Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Spielberg, Steven

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(1946-    ) US moviemaker who has made substantial contributions to the fantastic Cinema. His first movie to receive attention was the 22min short Amblin' (1969), financed by a young entrepreneur called Dennis Hoffman on the basis that SS would direct for Hoffman, at some time during the subsequent 10 years, a feature movie for $25,000 plus a share of profits; this contract is currently (1996) the subject of a lawsuit. Amblin' – after which SS would in 1984 name his production company Amblin Entertainment – won the Atlanta Film Festival Award, gained widespread critical admiration, and was commercially released as a programme-filler with Love Story (1970); even before this, however, it earned him a seven-year contract with Universal/NBC. His first tv direction was a segment of the pilot for Rod Serling's Night Gallery called "Eyes" (1969); he also directed one episode of the series, "Make Me Laugh" (1971). Other shows for which he directed episodes included Marcus Welby, The Name of the Game, The Psychiatrist and Columbo. Next came three tv feature movies: Duel (1971 tvm), scripted by Richard Matheson, in which a young car-driver is threatened motivelessly by an unidentified truck-driver; Something Evil (1972 tvm), which concerns Possession and Curses in a rural community; and Savage (1972; vt The Savage Report; vt Watch Dog), a detection. SS returned to tv over a decade later with Amazing Stories (1985-1987).

His directorial debut on the big screen was The Sugarland Express (1973), a quirky road thriller which he co-wrote. It was followed by the hugely successful Jaws (1975), about a killer shark: this was the movie that put him on the map. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977; special edition 1980), which he also scripted, is sf/Technofantasy about UFOs; overlong, it nevertheless has moments of great beauty, and was another box-office blockbuster. By contrast, 1941 (1979) – a screwball comedy – was a disaster, and people were ready to write SS off as a prodigy who had burnt himself out. Not so: two years later came Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the first of the Indiana Jones movies, and he was back to his blockbusting status – even more so with the following year's offering, E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial (1982), an sf/technofantasy movie which broke all records. Though the tale is superficially only of a little alien stranded on Earth and befriended by children who must keep his existence a secret from the authorities, E.T. could as well be a stray from Faerie, and certainly he performs Magic, as in the famous scene where the children's bicycles suddenly begin to fly; also, late in the movie, E.T. goes through a Christ-like cycle of death and Resurrection. SS directed the "Kick the Can" episode of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) completed the Indiana Jones sequence, although a fourth is reportedly on the stocks. The Color Purple (1985), based on the Alice Walker novel, is nonfantasy, as is Empire of the Sun (1987), based on the J G Ballard novel. Always (1989) is a rather lacklustre Posthumous Fantasy, based on A Guy Named Joe (1944). Hook (1991), a Revisionist Fantasy rooted in Peter Pan, was much disliked on release but has had more favourable reappraisals. Schindler's List (1993), based on Schindler's Ark (1983; vt Schindler's List) by Thomas Keneally (1935-    ) – which won the Booker Prize – although dauntingly long and dealing with the grim subject of the Holocaust, was hugely successful. Jurassic Park (1993), based on Jurassic Park (1990) by Michael Crichton (1942-    ), is direly plotted and scripted, and not much better acted, but again broke box-office records because of its state-of-the-art spfx showing Dinosaurs which, according to the story, have been resurrected from fossil DNA.

SS has also been through the years a producer and executive producer. The movies concerned have been: I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Used Cars (1980), Continental Divide (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983; > The Twilight Zone [1959-1964]), Gremlins (1984) and its 1990 sequel, The Goonies (1985), Back to the Future (1985) – about Time Travel, with sequels in 1989 and 1990 – Young Sherlock Holmes (1985; > Sherlock Holmes), The Money Pit (1986), An American Tail (1986) and its sequel in 1991, InnerSpace (1987) – a miniaturization sf story derivative of Fantastic Voyage (1966) – *batteries not included (1987) – a dire movie, originally intended for tv, about little UFOs – Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), Dad (1989), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), and Arachnophobia (1990), about big Spiders.

Unlike many other Hollywood creators, SS has never been afraid to surround himself with production/directorial talents who might have been seen as rivals; also, he has talent-spotted and groomed potential successors. Examples are Don Bluth, Joe Dante, Richard Donner, Tobe Hooper, Kathleen Kennedy, David Kirschner, Barry Levinson, George Lucas, Frank Marshall and Robert Zemeckis – Kennedy and Marshall being particularly frequent collaborators.

SS has often been described as the Walt Disney of the 20th century's latter part, and the comparison is apt. While many of his "family" movies would – with their swearing and sexuality – have horrified Disney (but then so would have Splash! [1984]), they appeal to a market that is very similar, though displaced by a few decades. Also like Disney, he has been responsible more than anyone else of his generation for keeping fantasy thriving in the cinema: had it not been for SS's example, dozens of fantasy movies by other directors would never have been made. [JG]

Steven Allan Spielberg


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.