Special Features – Steven Spielberg: From ‘Filmmaker’ to ‘From’

Anghus Hourvouras wonders whether the world’s greatest filmmaker has endorsed himself into a corner…

There was a time when Steven Spielberg’s name on a film meant something. It was an event. A reason to go to the movies. There are few filmmakers that have been able to generate excitement in film fans both young and old. That statement was true in the 1970s, the 1980s, and even the 1990s. I don’t know how true that is anymore.

Something happened in the 21st Century that changed the perception of Spielberg. It was subtle and for many years I didn’t even realize it was happening. The world’s most popular filmmaker had transformed from a creative mind to a product endorsement. At some point we started seeing the word “from” appear more in front Spielberg’s name than “a film by”.

This year alone we’ve seen a glut of product “from Steven Spielberg“. Movies like Super 8, Cowboys & Aliens and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Even on the small screen we see “From” on TV Shows like The United States of Tara, Terra Nova, and the new NBC series Smash. Now at the end of the year we have two movies actually directed by Steven Spielberg and doesn’t seem to be the same level of excitement. It seems like stamping his name on so many films and shows has devalued the brand.

It’s semantics. Perception versus reality. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the film community or entertainment journalism who doesn’t appreciate his work. There’s still respect among his peers and reverence among the media. But to the ticket buying public the transformation of Spielberg from creative force to endorsement stamp has had an impact.

In the U.S., the buzz for The Adventures of Tintin is almost non existent. To a degree, it’s understandable. It’s a property far better known overseas than in the States. But on paper one would think a big animated film directed by one of the world’s most successful filmmakers would be cause for excitement. And yet we are a weeks away from release without so much as a peep outside of the hardcore geek community already familiar with the character. His second release in 2011, War Horse, is generating a little more interest in the media due it’s award prospects, but neither film is setting the media ablaze with interest.

The truth is, Spielberg has lost his luster thanks to “From” appearing on so much lackluster product. Studios are eager to have him on board. His name used to be associated with quality. Movies like Super 8 and Cowboys & Aliens have been marketed to a massive degree on his name, riding his coattails to solid opening weekends. To the average moviegoer, his name holds weight. At the same time, the casual movie fan has little ability to discern between “From Steven Spielberg” and “A film by Steven Spielberg.” This kind of marketing muddying has left us with a cinematic landscape where movies like Tintin and War Horse are lost among the dozen projects a year he puts his name on.

It seems like the saturation point has been reached. The answer to whether or not he remains viable will be answered at the end of December when both The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse are released here in the U.S.. Will audiences turn out for the films or has Spielberg marketed himself into mediocrity? The performance of both films at the box office and during awards season may very well answer that question.

Anghus Houvouras

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  • Alex Kyle

    This really has more to do with the "brand" of Steven Spielberg than the mind of Spielberg. It gets to a point where he becomes an image detached from who he is; basically, a cardboard cutout, a billboard.

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