Even Steven and George are worried…

Steve & George

Willie Sutton and John Dillinger at USC.

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are warning that movies as we have known them for the last century are pretty much through.


The two mavens of spectacle who keep trying to top each other with box office extravaganzas told USC students that soon the big franchises—Iron Man, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, whateverman—will implode, possibly taking a studio or two with them and causing ticket prices to skyrocket to maybe $25 per film. And that’s for the relatively small number that get the green light. Furthermore, they’ll all be the very sort of action extravaganzas that are sinking studios, as the suits continue to bet the house on the one big summer grand slam. Sort of the way all the institutional stock investors bet on Facebook. Look how that turned out.

Spielberg says this is inevitable as the cost of making these films soars higher than Henry Cavill in front of a green screen. What’s the cure for overbloated productions? More of them! If you’re morbidly obese, isn’t the answer more cheesecake?

Buddy George commiserated with Steve, pointing out that his mediocre film Red Tails, about the Tuskegee airmen of World War II, flopped. The fact that it lacked even the intellectual depth of Star Wars The Phantom Menace had nothing to do with it, I imagine.

The Dynamic Duo said most theater owners exhibiting the Big Budget Blockbusters will start charging huge prices and running their films longer and longer, the way Broadway does now with its bloated shows. More down-to-earth fare without special effects and wall-to-wall THX ear-shattering sound? That will all go to TV, Spiels explained, lamenting that that’s where his own Lincoln almost ended up. (And it belonged there in my opinion, but that’s another post.)

“You’re entering the industry at a time when even established filmmakers are struggling to get their projects into theaters,” he said, adding it’s gotten tough even for George and him. To me, this is like Willie Sutton and John Dillinger complaining about bank robberies.

Do these two cinematic bozos forget who started this mad rush to money money money and sequels sequels sequels? It wasn’t Horton Foote. (Actually, George once pinned the blame fort the explosion of special effects extravaganzas on the James Bond films. Yes, he really did.) After creating the modern genre of pure spectacle, and then seeing it largely get beyond them as younger directors paper the screen with even more special effects and action sequences than they did, they complain that cinema as we know it is dead.


Guys, could you accept a little more of the responsibility from atop your piles of lucre? (Incidentally, Spielberg is the guy who said, back in the 80s, he’d never make a sequel, because there was no challenge in that, it was like playing slots that were rigged. Yeah, the director of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indian Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park The Lost World, Jurassic Park III, and the upcoming Jurassic Park IV and Indiana Jones V and VI said that.)

We have a generation of film-goers who can’t sit still for ten seconds if something on the screen isn’t blowing up or engaging in a laser battle or high-speed chase. Dialogue? That’s boring! Character development? Who cares? Plot? Slows down the action. Plus you can’t sell these movies in many overseas markets unless the stories are cereal-box simple and there’s lots of spandex and skin. I’m sure someday self-styled “educators” will lament that under the shiny new Core Curriculum measures sweeping the nation, children can no longer read books with any depth either, and ain’t that a shame.

You can read the whole story here.


8 responses

  1. I agree wholeheartedly, John. This is why I watch a lot of foreign films–especially Danish, French and English. I think actors and screenwriters are just as frustrated as we are here in novel-land.


    June 13, 2013 at 11:45 am

  2. Do you like Bergman? Swedish is close to Danish. And what Danes do you like?


    June 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

  3. Great mini-exposé on Spielberg and Lucas, who indeed must be two of the biggest artistic charlatans and hypocrites in film history. Especially Spielberg, whom I generally loathe — his bilious E.T. and Close Encounters as well as the so-bad-it’s-funny campfest Jaws. I still haven’t seen Lincoln — perish the thought. I was on the fence about whether to do so, but good, you’ve convinced me not to :)

    Lucas I guess I like a bit more, and the original three Star Wars will probably always be several of my comfort films (I love sci-fi), as tawdry and derivative as the storyline and lead characters might be. At least there were some fantastic Brit character actors in those — Cushing, Guinness, McDiarmid. But yes, I agree that Phantom Menace and the other prequels are just plain awful.

    This seems a good follow-up to your Before Midnight post regarding why the studios continue to bombard us with gaudy fluff when many people would rather watch a Linklater film. You’d certainly think they’d be willing to take more of a risk at this point.

    P.S. Have you listened to the Richter/Britten Grand Duo recording yet? Was curious to see what you thought of it.


