Steven Spielberg took the stage at the San Diego Comic-Con the other day, for the first time ever, and delivered the soul-crushing news that a new “Jurassic Park” movie is in the works. Because the world really needs another installment in the fascinating series of movies about dinosaurs running around stomping on shit.
You know, I remember a time when Spielberg’s name was almost synonymous with cinema; a far-reaching world of imagination and endless possibility, a quixotic and inspiring beacon of childlike wonder in a medium populated with cynics catering to audiences hopelessly enamored with the grim & gritty.
I’m of exactly the right age to have grown up at a time when Spielberg had already established himself firmly in the pop culture landscape as a dreamweaver, and right before his artistic decline. The first Spielberg movie I saw in the theater was “Hook”. I was five years old at the time and I remember being blown away by what I was seeing. I came upon some of his other movies through video rentals, not because I sought them out, but because… well, they were the movies you would rent back then. “ET” marked me, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” thrilled me, “Jaws” terrified me, and I had absolutely no idea they were made by the same person. To me, they were just magic. When you’re a kid, everything seems possible, and Spielberg’s work tapped into that and somehow augmented it.
I guess years go on and every artist is bound to start running dry. Gradually, Spielberg’s work started seeming less magic and more hokey, contrived, boring. And who could possibly hold it against him? That run of movies from “Jaws” ’til maybe “Saving Private Ryan” (which, mind you, amounts to over 20 fucking years of awesomeness) is pretty amazing and if he had retired after that, he would’ve gone out a legend. But he didn’t.
What he did instead was stick around and make a number of adequately mediocre features that, although matching the eclectic and scattershot tapestry of the first half of his filmography, fail to connect on the ever-important human level, like his best work did. He re-released some of his old work, making much-derided edits and changes to it several decades after the fact. He licensed. He cross-marketed. He produced en masse, in bulk, all the while sporting a knowing wink at the audience; a “hey, remember this? And hey, didn’t we have all kinds of fun back then?”.
Nowadays– especially after the catastrophically ill-conceived “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and especially after the recent announcement of a possible fourth “Jurassic Park”– Spielberg seems like a nostalgic old fogey, desperately clinging to past glories. Out of fashion, out of touch, finger far from the pulse of the moviegoing public but with a built-in fanbase of hopeless optimists.
And I’ll be right there at every premiere with them, hoping to recapture that magical wide-eyed amazement that used to be synonymous with the name “Spielberg”. Holding on to the hope that maybe we’ll stumble upon it one day and be reminded of why we fell in love with cinema in the first place. But we won’t. Or we’ll think we did, but then it turns out to just be bad gas. Either way. It’s gonna shit.