By Adam Ferguson
It can’t be true, can it? A man who we’ve deified for his everlasting gift to film surely hasn’t made missteps in his career? This is a man who gave us Indiana Jones, Quint, and E.T. Such accusations would be liking spitting in the face of the Flying Spagetti Monster himself.
But alas dear readers, we have looked into Mr. Spielberg’s back catalog and found some stinkers. Ten to be exact. And, as a matter of perspective, even at his worst, Spielberg is far better than some of the trash we’re subjected to today. (I’m looking at you Uwe Boll and M. Night I Blew My Wad Early And Now Can’t Craft A Simple Story Shyamalan). So grab a tub of popcorn, turn down the lights, and come with us on a journey of discovery … and comb overs.
10. Empire of the Sun
This is a very good movie. (Hence why we posted it at number 10) Not only did it introduce the world to Christian Bale, but it gave the world a glimpse into a little known aspect of World War II - the Japanese invasion of China and the subsequent internment of expatriates. But the movie is long and loses the narrative at points. It expects us to mourn the loss of Mrs. Victor, despite almost zero development of her character. Further, the passage of time is never clearly illustrated. One could argue it’s a way to show the confusion and tediousness of life at Soochow Creek, but we’re to understand that Jim spent years at the camp while it only felt like a few months. Still, the film is visually striking, notably when Jim’s family takes their car through the poor sections of Shanghai, Jim’s discovery of the Japanese army during the costume party, the stolen goods in the wilderness, and the Red Cross containers raining down in the field.
9. War of the Worlds
There are classic Spielbergian scenes in this film. The train on fire, the capsized ferry, and the alien probe in the cabin basement just to name a few. But as a whole, we’re left wondering what the point of the film was. The story is flimsy, the resolution is even flimsier, and for the most part it’s painfully obvious that it’s simply a vehicle for Tom Cruise to do what he does best: run and yell. While not an awful movie by any stretch of the imagination, and with some very impressive visual effects, it’s just not exactly a great movie.
How do you screw this up? Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts in a sequel of Peter Pan directed by Steven Spielberg? You shouldn’t be able to. And while Hook is a beautiful looking movie, that’s all there really is. There’s no substance behind the story. Sure, it’s a fun continuation of the Peter Pan myth, but it doesn’t necessarily expand on the story. As a child, I loved this movie. But the years haven’t been kind to it, especially as the fight scenes (and hair styles) are concerned.
7. The Terminal
Let’s create a movie in which nothing truly happens and features one of the best actors of our generation speaking in a cringe worthy accent. That’s basically the gist of this movie. I’ve seen The Terminal twice and still can’t recall what exactly happened in it. In fact, I’d forgotten that Catherine Zeta-Jones was in the flick entirely. I remember something about a coffee can and building a fountain and going to a jazz club. But other than that, this film has left almost no mark upon my life. Unfortunately, this is one of those films that one can imagine was simply set up as a way to print money for it’s director and star without taking into consideration if the audience would actually enjoy it. And at the end of it, the movie was as boring as a layover.
6. AI: Artificial Intelligence
I was actually uncomfortable watching this movie. How can one sit through 146 minutes of a movie and have absolutely zero empathy with any of the main characters? Further, it’s just creepy. A robot who wants a mom and walks in on her on the toilet? Then he hangs out with a robot gigolo while watching other robots be torn apart in a sadistic circus? And finally, it ends thousands of years in the future with strange robots (who look like aliens and may actually be aliens… we’re never told this) who give David one more chance at happiness by bringing back the mother using DNA. Honestly, this was a long and laborious process to get to the resolution. However, again, there are some ridiculously amazing shots in this movie. The “mouth bridges” leading into the city, and the “crying” stone lions are just a few.
Remember after Dazed and Confused when Matthew McConaughey wanted us to take him seriously as an actor and appeared in Contact and A Time to Kill? Amistad would fall under that period of time as well. He then killed it all by appearing in Reign of Fire which started a downward spiral toward abs and bongos obsessed oblivion. But the one thing Amistad could use is a giant dragon rampaging into the middle of the court room and spraying fire throughout the proceedings. It’s just so boring. The scenes are long, the dialog is anything but snappy, and I distinctly remember thinking I should think this is a good movie but couldn’t.
4. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
This movie starts out amazing. A little girl gets attacked by tiny dinosaurs and we find out there’s another island. Plus, Jeff Goldblum’s exquisitely wacky Ian Malcolm is the star. And when the Mercedes SUV is sliding all over the mud trying to hold the trailer from spilling over the cliff, we are deep in kick-ass Spielbergian territory. Then they go to San Diego… I read Michael Crichton’s follow up to Jurassic Park. I enjoyed the sequel. But no where in the book do they end up running from a giant T-Rex loose in a city. I understand why Spielberg chose to take the story in this direction. After all, the idea of a giant carnivorous lizard rampaging through a city is appealing - oh wait, that’s Godzilla. I guess what I’m trying to say is the first 2/3 of this movie are completely separate from the last 1/3. What was at first a great adventure film - think Jurassic Park but without the safety of doors and fences, turned into a cliché.
A slapstick war comedy with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd? Sign me up! But with all that promise, 1941 sadly turns into a convoluted and messy film about an attack on the West Coast of America by the Japanese. Often forgotten in Spielberg’s oeuvre, 1941 proves that even the great ones can fail. After all, this movie is sandwiched between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Raiders of the Lost Ark, arguably two of Spielberg’s best films. Of 1941 and an idea to turn the film into a musical halfway through production, Spielberg remarked “In retrospect, that might have helped.”
Have you seen Always? Do you know anyone who has? I’m not even sure Netflix has heard of this movie. In fact, I had to go on RottenTomatoes just to verify this movie actually exists. (It does) Because I haven’t seen this movie, it would be unfair to properly critique it. So I’ll let some of the professional reviewers take a swing. “Boring supernatural romance. Tedius and obvious.” “For all its Spielbergian action and production values, the film is painfully sappy and wastes its A-list cast by saddling them with a hamfisted script.” “An unfulfilled promise, a plummeting dove.” And so, I assume had this movie been more enjoyable, we may have actually heard of it.
1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
It’s rare that a move can be so bad that it actually takes away from films in the series that preceded it. And yet, that’s what Crystal Skull does. The fun of the previous Indiana Jones films was removed from this film, only to be replaced by slapstick set pieces and poor choices. The exotic and fun Marion Ravenwood was reduced to a whiny mother. Indiana Jones looks as if he’s incapable of having an ounce of enjoyment. And where the fuck was Salah? There are so many mistakes made in this movie that one could write an entire thesis on it, not the least of which is the deplorable swinging vines and monkeys scene which made me squirm in my seat. This is by far Spielberg’s worst film. A movie so poor, it made me question if I’d ever want to see another Indiana Jones film - a statement sure to bring tears to a younger version of myself.