Most Recent Film: Munich
Best Film: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Most Underrated Film: Catch Me if You Can
Did You Know: Played the Cook County assessor's office clerk in The Blues Brothers (1980).
Why He Matters: Continues to make great popcorn films while still taking the time to do smaller, more personal movies with the same care. He's the director every other director wants to be he has the power, the fame, his own studio and still manages to be a nice guy.
In the 1970s and '80s, Steven Spielberg saw alien life forms as benevolent creatures that loved music and Reese's Pieces.
In 2005, they wanted to destroy our planet.
It's surprising that Spielberg had waited so long to show off the dark side of extraterrestrial life forms, but it also makes perfect sense that he did so with an adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds (previously lensed in 1953).
"I'm an equal opportunity director," laughs Spielberg. "I gave the benevolent aliens a shot, now (I've tried) my hand at the worst kind who are just bent on ending civilization and beginning their own."
Although the novel was set in 1898, Spielberg wasn't interested in doing a Victorian-set science fiction film. Instead, he felt in this post-9/11 world that something else could be said with a present-day movie about an alien invasion.
"I think in the shadow of 9/11 there is a little relevance, and we are so unsettled in our feeling about our collective futures," says Spielberg. "That's why I think when I rediscovered War of the Worlds post 9/11, it made more sense. It could be a tremendous emotional story, a very entertaining one and still have some kind of current relevance. I began this movie 12 years ago when I bought at an auction the last surviving [Orson Wells] War of the Worlds radio script. It was amazing. It was a real distillation of the novel."
Of course, Independence Day came out and squelched the idea for a bit.
"When it came out, I said, 'Maybe I won't make it,' because they had kind of picked the bones of that,'" recalls Spielberg. "They didn't pick it clean, they picked different bones than I would have chosen, but that put me off for awhile. I guess I got interested again after Tom [Cruise] and I had such a great time doing Minority Report."
In War of the Worlds, Cruise plays a harried father trying to save his kids from the menace of the alien attack and goes on the road to find some kind of safe haven.
"The point of view is very personal, and everybody can relate to the point of view, because it's about a family trying to survive and stay together [while] surrounded by the most ethically horrendous events you can possibly imagine." Spielberg explains. "It doesn't have the sense of light adventure of Independence Day. We (took) it much more seriously than that. It's ultra-realistic, as I've ever intended to make a movie in terms of its documentary style. At the same time, it's the Hollywood production design that audiences are demanding these days. So it's the combination of blending these huge events visually and this documentary personal story at the center of it."
As far as Spielberg's style on the film, he admits that he's much more entranced by amazing imagery rather than assaulting audiences with the current fast-paced editing that is the norm in many summer movies today.
"I'm more interested in the concept shots than I am with MTV coverage," says Spielberg. "If you can put something on the screen that's sustained, that's where you get to study it and say, 'How did they do that?' I enjoy that more than creating an illusion with 16 different camera angles, where no shots last longer than six frames on screen."
As for Spielberg's trademark deadpan movie sense of humor, the director admitted there was some in War of the Worlds, but it came out of the characters interactions instead of the need to tell a joke.
"I felt that way about Jaws," says Spielberg. "If I didn't create the humor, the audience would find inappropriate places to laugh, and I've done the same with this picture. We've created humor, but it comes out of the natural insanity of this family simply on an odyssey for survival."
(WAR OF THE WORLDS was released on DVD this past week.)