion in the movie,” began George Lucas, “we first thought there should be a daughter Indy didn’t know about. She was going to be thirteen, a little spitfire. But Steven said, ‘I’ve done that in The Lost World .’ Eventually, David Koepp revisited the idea with a son and it worked, though their idea was to make him a nerd. I said, ‘That isn’t going to work. He needs to be like Marlon Brando in The Wild One . He needs to be what Indiana Jones’ father thought of Indiana Jones.’”
“I worked primarily with Steven,” revealed David Koepp. “I had some meetings with George, but mostly George talked to Steven about his ideas, then Steven and I would work together.” Koepp wanted to remain true to the movie franchise. “Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones. There’s no way you can separate in your mind the actor from the part. As the concept for the fourth installment developed, the project was renamed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. “The idea,” explained George Lucas, “was the aliens came here hundreds of thousands of years ago and set up the human race. Then we came up with a twist. The aliens didn’t come from outer space but from another dimension.” With the story being set in the 1950s, a new adversary for the aged swashbuckling archeologist had to be found. The solution was a Cold War adversary of America – the Soviet Union. Leading the Communist threat is the villainess Irina Spalko played by Cate Blanchett (The Aviator). “Of all the villains I've been able to work with in the Indiana Jones movies, I can say she's my favorite,” admitted Steven Spielberg. “And I think Cate made her that way. We gave her a template for this, but she invented the character.” Blanchett jumped at the opportunity when approached by the filmmaker. “I feel like I grew up on these films,” said the Oscar-winning Australian actress. “Everyone in my school class wanted to kiss Harrison Ford, but I actually wanted to be Harrison Ford. I wanted to be Indiana Jones. So when Steven asked me, it was one of those things I couldn’t say no to.”
Missing from the cast that features Karen Allen (In the Bedroom), Shia LaBeouf (Eagle Eye), Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast), John Hurt (V for Vendetta), Jim Broadbent (Iris), and Igor Jijikine (The Tourist) was Sean Connery (The Man Who Would Be King). “I love working with Steven and George, and it goes without saying that it is an honour to have Harrison as my son,” announced Connery in a press release. “But in the end, retirement is just too damned much fun. I do, however, have one bit of advice for Junior. Demand that the critters be digital, the cliffs be low, and for goodness sake, keep that whip by your side at all times in case you need to escape from the stunt coordinator!” Moviegoers were eager to welcome back Harrison Ford and his trusty bullwhip; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull grossed $787 million worldwide prompting talk of a fifth installment. The action-adventure received a BAFTA nomination for Best Special Visual Effects and contended for Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The Razzie Awards lauded the film with the trophy for Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off or Sequel.
Entering the arena of American politics, Steven Spielberg produced A Timeless Call (2008), a seven minute U.S. veteran tribute documentary narrated by Tom Hanks which was screened at the 2008 Democratic convention. During that same year, DreamWorks ended its partnership with Paramount Pictures and signed a $1.5 billion deal with India’s Reliance ADA Group reestablishing the studio as an independent entity. Remaining a key player in the success of the studio is its Ohio born co-founder. With a career spanning over five decades, Steven Spielberg is the rare international filmmaker who has achieved both critical acclaim and major commercial appeal; his twenty-five films have generated over $8 billion at the worldwide box office; five of them have been inducted into the National Film Registry for preservation: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1994), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1999), Jaws (2001), Schindler’s List (2004), and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (2007). “I have enough success to last me three more lifetimes,” stated Spielberg, “so I turned down Harry Potter and I turned down Spider-Man, two movies that I knew would be phenomenally successful because I had already made movies like that before and they offered no challenge to me.” The director continued, “I think after my experience with Schindler’s List , Amistad  and Saving Private Ryan , I realized that there are two kinds of movies I can be making: movies that are entertaining and please many people or movies that please me and give me satisfaction in a very meaningful way.”
“I was certainly mindful of Tintin when it I was making my Indiana Jones series because I had read the books years before,” explained Spielberg. “Now we have a chance to do a really great adventure with a timeless kid.” The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011) is the first of a trilogy planned by Steven Spielberg and New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson about an inquisitive Belgian boy and his dog. “200 million copies of these books have sold around the world. Only in America is it not as well known. I'm hoping we're going to be able to put it on the map here.”
Shooting the picture digitally and utilizing the motion-capture technology, Steven Spielberg believed to be the best way to honour the source material. “It was based on my respect for the art of Hergé and wanting to get as close to that art as I could,” said the filmmaker. “Hergé wrote about fictional people in a real world, not in a fantasy universe. It was the real universe he was working with, and he used National Geographic to research his adventure stories. It just seemed that live action would be too stylized for an audience to relate to. You’d have to have costumes that are a little outrageous when you see actors wearing them. The costumes seem to fit better when the medium chosen is a digital one.” Normally an advocate for shooting using film, Spielberg admitted, “I just adored it. It made me more like a painter than ever before. I got a chance to do so many jobs that I don’t often do as a director. You get to paint with this device that puts you into a virtual world, and allows you to make your shots and block all the actors with a small hand-held device only three times as large as an Xbox game controller.”
