Thursday, May 9, 2013

Heath Holland On...The Spielberg Hypothesis

Who’s up for a good conspiracy theory?

Psssst! Hey! You! Over here, in the alley! Wanna hear something crazy?

Way back in the late '60s, The Beatles faced (and perpetuated) outlandish rumors that Paul McCartney was killed and replaced by a man named Billy Shears. Billy Shears, it was said, had plastic surgery to look like Paul and could even sing like Paul, but was NOT Paul. You’ll find clues about Paul being dead all over The Beatles records, as well as in their songs. I propose that this didn’t just happen to Paul McCartney, but to others as well. It’s still happening right under our noses. After years of exhaustive research, all my evidence points to a massive hoax. I have reason to believe that Steven Spielberg died in 1993 and was replaced by a lucky unknown filmmaker -- someone who looks like him and sounds like him, but doesn’t make movies like him. I even have a name for this bearded, baseball-capped imposter: Spieven Steelberg.

Do you want to know more? Can you keep a secret? Then let me elaborate. I’ll have to start at the beginning.
Like so many others, my family recently attended the IMAX 3D rerelease of Jurassic Park. It had been SO LONG since I last watched the movie, and I had forgotten just how much I loved it. Sure, the highlights had stuck with me over the years: the music, the glass of water in the car, and the T-Rex running wild (like Hulk-a-Mania). It had been about ten years since I last watched it, so seeing it with fresh, adult eyes was revealing. I laughed. I cried. Much to the discomfort of those around me, I climaxed three times. And somewhere around the time that the sad bird music kicks in at the end, I came to the conclusion that Jurassic Park is an example of “The Perfect Movie.”

The Perfect Movie is something that is often aimed for (though apparently not as much as we’d all like to think), but seldom achieved. Everything that is set up in Jurassic Park is paid off. The screenplay is tight and jam-packed with everything we need to know and none of what we don’t. Like all of Spielberg’s best films, there’s a sense of wonder in the story; we’ve created these dinosaurs that may kill us, but look how wonderful they are. The T-Rex is terrible and ferocious; he eats people and chases your car, but he’s also a pretty remarkable thing to watch. He’s one of nature’s crowning achievements. I came out of the theater on cloud nine, and revisited the movie again a few days later on Blu-ray because I just wanted to be in that world again. That’s one of the fantastic things about Jurassic Park: you can watch it as many times as you want and it still holds up. There are no boring bits, because all the talky parts are there to inform the action. The slower first half is all in service of the insane, balls-to-the-wall second half. Even now, writing this column and discussing the merits of this film, I want to watch Jurassic Park.

Then I made a big mistake.

I thought to myself: “Hey, that movie held up so well, I should keep going! Bring on The Lost World: Jurassic Park!” And that’s what I did. I watched The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park.

Do not watch The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a really bad movie. Where the first movie is full of an optimistic wonder at these creatures, the second movie is dark and mean-spirited. No one seems to have their heart in it at all. In fact, the entire film feels really cynical. I get that the first movie made ALL of the dollars, but they didn’t HAVE to make a sequel. Well, okay, so they HAD to make a sequel. But it’s amazing to me that pretty much the same group of people (the same director and same effects team and the same producers) made a movie (based on a book by the guy who wrote the first book) and it feels NOTHING like the first Jurassic Park.

You could MAYBE say that the film is intended to reflect the dark consequences of what happens when man tries to meddle in nature. But isn’t that what the first movie was about? And things that they took great pains to establish in the first movie are completely ignored. Watching the special features for Jurassic Park, much time is spent on how one of the leading paleontologists (Jack Horner) believed that the closest modern species related to dinosaurs are birds. Scenes where Raptors stuck their tongues out like lizards were completely scrapped in an effort to make them more bird-like. But in The Lost World, not only does a dinosaur stick its tongue out, it eats the paleontologist that looks a lot like Jack Horner. What are we to take from this? Tellingly, Spielberg himself actually admits that the sequel is not as good as Jurassic Park.

But that’s the thing. Maybe that’s not Spielberg talking. Maybe it’s Steelberg. Let’s face it: the Spielberg we know NEVER would have ended the movie the way he did.
Still with me? That got me thinking. Arguably, NO ONE ruled the late '70s and '80s movie screen like Steven Spielberg did. He reigned supreme with a string…no, a ROPE of back to back successes that defined the better part of a generation: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, and The Color Purple (I know, I’m writing it like you don’t already know). Also, he acted as a producer of even more great movies: Gremlins, The Goonies, Poltergeist, Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and a slew of others, including their sequels.

But in 1993, both Jurassic Park AND Schindler’s List were released (both tremendous successes), and by the end of the year Spielberg was exhausted. The toll of making two movies that covered the return of dinosaurs and the holocaust was high. It would be FOUR years before Spielberg would return to directing.

But did he really ever return? It is my belief that during this period, the real Steven Spielberg died and was replaced by the imposter, Spieven Steelberg. The real Steven Spielberg passed away from complications caused from exhaustion in 1993. The strain of two huge movies had been too much. His heart gave out on a Wednesday morning at 5 o’clock.