    June 13, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    • Oh, thanks for reminding me about the Richter/Britten. I’d forgotten again. Must be getting old. I’ll slip it into my iPod.

      I actually like Jaws, and have an irrational soft spot for Close Encounters, despite the ludicrous plot. (The effects by Trumbull are worth the price alone.) It also depends which cut of Encounters you saw—there are three, and I only like the original 1977 release cut. I liked Empire among the Star Wars films for Kershner’s smart, snappy directing and the wise-ass script, but the acting in the others—Brits aside—is painful. As for Lincoln, while DDL deserved his award, and is worth seeing, the movie to me makes the same fatal mistake all “serious” Spielberg films do—they’re *too* serious, too lifeless, too earnest, as if Spiels came onto the set every day and said, “I’m directing something IMPORTANT today! No smiling.” I understand in Lincoln you’re not going to end with a rainbow and a spaceship, but a British review summed it up best: the West Wing with whiskers.

      P.S.: I *hated* E.T., even when I saw it in theaters back in ’82 when I was a kid and essentially part of the target audience. Years later I watched it again to see if I had been too harsh. Nope. I felt shamelessly manipulated. The way Spielberg gets you to cry (or tries to get you to cry) is to push into the actor’s face under bright lights while John Williams cranks up the strings. That’s not technique or talent. It’s schmaltz.


      June 13, 2013 at 10:20 pm

      • ” I felt shamelessly manipulated. The way Spielberg gets you to cry (or tries to get you to cry) is to push into the actor’s face under bright lights while John Williams cranks up the strings. That’s not technique or talent. It’s schmaltz.”

        Very well put. Shameless manipulation of conditioned responses is his stock in trade. All this saccharine tripe about how there’s this wonderful connection with other beings somewhere out there in the universe, represented in the light emanating from the hideously ugly creature’s outstretched digit. Add to that Barrymore’s over-ripe, bratty acting for an emesis-inducing experience. At this point, I haven’t seen the film in probably about ten years, but watching it, I remember feeling like a cat that needed to disgorge a hairball from its throat.

        Another film of Spielberg’s I forgot to mention is Schindler’s List, which even at this stage seems to have become a sacred cow among critics. But other than the obvious — a movie about the Holocaust that was an emotional catharsis for theatergoers — I can’t for the life of me see why. It’s as wooden a portrayal of the good-versus-evil conflict as they come, and Amon Goth’s shirt in the breeze in the room with his woman as he picks off workers with his rifle is almost soft-core pornographic in a strangely sadistic way.

        The BU film scholar Ray Carney described it perfectly IMO when he said “Is this what the Holocaust boils down to? Indiana Schindler versus the Gestapo of Doom?” Schindler’s breakdown in front of Stern at the end is particularly over-the-top. The only really touching thing to me about it is the end where the survivors come to put stones on the graves. All too bad really, since the particular focus on Schindler as a less-known historical aspect had such potential. I’d like to see Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (but have put if off because of the length:), which I’ve heard lots of good things about and looks as though it’s probably a much better film on the subject. Have you seen it?


        June 14, 2013 at 10:25 am

  4. Shoah’s definitely worth the time, daunting though it is.

    One of the things that makes me respect Claire Danes so much is she was originally cast as the little girl in the dress that’s in color in Schindler’s List and she *turned it down,* at age 12, a nobody, because she felt she was just a glorified extra in a part that was kind of pointless. :-)


    June 14, 2013 at 11:26 am

  5. I’ll have to see more of Danes. I thought she was marvelous as Temple Grandin, a virtuosic performance on the level of Philip Seymour Hoffmann in Capote.


    June 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

  6. I’ve always felt she’s given a lot of great performances in a lot of so-so movies. One of my favs is Igby Goes Down, a cult film that unfortunately was scheduled to come out shortly after 9/11, when people weren’t in the mood for that sort of humor. (And the film is set in New York…in fact, in a couple shots the towers are visible.) It’s an acquired taste, and many people feel it’s just two hours of the kid whining, but I think when you break it down and watch it more carefully you see some subtle things.

    Haven’t seen her current TV show, believe it or not. Have to admit I’m not into spy stuff, not into episodic stuff, and am not jazzed that the created is the same guy who gave is 24, but I hear it’s a cut above most stuff like this. I’m hoping As Cool As I Am gets good reviews.


    June 14, 2013 at 11:56 am

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