He's Baaaaack!

By Ansen, David | Newsweek, December 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

He's Baaaaack!


Ansen, David, Newsweek


Byline: David Ansen

Steven Spielberg gives us a crowd pleaser in 'The Adventures of Tintin' and a tear-jerker with 'War Horse.' Is it too much for one man?

For those of us who grew up on the movies of Steven Spielberg, it's hard not to still think of him as a boy wonder. He is, after all, the director laureate of the Peter Pan generation, and we've all never grown up alongside him. He was still a kid in his 20s when he made Jaws, the film that redefined the concept of the summer movie, and a mere seven years later he had Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. under his championship belt. If he'd never made another movie he'd still be counted one of the most successful, influential, and beloved--though not in all quarters--filmmakers in the world. Is there anyone who goes to the movies who doesn't know his name? Judged solely in economic terms, Spielberg has no peers: the films he's directed--never mind the 130 or so movies and TV projects that bear his name as a producer--have generated an unprecedented $3.8 billion in box-office revenue, and that's just in the U.S.

Spielberg, who's just turning 65, is now in the fourth decade of his career. At that age many of the early giants of Hollywood were entering the last phases of their directing careers, telling tales imbued with an autumnal spirit. Billy Wilder was about the same age when he made The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes; Hitchcock made Marnie and would shoot only four more features in his lifetime; Howard Hawks directed Rio Bravo, then slowed to a crawl. But there is nothing autumnal about the two ambitious movies Spielberg has coming out this holiday season. The Adventures of Tintin, which has already proved a hit in Europe, where audiences are familiar with the Herge comic strips that inspired it, is his first venture into motion-capture animation and 3-D. War Horse, based on the award-winning play set during World War I, has an episodic epic structure unlike anything he's attempted before. At the moment he's in the midst of filming Lincoln in Richmond, Va., with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the president in the last four years of his life, from a screenplay by Tony Kushner. And he'll follow that with yet another change of pace, Robopocalypse, a futuristic thriller about a robot uprising. This is not a man with his eyes on the finish line. He's deep in an extended midcareer, maintaining a sprinter's pace, with no signs of fatigue.

Well, actually, he has the flu, which has been spreading like wildfire through the Lincoln crew. Spielberg is sitting in a vast, empty antechamber of the capitol building in Richmond, built in 1788, which is doubling as the White House and the Congress. He's wearing black boots, a tightly fit black woolen jacket, and a black cap that gives him the air of an equestrian competitor. Why, at a point in life when many men would be slowing down, does he keep up the unflagging pace? A recent New York Times article asked the "What Makes Steven Run?" question and posited the theory that he was driven by fear, a fear that was the residue of a child's panic (Spielberg has said he was born a nervous wreck), a fear that permeated the themes of his films. Spielberg is having none of it. "I disagree with that," he says emphatically. "Fear isn't what drives creative people. It's more trust, and hope, and the challenge of doing something you haven't done before. It's not fear so much as it's confidence."

There's a simpler explanation for what makes Steven run: nothing gives him more pleasure than making movies. "I just love being on the floor filming things. I miss it when I'm not doing it. Because producing is not the same thing. Running a studio [DreamWorks] is not the same thing. Physically working with crews and actors--there's nothing like it!"

A friend of his had told me that Steven was "a bit of a nerd, but when he's on a set he's transformed." And watching him at work proves the point. …

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