Four years were spent training an imposter to look like Spielberg, act like Spielberg, and teach him to make movies like Spielberg. He studied those old blockbusters endlessly, honed his craft, grew his beard, and shopped for baseball caps that only Spielberg would wear. This man was probably an unknown before his recruitment by the shadow society that pulled this hoax, most likely a film school dropout with high potential. At the end of this intensive training period in 1997, it was time to put all that hard work to the test.

The first Spieven Steelberg movie was The Lost World. It made 17 jillion dollars. Worldwide, more money had to be printed because all of the existing dollars went to theaters, who sent it directly to Universal, who sent it directly to Spieven Steelberg. The hoax was a success, and it would be years before anyone really started asking questions.

Buoyed by the success of the charade, Steelberg just kept going. For years he kept making movies that looked like Spielberg movies, but were just missing something: A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, and the most glaring of all of his failed attempts at matching Spielberg’s magic, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That one is the worst because all the elements are there for a classic Spielberg story; all the pieces are in place. Harrison Ford even brought his A-game. It looks and feels like an Indiana Jones movie, but it’s missing something. What it’s missing is Steven Spielberg.
But either Steelberg ceased to convince the public or he outlived his usefulness, because he fell out of favor with the secret society behind the hoax. Enter: J.J. Abrams. No facial reconstruction needed for him. No years of training; he’d been training for most of his life already. No, Abrams started small, making movies that were influenced by Spielberg. But by the time of Super 8, the transformation was nearly complete, and that movie was even released with Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment logo. There are many clues in that Amblin logo for those of us who know the truth and are willing to search. For instance, the moon in the logo is in the exact position and fullness that it was at the time of Spielberg’s death. And what at first appears to be E.T. covered in the bike basket is actually Spielberg’s shrouded, mourning widow, Kate Capshaw. And everyone knows that the bicycle is the Inuit symbol of death.

Need more evidence? George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were always friends and frequent collaborators. But with his friend gone, Lucas turned to Spielberg’s replacement J.J. Abrams to direct the new chapter in the Star Wars franchise. The next step in the evolution has not been announced yet, but I have inside sources (TOP MEN) who say that Abrams will take over the next Indiana Jones project before working on Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind. Lucas has been working closely with J.J. Abrams for a while now, teaching him how Steven used to do things and grooming him as Steelberg’s replacement.

But what does that mean for Steelberg? What was/is his fate? Was the failure of the last Indiana Jones movie too much? Or even more ominous…did THEY….THEY, the ones who perpetuated this whole hoax in the first place…have him killed for too many near misses? Is George Lucas IN ON THIS? Did it have anything to do with Francis Ford Coppola? How deep does the conspiracy run? It’s the old Hollywood (not me, the city) rule: keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer. I hope J.J. Abrams has made peace with his god, because he’s treading on thin ice.
Of course, like all conspiracies, there are more questions than there are answers. Is it possible that Spielberg faked his death? That it was HE who actually trained his replacement? That theory holds water. He’d seen and done it all by 1993. Was the tepid critical response to 1991’s Hook enough to turn his love of movies sour? He was the king of the box office blockbuster, so maybe he was ready to walk away from it all and retire to an island off the coast of Costa Rica with Kate Capshaw (K-Caps, not to be confused with Keurig K-Cups).

Or maybe it was George Lucas who had the dirty deed done, knowing that if he didn’t bump off Spielberg, his Star Wars sequels would never make any money when people could go see better movies full of heart and wonder.

Or maybe it was Colonel Mustard in the library with a lead pipe.

The point is, those early Spielberg movies are long gone. They had a magic that I don’t know if we’ll ever see or get again. Even when a concentrated effort is put into replicating them or recreating that magic, it fails. I suppose that a non-believer would tell me that the explanation for this is simple, and that every filmmaker creates his best art when he’s young. They’d probably say that Spielberg is alive and well, he just grew up. They’d probably say that an older, successful filmmaker well into his later years won’t (no, CAN’T) make the kinds of movies that he did when he was young and hungry. They’d probably try to tell me that we all change, and we deepen as we grow older; we develop new interests and we let go of others. They’d remind me that Quentin Tarantino wants to retire soon because he believes older filmmakers lose the voice they had when they were young. These people would then try to tell me that Steven Spielberg is now a mature, sage master of his craft who has simply moved on stylistically, technically, and thematically.

And to that person, I would reply: “Come on. Don’t you think that sounds a little far fetched?”


  1. No, your Spielberg Hypothesis doesn't sound far fetched at all, ahem, "Hollywood." :D

    Patrick has touched upon this many times in the podcast and articles. Most great directors that have been around for a while just lose it toward the end due to a variety of reasons (lack of ideas, failing health, no trust from the studio, underfunded, etc.) and their last batch of movies before they retire or pass on are a pale shadow of their former glory. Peckinpah ("Osterman Weekend"), Fuller ("White Dog"), Kurosawa ("Madadayo"), Hiller ("National Lampoon's Pucked"... yikes!), etc. You name the great director with many a classic film in their resume, most likely his/her last movie is either a dud or way below his/her best work. There's the rare cases when a director goes out with his/her best flourish of work at the end (Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors Trilogy"). And, as Patrick mentioned in a review or podcast somewhere, most directors this late in their career wish they could direct something like "Warhorse" and make it look as easy and not hard to do as Spielberg does (which is the complete opposite). I agree with Patrick, and I couldn't care less about "Warhorse."

