≡ Menu

The inherent darkness and pessimism of Steven Spielberg’s body of work

by Scott Mendelson.

Many of the reviews, especially the negative ones, for Steven Spielberg’s War Horse have emphasized the melodramatic ‘boy and his horse’ narrative, accusing the film of wallowing in sentimentality. Moreover, they basically accuse the picture of being ‘conventional Spielberg’, again citing the classic meme that Steven Spielberg isn’t capable of truly playing in on the dark side. For as long as I can remember (early-80s, natch), Steven Spielberg has had a reputation as the “Mr. Mass Audience”, the guy who, film-making chops aside, was looked down upon because of his reputation as a purveyor of mainstream feel-good sentiment.

He was the guy who made general audiences tear-up on cue, but still walk out feeling good. But looking over his filmography, not only are his ‘dark and adult’ pictures more frequent than you might realize, his entire reputation as a softy basically stems from one single incredibly popular (and critically-acclaimed) film that he made in 1982. On a film-by-film basis, Spielberg is far more likely to scare you or deeply disturb you than leave you with a nasty case of the warm-and-fuzzies.

It bears repeating that Spielberg’s reputation as an unchallenging filmmaker for the masses has been around for thirty years or so. Looking back on his first decade of mainstream film making (let’s say 1974-1984), it is ET: The Extra Terrestrial that stood out then, and arguably still today as the quintessential Spielberg film.

While it certainly stood then and now as one of his most personal films, it’s astonishing success (highest-grossing film of all time for 15 years) basically branded Spielberg as a director whose every film contained the kind of small-town nostalgia and overtly tear-jerking emotionalism that made ET such a smash hit. It’s a meme that has followed Spielberg for the last thirty years. And going through his filmography it’s apparent that it’s not entirely a fair assessment of his career. From 1974 until 2011, Spielberg has shown viewers the darkness at least as much, if not more so, than he has shown them the light.

Read the rest of this article from Hollywood News.

Sign up now for your own FREE monthly subscription to “The Director’s Chair” filmmaking ezine and get the first 30 pages of my 220 page Film Directing Multi-Media Online course, “The Art and Craft of the Director Audio Seminar.”

Comments on this entry are closed.