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn chronicles Tintin and his friends’ discovery of a sunken ship once commanded by an ancestor of an adversary sparks a treasure hunt. “As Andy Serkis runs across the stage, there’s Captain Haddock on the monitor,” marvelled Steven Spielberg, “in full anime, running along the streets of Belgium. Not only are the actors represented in real time, they enter into a three-dimensional world.” Replacing the originally chosen Thomas Sangster (Bright Star) in the part of Tintin is a British actor who had previously worked with Peter Jackson. “It will be Jamie Bell’s complete physical and emotional performance,” reassured Spielberg. “If Tintin makes you feel something, it’s Jamie Bell’s soul you’re sensing." Besides Bell (King Kong) and Serkis (Brighton Rock), the cast also features Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), Nick Frost (Paul), Tony Curran (Gladiator), Mackenzie Crook (Solomon Kane), Daniel Mays (Made in Dagenham), Toby Jones (Infamous), Sebastian Roché (The Last of the Mohicans), and Phillip Rhys (Kill the Man). When came to integrating computer technology into the storytelling, the director observed, “The best special effects cause the audience to truly suspend their disbelief and watch wonders unfold before them.”
Also being released in 2011 is a cinematic adaptation of a novel called War Horse written by Michael Morpurgo. “I never imagined anyone would think of adapting my stories for the stage or screen or concert hall. That was happening to Roald Dahl's work and Robert Louis Stevenson's, not mine,” remarked Morpurgo. “War Horse was published in 1982. It's the story of a young horse, Joey, brought up by Albert, a farmer's son. When Joey is sold off to the army by Albert's father, as a cavalry horse at the start of the first world war, Albert joins up to go looking for him. The narrative is told by the horse, because I wanted this to be a story of universal suffering in the war, not told from one side or the other.” The author believed that his World War I tale would never go beyond the printed page. “I thought the epic nature of War Horse would be impossible and impracticable to stage, and to film – I had already had one experience of this being the case. Then, with great excitement, I heard it was being considered by the National Theatre as a successor to Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials and Jamila Gavin's Coram Boy. I was told the horses were to be puppets, life-size puppets. I could not possibly imagine how that might work. But one meeting at the National with Tom Morris and Nick Hytner, followed by a meeting with puppeteers Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, was enough to convince me that this might just be something groundbreaking.” The subsequent theatrical stage success caused Hollywood to take notice. “The film’s producer Kathleen Kennedy, happened to see the play on a visit to London and brought it to the attention of Steven Spielberg. Now the dream Channing Williams and I had of making a film is finally happening. Lee Hall [Billy Elliot, The Pitmen Painters] and Richard Curtis [Love Actually] have written the screenplay. I don't think there's much I can teach them, and not much, either, that I can teach the director or producer about filmmaking.” Starring in War Horse are Jeremy Irvine, Benedict Cumberbatch (Four Lions), Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves), David Thewlis (The Omen), Tom Hiddleston (Unrelated), Stephen Graham (Snatch), David Kross (The Reader), Peter Mullan (Children of Men), Niels Arestrup (Farewell) and Patrick Kennedy (Atonement).
Numerous projects are currently under development by Steven Spielberg; they include the science fiction picture Interstellar, being written by Jonathan Nolan (The Dark Knight); the story explores the theories of physicist Kip Thorne in regards to gravity fields and wormholes. A possible collaboration with Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno) would see the director delve into the William Shakespeare theatrical cannon with The Taming of the Shrew. He has also purchased the film rights to Michael Crichton’s last novel, the seafaring adventure Pirates Latitude. “I’ve always wanted to make a musical so I’ve been looking for twenty years for something that would excite me,” divulged the veteran filmmaker. “I admired Moulin Rouge!  but I don’t want to make one that is impressionistic. If I do a musical it will be conservative and old-fashioned with everybody talking to each other, they break into song and then they talk some more! I like West Side Story  and Singin' in the Rain , which I think, is the best musical ever made. I’m also interested in doing the Abraham Lincoln story, of the last five years of his life in the Civil War.” Looking back over his career, Steven Spielberg remarked, “Every movie I make is a new challenge. I’ll have big hit movies and I’ll have movies that aren’t big hits. That’s just what happens when you’re a filmmaker and you’re putting your things out there for the public to applaud or yawn at. Through all that, I hope I don’t lose my ambition and my love for starting something new and seeing it through to the end.”
Read Frank Darabont's unused screenplay for Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods and for more on Spielberg and his upcoming projects check out the official Dreamworks website here.Related:
Dressing Abe: Joanna Johnston talks about Lincoln
Five Essential Films of Steven Spielberg
Short Film Showcase - Amblin' (1968)
Short Film Showcase - Duel (1971)
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.