The Guardian added a sixth article to their continuing (and deeply curious) attack on The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn today by asking the question: Has Steven Spielberg lost his mojo?
It’s a question that’s been posed numerous times over the last few years and I gave my opinion in the October issue of Starburst Magazine with my article Dark Dreams: Spielberg’s Last Decade. In it, I argue that far from representing a low point, Spielberg’s Noughties films find the director at the very peak of his powers, experimenting with style, storytelling and themes.
His weakest film of this period is Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and I still enjoy that immensely. It’s flawed certainly, but it’s not a “washout” as Phil Hoad suggests. As for Munich and AI: Artificial Intelligence (also dubbed washouts), I could hardly imagine two films less deserving of the word. Munich is a bold, brilliant and deeply personal piece of film making that, in my eyes at least, trumps Schindler’s List, and AI neatly subverts the themes Spielberg used in his earlier films.
Along with Minority Report, it’s about the darker side of dreams, how they can bind you and blind you to the real world. Both films feature characters who refuse to wake up from their dreams - AI’s David clinging onto the dream of the Blue Fairy, Minority Report’s John Anderton refusing to give up on the dream of a crime-free world. In both cases dreams are prisons which can only be escaped from by dismissing fantasy and dealing with reality - Anderton achieves this, with Pre-Crime eventually crumbling, David does not and ends up stuck in a cozy prison at the film’s close.
The Terminal, Spielberg’s most criticised film of the last decade, also features a prison. This time it’s the airport of the title, which is a dreamy trap of overpriced consumer goods. Only when Viktor Navorski escapes the safe terminal into a difficult and complicated world where war is rife in his home country, does a happy ending truly come.
Finally, Catch Me If You Can is a dream from start to finish. It begins with the fuzz of TV static and continues to reference TV and movies both directly (there’s a great nod to Bond) and indirectly through Janusz Kaminski’s atypically bright and artificial cinematography. Frank Abagnale’s con life is a prison though, and the film suggests that if he’d dealt with reality head-on, he may have prevented his father’s sad and lonely death.
I could go on. Spielberg’s run of films from AI to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull represents his most interesting era and to dismiss the films as “middling” or “washouts” is to dismiss some revealing and complex work. Has Spielberg lost his mojo? Not by a long shot. He’s simply traded it in for something much more interesting.