Moments of Spielberg: Defining Scenes of a Filmmaker

A few years ago I wrote a celebration of Steven Spielberg for MSN. This year, Spielberg is the recipient of the Golden Globes’s Cecil B. DeMille Award and the piece has been revived to celebrate his accomplishment. Here are a few choice “Moments of Spielberg” from the feature.

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind"
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind"

Jaws” (1975)

The Moment: Robert Shaw mesmerizes fellow shark hunters Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss — and the audience — with his chilling story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during WWII.

Why it’s great: As the tension mounts and every shot of the ocean reminds us that a primal killer awaits under the gentle surface, Spielberg gives the audience a reprieve and then takes it away with something as simple as a campfire tale from a grizzled Captain Ahab.

Why it has lasted: Without a single special effect, Spielberg holds the audience rapt with the horror of the bloodiest shark attack ever recorded, and then punctuates the scene with an ominous, almost taunting thump against the boat. The shark has come for the trio.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977)

The Moment: A darkened family home is invaded by intense blasts of light: the aliens have come for the boy.

Why it’s great: The child (Cary Guffrey) giggles in delight, running to the light with a naïve, innocent trust, while his mother (Melinda Dillon) sees only a threat in the searing violation of her house.

Why it has lasted: While “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is ultimately a benevolent vision of hope, the scene is a troubling mix of innocent wonder and the adult horror of a parent’s worst nightmare come to life with an almost supernatural force. Spielberg plays on the mystery of the unseen invaders with a brilliant ambiguity. We have to wait for the climax to bridge the communication gap and discover their real intentions.

I go on to spotlight iconic and defining scenes, some lasting a few seconds, some going on for minutes, in the films Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report.

Read the entire piece here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website ( I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View ( I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly,, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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