Directors’ Trademarks: Steven Spielberg
Just about every main character in a Spielberg film either has some sort of issue with their parents (usually the father), or they have kids with whom they don’t have the best of relationships. This trend starts at the beginning of his career. His second film, The Sugarland Express revolves around two deadbeat parents running from the law to try and prevent their son from being taken into foster care. Close Encounters is full of neglectful parenting, and I don’t think I even need to talk about The Color Purple. More famously, we all know about Indiana Jones’ rocky relationship with his father from The Last Crusade, and then in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull it’s Indiana’s turn to experience the difficulties of being a dad. The kids in Jurassic Park conveniently lack parents, and War of the Worlds is basically Tom Cruise’s attempts to reconcile with his kids. And these are just some of the examples…
Like many directors in the 80’s, Spielberg experimented with the visual texture in his films. He may have been one of the first to perfect the technique of using bright lights to add ambience to his films. In specific, his use of camera filters and overlays in Close Encounters paved the way for a decade of soft filters and lense flares in film. Like Ridley Scott, Spielberg used light to add texture to his films. He used fog to amplify the effect of light bands, and used post-production effects to expand the glow of various lighting elements. He maintained these techniques in later decades, but with less emphasis and better clarity. Jurassic Park is full of interesting background lighting, especially once the storm hits. Minority Report is an interesting canvas of dark and bright, glowing lights, as is A.I. Even in Lincoln, Spielberg pays special attention to the contrast between the dark and drury, and bright, glowing white light.
While Spielberg’s films are known for their entertaining stories, relatable characters, impressive production values, and attention to detail, it is the soundtracks that make them the most memorable. No other director has made so many films with soundtracks that are as easily recognizable. But while some of that is due to the director’s choice of where and how to put music in their film, most of that credit has to go to John Williams. John Williams is one of, if not the best composers of film soundtracks. One note of the theme from Jaws, Star Wars, or even Indiana Jones is enough for most people to recognize these films. John Williams and Steven Spielberg have created a working partnership unparalleled in the film industry. The substantial amount of success that they have achieved is due to both of them being very good at what they do and their work complimenting each others’ very well. Williams has composed all of Steven Spielberg’s films except for one (Color Purple).