1993
Amblin Television
produces the science fiction series SeaQuest DSV starring Roy Scheider (Jaws) as the commander of a submarine, which quite similarly to the USS Enterprise explores a world where no man has gone before, this time it’s the deep sea on Earth. The story begins in the year 2018, after mankind has spent almost all natural resources, except for the ones on the ocean floor. The NBC series runs until 1995 (59 episodes in 3 seasons) but falls short of high expectations. 

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1993
Like no other film, Schindler’s List changes Spielberg not only as a director, but also as a person. For the first time, Spielberg confronts his Jewish identity and the Holocaust in one of his films. What Spielberg always feared in the anti-semitic suburbs of his childhood (and beyond) now comes only naturally to him: embracing his Jewish faith.

In his novel Schindler’s Ark, Thomas Keneally tells the story of several Jewish families between 1939 and 1945. They are saved from being murdered in concentration camps by the Sudeten German Oskar Schindler who hires them for “war-critical production” in his Krakow factory. The book is based on interviews with 50 of the 1,200 so-called “Schindler Jews”.

One of them is Leopold “Poldek” Pfefferberg. After the war, he makes it his life’s mission to thank his savior by communicating Schindler’s story to the world. As early as 1963, he tries to produce a biopic, but the project gets cancelled. In 1980, he meets Thomas Keneally and sparks his interest to write a book about Schindler. Spielberg later signs Pfefferberg as a consultant for the location shoot in Poland.

When Keneally’s novel is published in 1982 Universal studio boss Sid Sheinberg purchases the film rights for $500,000, with Steven Spielberg attached as director. However, Spielberg hesitates and nearly passes the project over to colleagues such as Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski and Billy Wilder, before he finally takes it into his own hands (encouraged by Billy Wilder). “I didn’t go to work on it right away because I didn’t know how to do it. The story didn’t have the same shape as the films I have made. […] I needed time to mature within myself and develop my own consciousness about the Holocaust.”

Spielberg’s decision to make the film is triggered by the growing media presence of Holocaust deniers and the rise of the neo-Nazi movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Spielberg waives his fee as a director and any profit sharing.

Screenwriter Steven Zaillian focuses on Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) and combines several people to create the figure of Schindler’s accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Spielberg adds more stories of Schindler Jews that he is told. “I wanted the story to be less vertical – less a story of just Oskar Schindler, and more of a horizontal approach, taking in the Holocaust as the raison d’être of the whole project. What I really wanted to see was the relationship between Oskar Schindler – the German point of view – and Itzhak Stern – the Jewish point of view. And I wanted to invoke more of the actual stories of the victims […].”

Spielberg avoids simple explanations for Schindler’s motivation to help the Jews, and put at risk his business and his life. He portrays Schindler in an ambigious constellation similar to Faust & Mephistopheles: torn between the life of luxury and liquidation, represented by camp commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), and his human conscience, represented by Itzhak Stern. His accountant eventually helps him to set up the titular list of persons that Schindler signs to work in his factory. Spielberg lets Itzhak Stern speak the famous phrases from the novel that are missing in Zaillian’s screenplay: “This list… is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its cramped margins lies the gulf.“

For the first time, Spielberg works with the Polish-born cinematographer Janusz Kamiński (and continues to do so in all his movies to this date). The two of them develop a cinematic language that has little in common with the techniques of Spielberg’s previous films and instead follows a documentary approach. To emphasize the authenticity of events, large parts of the film are shot with a handheld camera. Spielberg feels “like more of a journalist than a director of this movie. I feel like I’m reporting more than creating. […] I’m sort of interpreting history, trying to find a way of communicating that history to people, but I’m not really using the strengths that I usually use to entertain people.” „The authenticity of the story was too important to fall back on the commercial techniques that had gotten me a certain reputation in the area of craft and polish.“

Spielberg insists to shoot the film in black and white and categorically rejects advances by the studio to shoot the film on color negative (for a potential release of a color version). “The Holocaust was life without light. For me the symbol of life is color. That’s why a film about the Holocaust has to be black-and-white.“ In front of the black and white ghetto scenes, Spielberg can effectively employ his concept of the girl in a red coat: here, it is a symbol for life, but shortly after, Schindler and the audience discover the girl on a pile of corpses. The girl is a cipher, representing approximately 6 million murdered Jews.

