This has been a big year for Steven Spielberg — he's launched two TV shows, including last night's Terra Nova, and produced countless movies. The Spielberg tribute Super-8 was a surprise hit, and it's become fashionable for other film-makers to claim they're paying tribute to early Spielberg. Still ahead this year: the huge motion-capture reinvention of Tintin, the Belgian adventure comic.
But Spielberg is bigger than any one milestone — in many ways, we're all living in the entertainment world that Steven built. Here are 10 ways that Steven Spielberg has made the world a better place.
10) Being an early adopter and innovator of CGI
Jurassic Park was a total revelation in the early 1990s — we'd seen CG effects before, but they always looked sort of low-rent. But Jurassic Park's dinosaurs actually looked real. It's mind-blowing what Spielberg and company were able to pull off, given the processing power available back then. The results changed movies, but also bled into the video game industry and helped speed up improvements in processor speed for everyday applications.
9) Keeping science fiction alive on TV
If it hadn't been for Falling Skies and Terra Nova, there wouldn't really be any new shows about topics like aliens and time travel on television lately. Those kind of shows are a vanishing breed, and Spielberg has lent his clout to making them viable. (He also helped create Taken, an alien abduction miniseries that actually won an Emmy.) We also have to tip our hats to Spielberg for being willing to mix it up on TV — his productions include Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs, Amazing Stories and Freakazoid, as well as Seaquest. (You also have to give Spielberg props for recognizing that the 1996 Doctor Who revival was going to a bad place, and withdrawing his support for it, as the recent DVD release details.)
8) Taking on tough adaptations/re-imaginings, and making them happen
Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence was a flawed movie, to say the least. But at least he was willing to do what it took to bring a version of Stanley Kubrick's last project to the screen. He's also been willing to take on tough book adaptations like Minority Report, Hook, and of course Schindler's List, with decidedly mixed results.
7) Showing that video games could be a viable storytelling tool.
Spielberg created and wrote parts of the Medal of Honor first-person-shooter game series, starting in 1999. He also helped to develop the puzzle game Boom Blox, and the PC game Steven Spielberg's Director's Chair, which helped teach players how to edit movies.
6) Preserving and shaping the memory of World War II
You can't explore humanity's future, unless you also safeguard our past, and Spielberg has done a lot to keep World War II, including the Holocaust, in people's minds. His World War II films, including Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun and The Pacific, have helped to solidify the image of both sides of the war, for many people. He's also helped to archive important footage, and tell the grim stories that helped to shape our present, via the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
5) Co-founding a successful new studio, and helping bring back animated films
Spielberg is one of the co-founders of Dreamworks SKG, one of the most successful new film studios of recent decades. Among other things, Dreamworks helped bring back the animated feature, with films like the Shrek movies, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters Vs. Aliens, and so on. Dreamworks managed to become a viable rival for Pixar — and in the process, broke Disney's hold on the world of animation.
4) Bringing back the Saturday morning serial
George Lucas had already celebrated the adventure serial, to some extent, with Star Wars. But it's his collaboration with Spielberg, the Indiana Jones films, that really helped show how vital and awesome the adventure-serial format was, sparking a number of imitators. Spielberg also helped give us The Goonies, which was the classic boys' own adventure story brought up to date, complete with treasure maps and underground quests. Not to mention the Back to the Future films.
3) Helping to make robot uprising the new zombie apocalypse
Reading between the lines, it sounds like we nearly didn't get our Robopocalypse movie, but Spielberg managed to rope two different studios into ponying up cash for this expensive undertaking. Spielberg's willingness to direct a Robopocalypse film also put Daniel Wilson's novel on the map in the first place — and let's be honest. There are dozens of zombie apocalypse stories coming down the pike, all the time. We need more robotic doomsdays. Image via Robotblog.Fr.
2) Bringing back our sense of wonder
Spielberg didn't just help to bring huge special effects and massive spectacle to movies — he also put a huge emphasis on preserving a sense of awe and amazement at the vastness and strangeness of it all. This is on display most notably in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which prioritizes wonder over action or exposition. But the desire to celebrate the wonders of creation shows through in many of Spielberg's science fiction and fantasy movies, making his expensive visuals often more than just a cool thrill-ride.
1) Helping to create the idea of the movie "blockbuster."
Back in the day, summer tentpole movies were synonymous with Spielberg's films, starting with Jaws. (Although Star Wars did more than any one of Spielberg's movies to launch the summer blockbuster era, by all accounts.) Spielberg's work, both as a director and as a producer, has shaped our love of cheesy, all-out, ridiculously expensive summer fun-rides, probably more than any other single person's.
Additional reporting and writing by Keith Veronese and Annalee Newitz.