Happy birthday Steven Spielberg; we forgive you for ‘Hook’

Happy birthday to Steven Spielberg, who turns 64 Saturday. I didn’t get him a gift but since Forbes estimates his net worth at about $3 billion, I figure he pretty much has everything he needs.

Steven Spielberg on the set of "Jaws" (Courtesy of Dick Zanuck)

If there was a Mt. Rushmore for contemporary Hollywood, the Cincinnati native’s face would be right up there ,smiling in stone, next to the visages of Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and maybe, um, Tom Hanks or Will Smith. Or George Lucas or James Cameron? OK, so I’m a little foggy on the best fourth face but Spielberg’s granite presence is absolutely assured.

What’s his best film? There’s plenty of candidates but when in doubt, go with the shark — shot for shot, “Jaws” is pretty much a perfect film with its economical storytelling and sublime suspense. (It also introduced the summer blockbuster concept in Hollywood, for better or for worse, one of his Rushmore-worthy achievements.) I also love “Saving Private Ryan,” perhaps more than is fashionable, and “Schindler’s List” is a solemn and towering achievement that, for me, made Spielberg a more complicated and compelling persona to consider.

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” is perhaps the movie that best represents the temperament, tastes and talent of the director but my favorite Spielberg movie is absolutely ”Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I could watch it every other weekend but that might say more about me than it does about the film. I think his most underrated movie is “Catch Me if You Can.” The worst movie? Pound for pound I say “Hook.” I just checked and there are six Oscar winners in the cast — Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Maggie Smith, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow and, ahem, Phil Collins. And that doesn’t count Glenn Close and Bob Hoskins, who should be an Oscar-winner. Despite all the trophy types, the movie is absolutely unwatchable. What Spielberg movie do I want to revisit or reconsider? I haven’t seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or ”The Color Purple” in years and would like to check them out again.

So many of the young filmmakers I talk to today speak in awed tones about Spielberg and when they do so, some of them mention movies like “Munich” and “War of the Worlds” that suggest darker things stirring in the filmmaker’s art. Spielberg’s most interesting movie might be the one who he hasn’t made yet – don’t forget that Eastwood has only found more resolve and maverick integrity as he pushes into his seventh decade of walking this world. So blow out the candles, Mr. S, and get back to work.


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