Unlike Jurassic Park, the film he has finished just three months before, Spielberg directs Schindler’s List spontaneously – like in a fever – and abstains from using storyboards, creating up to 40 shots per day (the film wraps 4 days ahead of schedule). Some ideas emerge only a few hours before the shooting or on the film set. Amidst principal photography, Spielberg conceives a new epilogue in which we see the actual survivors together with their performers – building a bridge between past and present, reality and film.

Before the credits roll, Spielberg dedicates his film to Steve Ross. The philanthropist and CEO of Warner Communications has inspired Spielberg during the development of the film character Oskar Schindler: “Steve Ross gave me more insights into Schindler than anybody I’ve ever known. […] Before I shot the movie, I sent Liam all my home movies of Steve. I said, „Study his walk, study his manner, get to know him real well, because that’s who this guy is“. Ross supports Spielberg as mentor and – like Itzhak Stern – helps to turn a non-political showman into a mensch who is committed to contribute to a better world.

During the 72-day location shoot in Poland, Spielberg is drained physically, and pushed to the limits of his emotional strength. Kate Capshaw and his children rent a house near the set for the duration of filming, so they can give him support. Robin Williams calls Spielberg on a regular basis in order to cheer him up.

For Schindler’s List, film composer John Williams collaborates with famous violinist Itzhak Perlman (with whom he worked on the 1971 film adaptation of the musical Fiddler on the Roof). Williams creates a mournful score that remains one of his most cherished accomplishments. “When he showed me Schindler’s List,” says Williams, “I was so moved I
could barely speak. I remember saying to him, ‘Steven, you need a better
composer than I am to do this film.’ And he said, ‘I know, but they’re
all dead.’ ”

At the film’s release, the critics response is almost unanimously enthusiastic. Filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Lanzmann and Michael Haneke accuse Spielberg of using Hollywood techniques to depict the Shoah.

At the Academy Awards, Schindler’s List receives 12 nominations and is awarded in the categories Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. This is Spielberg’s first Oscar for Best Director. Brilliant actors Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are nominated, but go away empty-handed.

No one expects the enormous audience appeal of the more than three-hour black and white film. At a budget of $22 million Schindler’s List grosses more than $320 million worldwide. All proceeds from the film are used for the Shoah Foundation. It is founded by Spielberg with the goal of providing an archive for the filmed testimony of as many survivors of the Holocaust as possible.

1993
Spielberg directs two films in the same year. The first is Schindler’s List, in Spielberg’s own words his “most significant film”. The second is Jurassic Park, a groundbreaking movie full of wonder, thrills and adventure, which Spielberg describes as a mere “good sequel to Jaws, on land”.

Spielberg plans to shoot Schindler’s List first but MCA president Sid Sheinberg greenlights the Holocaust film on the condition that Spielberg makes Jurassic Park first. As Spielberg explains: “He knew that once I had directed Schindler I wouldn’t be able to do Jurassic Park.” Sheinberg’s decision forces Spielberg to supervise Jurassic Park’s post production via satellite hook-up while he is already shooting Schindler’s List in Poland.

Jurassic Park is based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel about a wildlife park on a remote tropical island featuring cloned dinosaurs. In a fierce bidding war, Universal buys the film rights for $1.5 million plus a percentage of the film’s gross receipts and pays Crichton another $500,000 for a first draft screenplay (compare Peter Benchley who received only $150,000 for the film rights to his novel Jaws plus $25,000 for a first draft script).

Crichton’s draft gets a rewrite by Malia Scotch Marmo (Hook) who tries to merge the characters of Grant and Malcolm – a film adaptation technique also used by Steven Zaillian for his Schindler’s List script. When David Koepp is brought in to write the final screenplay, Scotch Marmo’s idea of merging Grant and Malcolm is (luckily) dropped.

On Spielberg’s request, Koepp introduces significant changes to the novel such as the animated “pre-show” presented by Mr. DNA, a young female computer nerd and a “heroic” return of the T. rex in the film’s climax. Park creator John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) is not portrayed as the book’s one-dimensional villain but as a flamboyant Walt Disney-type dreamer who is obsessed with showmanship – similar to Spielberg. Paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) is given more presence than in the novel, and paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, replacing Spielberg’s original choice Harrison Ford) is allowed more character development: His discomfort with children eventually dissolves when “life finds a way” and T. rex & co. threaten the lives of Hammond’s grandchildren. They all have to get off the island before the park succumbs to chaos as predicted by mathematician Ian Malcolm (brilliantly performed by Jeff Goldblum). Unlike in the novel, Malcolm and Hammond survive, and Malcolm gets a lot more sarcastic one-liners to say, such as this: “If The Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”

Spielberg not only enhances the book’s cardboard protagonists for his film, he even adds character to the dinosaurs. As Paul Bullock elaborates in his profound e-book analysis, Jurassic Park is much more than a triumph of technical expertise or an escape from reality, it is an “escape with reality”. Below the thrilling surface of his film, Spielberg wants to teach his audience the virtues of humility before nature over scientific arrogance as well as each one’s responsibility to act and help others (a topic Schindler’s List deals with more in detail). In his more ambiguous comment on the era of blockbusters, Spielberg depicts a store stuffed with merchandise that is actually available after the film’s release.

