Barely a week after his film “Lincoln” only managed two Oscars from 12 nominations and deferred to “Argo” on Best Picture honors, Steven Spielberg seems as ubiquitous as ever. Fresh off the Academy Awards he was announced as head of the jury for this year’s Cannes Film Festival and he received a nice love letter in the New York Times last week pitting him as a sort of Godfather to Hollywood filmmakers.
“I think, for Steven, sometimes it”s the most fun to weigh in on someone else”s work when there are no consequences,” “Jurassic Park” screenwriter and “Premium Rush” director David Koepp said in the piece. “He is free to just talk about the creative part.”
But it doesn’t end there. Recently Spielberg revealed that he is developing Stanley Kubrick’s long-gestating and eventually abandoned Napoleon project as a mini-series. It was 12 years ago that Spielberg’s vision of another long-gestating Kubrick project, “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” landed to mixed reaction in 2001. I’ve written before about my own initial complex reaction that then grew to adoration, respect and, eventually, reverence over the years. I now consider it one of Spielberg’s best films. There are those, however, who didn’t quite get there, and so this news might be unsettling for them.
I’m all for it. As in 100%. The Napoleon thing has been written about at length — no, really, at LENGTH. So I imagine you’re mostly aware, but Slate has a nice summary of the events that led to its abandonment. You can also read Kubrick’s “Napoleon” screenplay online. It was unearthed back in 2000 when such projects were finding an outlet to be released, finally, on the internet.
Assuming Spielberg really invests himself in the mini-series and doesn’t farm a lot of the work in realizing it out to lesser filmmakers, I think this could be a truly special event. When I visited the amazing Kubrick exhibit at LACMA in November, the usual pang of sadness hit when I got to the “Napoleon” room. An entire wing dedicated to all this work (Kubrick had a research ethic second to none) that ultimately bore no fruit. Should such a thing be lost to the ages? Is it more romantic that way? Or does it deserve its moment?
I find myself agreeing with film critic David Ehrenstein, who commented on the Hollywood Reporter report on the project (which was first broken by French TV network Canal+ in an interview with Spielberg): “This is a very worthwhile project. It won’t be the film Kubrick planned but its existence will mean the voluminous research he undertook on Napoleon won’t sit on a shelf.”
And finally, a lot of the press this week pertains to the 20th anniversary Blu-ray release of “Schindler’s List,” hitting shelves today. The 1993 Holocaust epic is of course the film that brought Spielberg his only Best Picture Oscar to date. It also picked up Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and, of course, Best Director — Spielberg’s first such prize. (He would win again in 1998 for “Saving Private Ryan.”)
It was a great year to honor Spielberg, and not just because “Schindler’s List” is such a respected, towering achievement. Six months prior to that film’s release, “Jurassic Park” was unleashed onto theaters, tearing through box office records and serving as one last reminder of the filmmaker’s skill with spectacle before he would slow things way down with “Schindler’s List.” That he also managed such a one-two punch in 1997 (“The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Amistad”), 2002 (“Minority Report” and “Catch Me If You Can”), 2005 (“War of the World” and “Munich”) and 2011 (“The Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse”) is a testament to his nimble work ethic, and so 1993 was just a perfect moment.
(By the way, “Jurassic Park” will get the anniversary treatment in the form of “Jurassic Park 3D,” hitting theaters next month. And speaking of “War of the Worlds,” also worth reading is this excellent analysis of Spielberg’s H.G. Wells adaptation by Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci. I’ve always felt that film was an eerie, daring piece of blockbuster filmmaking that was unfairly dismissed in a number of quarters.)
“It doesn”t feel like 20 years at all,” Spielberg said of “Schindler’s List” at a recent event. “March 1 was the very first day of filming in Krakow…I quickly realized after a couple days of filming that this just wasn”t a natural reflex of my filmmaking instincts. This was going to be something that was going to change my life. I didn”t presume ahead that it was going to have any affect on the world entire, but I knew that this was going to be something that would transform me forever.”
Spielberg founded the Shoah Foundation in the wake of that seminal moment. And part of the lasting impression he’s helping the film make on, well, the impressionable, is the IWitness Video Challenge. You can learn more about that here.
And while we’re on the subject of “Schindler’s List” (which landed at #2 on HitFix’s recent collective survey of Spielberg’s best films of all time — my personal list was slightly different in 2011), The Times of London has an interview with actress Oliwia Dabrowska if you’re interested. Dabrowska played the famous girl in the red coat from the film, conveyor of a painfully simple visual concept that eventually pays huge emotional dividends. But Spielberg encouraged her to wait to see the film until she was 18, given the subject matter. She was 11 at the time and, of course, watched it anyway.
“It was too horrible,” Dabrowska said, now 23. “I could not understand much, but I was sure that I didn’t want to watch ever again in my life. I was ashamed of being in the movie and angry with my mother and father when they told anyone about the part. People said: ‘It must be so important to you, you must know so much about the Holocaust.’ I was frustrated by it all.”
Naturally she grew out of that mindset and came to understand the film as something she could be proud of.
It’s nice to see Spielberg full speed ahead like this. I have this inkling we could be on the verge of seeing a new golden age for the filmmaker, but you never can tell. He takes on and back-burners projects like no other, so there’s always just a lot of smoke. But to transition from “Lincoln” to “Napoleon” indicates an eye toward legacy. It’s not as if Spielberg needs to carve one out for himself — his place in the annals of this medium was set pretty much out of the gate — but his interests are taking on a new hue, and they reflect a certain spark that, if I may be so bold, I haven’t seen in the director in quite some time.
“Lincoln” was one of his finest achievements to date and it’s a shame the Academy Awards didn’t reflect that. But ever onward. I’m excited to see what grabs the director going forward.