    Though I don't share yours and everybody's enthusiasm for "Jurassic Park" (I've given it enough chances to know that I just plain don't like it and find it a tedious bore) I disagree with your contention that post '93 Spielberg has lost it because to me he's always been an inconsistent director. 1 for 4 directing "Indiana Jones" movies (three of them in the 1980's) means he was coasting even during his better days. It's just that Steven's valleys since '93 ("The Terminal," "Amistad," the mawkish last act of "A.I.," etc.) have been more noticeable than the turkeys from his golden days ("1941," "Always," "Hook," his segment from "Twilight Zone: The Movie," etc.) because the latter were surrounded by towering money-making hits that covered over his bad movies better than his recent excellent-but-don't-make-as-much-money work ("Lincoln," "Munich," etc.).

    Don't underestimate the PERCEPTION that the 'Steven Spielberg Presents' moniker casts over the 80's as the decade that Spielberg owned because it lumps childhood favorites like "Gremlins" and "Back to the Future" (which he didn't direct) that most of us saw and loved, instead of the "Empire of the Suns" and "Always'" Spielberg actually bothered to direct. Nowadays 'Steven Spielberg Presents' means executive producing "Men in Black" and "Transformers" sequels, which helps pay for the good stuff he directs that fewer people watch. This is what separates Spielberg and George Lucas from far better directors that chose to remain pure artists: the business know-how to not underestimate the stupidity and taste of the American public with mainstream movies that helps keep the coffins/profits coming.

    So, no "fake" Spielberg took over the man after 1993. Just the same mostly-excellent-but-inconsistent director got older and would change "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" if he could because he's a father now. As a human being I can relate to that, but hands-off the digital erase button Spielberg!

    My newest NEW-TO-ME MOVIES:

    Wait, James Best was Buster Keaton's father? I had no idea! :-P Charles Reisner's STEAMBOAT BILL, JR. (1928) on TCM-HD.

    'Ghost Dog: The Fallen Years.' David Fincher's PANIC ROOM (2002) on Superbit DVD.


    COMING NEXT WEEK: OLD SCHOOL KUNG FU WEEK. Seven days, seven bad-ass kung fu flicks.

  2. The "real" Spielberg made 1941. And once said that Eddie Deezen was the next big thing in comedy (seriously). I think this undercuts your theory.

    However I find the idea of JJ Abrams being offed interesting...

  3. I just taught JAWS and have been discussing Spielberg and 'summer blockbusters' all week with my students. Nice timing with this, Heath! Thank you!!

    1. I KNEW that you were teaching JAWS because Patrick sends me your notes, rubrics, and grade books each Friday night. That thing you have planned for next week? I think it's gonna be great.

    2. Why didn't I have teachers like Erika and JB that taught film when I went to HS in Upstate NY in the early 1990's? I feels robbed! :-P

  4. Well Dr Hollywood Holland I must say a very well thought out conspiracy and one I would come very close to agreeing with if it wasn't for one film after the double shot of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List and that is Catch me if you Can.

    I will admit the ending goes on a little bit long (but not as badly as some critics would say in my opinion) however the film just grabbed me the whole time and I can put it on regardless of my mood and be completely taken in by the cool con man story. I read the book that the movie is based on and while Spielberg does take some liberties he completely nails the spirit of what happened.

    I would like to present an alternate conspiracy theory that Steven Spielberg is a T-1000 made of liquid metal who after 1993 was shot a few times and while of course that didn't kill him it did put a lot of holes in him which slowed down not only his body but also his directing skills.

    Then in 1998 he finally pulled himself together and was back at his 100 percent fully formed self until he was accidentally impaled numerous times by a drunk lightsaber wielding George Lucas during a set visit on Phantom Menace following post production on Catch Me if you Can. Since then Steve hasn't been able to reform completely (he is an older model now) which causes us to have Spielberg films that have moments of greatness but don't seem to have that total Jurassic Park package.

    Maybe someday he will reform again to that golden boy t-1000 that could do no wrong whether it be by sea, by whip, or by magical flying bike. Of course thats just my opinion

  5. I like the way you think Hollywood. Someday we'll have to sit down and discuss my theory that 9/11 was a hoax written and produced by Stanley Kubrick. Eyes wide shut, indeed.

    I was skeptical of this Steven Spielberg stuff until I took a closer look at his filmography and discovered that the first letters of every major movie he's directed since Schindler's List spell "TASAMCTWMITWL" which any linguist worth his salt knows is Old Norse for "The real me died nearly 20 years ago, suckers." AND the license plate on his car is "66 IF" AND cranberry sauce.