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Is Spielberg Past It?

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Here's a question I never thought I'd ask. Is Steven Spielberg past it?

It used to be that every Spielberg film would be a world-stopping event, or at least redefine a genre. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial was the sort of movie Pixar would make if they did live action in the early 80s. The Indiana Jones movies repackaged an entire movement for a new generation, that of the swashbuckling matinee serials of the 1950s.

Jurassic Park showed us what CGI could really do, and the scene where the tyrannosaur raises its head through the treeline gave me shivers of the sort I've barely felt since. And all that's aside from a story about a shark inventing the tentpole movie...

It's not that Spielberg's never made a bad film, or at least a sub-par one. 1941 was a chaotic mess rather than a modern screwball comedy. Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal were frankly beneath him. Minority Report was extremely well crafted and slick but just didn't have the old Spielbergian magic.

Now, for the first time in forever, there are two Spielberg movies on the immediate horizon and I have to confess I'm not excited by either one of them. War Horse looks like it has some of the Boys-Own elements that made many of his films great, but it also looks like gilt-edged romanticism about the love for a horse by its handler. Even the trailer is claggy with treacle, and I can almost see the glory-porn shots of the horse rearing up with explosions above the Somme and fiery sunlight behind it.

Then there's The Adventures of Tintin. I've never been a big fan of the comic or the character (The Guardian's Nicholas Lezard is and he wasn't impressed in this story. Read his Spielberg-raped-my-childhood-like rant here).

Ordinarily anything with both Spielberg and Peter Jackson behind it would be cause for excitement. But every time I watch the trailer I just shrug, much of it reminding me of stuff we've seen a million times in the Rings and Narnia movies and every other CGI adventure movie of the last decade. Where are the set pieces? Where's the hair standing up on the back of your neck? Where's the magic?

I don't want to call Spielberg over the hill – even if he started doing straight to DVD soft porn films for the Playboy channel his contribution to cinema can't be overstated. But it's not like he has no peers, not any more. In both the Iron Man films and Cowboys & Aliens (despite the latter's box office), Jon Favreau gave us the spectacle, the action, the heart and soul in the characters and the sheer 'how cool is that?' factor.

And Spielberg's own protégé, J J Abrams, gave us Super 8, the brilliant love letter to the ET and The Goonies era that was more a Spielberg film than anything Spielberg himself has managed since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

He wanted to get serious and win Oscars in the early 90s and he did that. Maybe he just hasn't escaped the groove he found himself in with Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Or maybe the worst has happened and Spielberg has lost touch with that inner child he always says is so important. Either way, might it be time to accept his place in cinema history and move aside gracefully?

He doesn't answer that question in this 45 minute video interview with the LA Times celebrating the 30th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but he'll remind you why he's more than earned his place.

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