Contrasting worlds of lush landscapes and sterile high-tech environments are created by cinematographer Dean Cundey, with the help of production designer Rick Carter who is working on a Spielberg-directed film for the first time.

Fay Wray gets invited to the set and advises young actress Ariana Richards (Lex) on how to scream like hell. 

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Fay Wray, sitting in center, lead actress from the original King Kong (1933), which is a huge inspiration for Jurassic Park, Also in the photo (left to right): Michael Crichton, Kathleen Kennedy, Stan Winston and Steven Spielberg. Photo: © The Making of Jurassic Park (Don Shay, Ballantine Books 1993)

Thanks to heavy use of storyboards and meticulous preparation by producers Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen, principal photography wraps after 98 days, 12 days ahead of schedule at a budget of $63 million (less than what was spent on Hook). Quite an achievement, considering the location was hit by Iniki, the most powerful hurricane to hit Hawaii in recorded history. While cast and crew spends a day in the shelter of their hotel, Spielberg kills time by telling ghost stories to the kids.

Steven Spielberg directing scenes on the Jurassic Park set.

Originally, Steven Spielberg wants to employ go-motion animated dino miniatures from Phil Tippett combined in post-production with larger animatronic dinosaurs constructed by special make-up effects creator Stan Winston. But then ILM visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren tells Spielberg about new CGI technologies and says he might be able to create dinos in the computer. When Muren shows Spielberg and Tippett a first CGI animatic of the Tyrannosaurus chasing a herd of Gallimimus, Spielberg says to Tippet, “You’re out of a job,” to which he replies, “Don’t you mean extinct?” Spielberg lets both the animatic and this dialogue write into the script (as a conversation between Malcolm and Grant).

The Tyrannosaurus’ roars are created by Gary Rydstrom as a combination of dog, penguin, tiger, alligator, and elephant sounds (inspired by the way sound designer Ben Burtt created alien “languages” and sound effects for Star Wars).

John Williams delivers one of the most beautiful (and memorable) scores of his career.

Jurassic Park receives widespread critical acclaim and three Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. It grosses over $900 million worldwide and is the highest grossing film directed by Spielberg, his third “All Time Box Office” champion, replacing Spielberg’s own E.T. – The Extraterrestrial.

Today, Jurassic Park still holds 17th place (adjusted for inflation) and spawns three sequels, one of it directed by Steven Spielberg (The Lost World: Jurassic Park). Spielberg’s net worth gains $250 million through the first Jurassic Park movie alone. 

An animated TV series based on Jurassic Park’s events and characters is cancelled during pre-production when Spielberg objects for undisclosed reasons.

1992
Bosnian War:
When Western governments acknowledge the independence of Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a military conflict between Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian units breaks out. Resulting from ethno-religious and territorial dissent, the war continues until December 1995 and claims tens of thousands casualties among soldiers and civilians on all sides.

1992
Well in advance of principal photography for Jurassic Park (1993) Spielberg participates in the concept development for the new Universal Studios attraction Jurassic Park: The Ride. Budgeted at $110 million the ride costs more than the film ($63 million). After the film’s release it rapidly becomes the most popular attraction of the Hollywood theme park.

Spielberg attends the grand opening in 1996, but prefers to leave the ride before the 84-foot drop.

1992
Clint Eastwood
’s Unforgiven is described by the Los Angeles Times as “The finest classical western to come along since perhaps John Ford’s 1956 The Searchers.”

The concept for the film dates back to 1976 but Eastwood wants to wait until he is old enough to play the main character and make it his last western film. Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman and Richard Harris are co-starring.

The film is a huge box-office success and receives four Academy Awards including Best Director. Today, Clint Eastwood is one of few top Hollywood actors to have also achieved a consistent reputation for being a critically and commercially successful director.

Spielberg and Eastwood collaborate on many occasions, e.g. Flags of Our Fathers (2006), with Spielberg producing and Eastwood directing.