When an artist produces a body of work like that of Steven Spielberg, any in-depth career examination is going to be an enjoyable, fascinating ride. I mean, how is it even possible that one person played a key role in all of this?
And Spielberg absolutely is a good watch. HBO’s sprawling documentary about the singular Hollywood director is a totally effective guided tour of his life and works, playing all of the greatest hits along the way, but it’s also a relatively safe one, choosing to speed past some notable disappointments.
American Masters creator Susan Lacy deftly covers an immense amount of ground over the course of two and a half engaging hours of retrospection. She takes extra care establishing the adventures of young Steven Spielberg, the figure of legend who shot on 8mm and snuck onto the Universal lot.
By the end of Spielberg, you will have somewhat of an understanding of how a boy becomes the artist we know, thanks to clips from those early, amateur films and interviews with nearly every important figure in his life, including his impish mother — who passed earlier this year — and father.
Once Spielberg, the documentary subject, sneaks into Universal, his career and the film about it snowballs into an ever-growing collection of pop touchstones and box office hits. The sheer magnitude of his work and the mark he’s left on American culture inspires the kind of awe that Spielberg himself would no doubt push in close on.
The avalanche of cinematic achievement is such that the off notes of Spielberg’s career are barely touched. Some lip service is paid to 1941 as an obvious first flop, but Hook is only cut into montages. Skipping the less successful films does allow for a more nuanced examination of a complex work like Munich, but the end result feels incomplete and a bit too glossy.