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Another Spielberg Monster

The recent biographies and the Time cover story still go in for this sort of thing: Spielberg is an auteur who makes elaborately personal movies disguised as big juicy commercial fabrications. But is this true? It's obvious that, say, The Lost World and Schindler's List touch on Spielberg's memories of absent fathers, or anti-Semitism in junior high school, or whatever. But does this, by definition, make them "personal" films? Thematically, Hook, a reworking of Peter Pan, is probably the most "personal" of Spielberg's movies--yet he's so disengaged from it that it comes across as perhaps his least personal. With Spielberg, his films are at their most personal when, as a filmmaker, he's most charged up by what he's showing us. In this sense, Jaws is more personal than Hook.

The truth is that I don't really want to see Spielberg make personal movies, at least not the type his deep-dish critics respond to. And although I admired Schindler's List and look forward to Amistad, I don't really want to see him become the kind of socially conscious "artist" Hollywood admires. Spielberg has taken the rap for almost singlehandedly turning movies into theme parks, but some of his parks are a lot more spacious and dazzling than the carefully appointed cottages in Hollywood's prestige-picture circuit. To praise him for having arrived as an artist with Schindler's List is, I think, to misunderstand what kind of artist he is; it condescends to the playful glories of his best earlier work. I'm not crazy about The Lost World, but I'm glad Spielberg followed Schindler's List with it. It demonstrates at least that he isn't angling to be the first film director to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He has taken so long to break adolescence that he should be in no hurry to turn elder statesman.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Screenplay by David Koepp. Directed by Steven Spielberg. With Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vanessa Lee Chester, Vince Vaughn, Richard Attenborough, Arliss Howard, Richard Schiff and Peter Stormare.

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