/Answers: The Best Steven Spielberg Scenes

Ethan Anderton: The Raiders of the Lost Ark Truck Chase

“Truck? What truck?” Leave it to the fucking Nazis to track down a priceless artifact from Biblical times that they believe will help secure their power over the world. Though it’s been established that Indiana Jones probably didn’t need to stop the Nazis from getting ahold of the Ark of the Covenant since it just melted their faces and blew up their bodies when they opened it, that doesn’t make the pursuit that Dr. Henry Jones Jr. makes any less entertaining.

Specifically, the truck chase across the rocky desert in Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of the most brilliant executed action sequences of all time. This scene is incredible because it’s done practically on-location with real vehicles, sets and stunts (with the exception of that one car that drives off the cliff), not to mention being accompanied by an all-time great score from John Williams. Furthermore, it features a hero who isn’t unstoppable. Indiana Jones takes plenty of punches and finds himself on the wrong end of the truck.

Steven Spielberg knows how direct amazing action adventure sequences like, though it’s been awhile since he’s executed one so mesmerizing and thrilling. Perhaps we’ll get to see him back at it with Ready Player One. Though considering the virtual setting of the movie, it won’t be quite as impressive without all the practical effects.

Lindsey Romain: A Close Encounter in Close Encounters of the Third Kind

My earliest memories revolve around Spielberg. The backyard alight with lamplight while watching Jurassic Park on VHS. Leaving Reeses Pieces on the stairway landing for E.T., the way some kids leave cookies for Santa. But I was an adult before I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which in time has become – if not my favorite Spielberg – one of my most treasured. It’s everything that’s quintessentially his own world and look, that middle class lived-in white America, particular and real in a way no modern big-budget studio film attempts to be. Close Encounters is the alchemy of that look with the fantastical, another Spielbergian trait, played up to great effect by one of Hollywood’s best-ever everyman, Richard Dreyfuss.

My favorite scene is when Dreyfuss’ Roy first experiences extraterrestrial phenomenon in his pickup truck, abandoned at the side of the road as the electricity around him goes haywire, before a spaceship creeps silently through the sky. It’s simple, quiet; no words, only the noise of everyday items – papers in the dashboard, mailboxes, the car radio – swaying in the chaos. Spielberg’s works well with no dialogue, playing up the twist of normalcy with easy, bone-chilling and awe-inspiring effect. This is not the most bombastic of scenes in Close Encounters – nowhere near as exhilarating as the final moment when Roy meets the aliens and goes aboard their ship – but it’s the one that sticks with me most because it feels the most palpable.

Jacob Hall: Quint’s Monologue in Jaws

Steven Spielberg can direct spectacle like no one else and his first major film, 1975’s Jaws, is a definitive example of his crowd pleasing tendencies. Here’s a movie that’s terrifying and exciting and, often when you least expect it, hilarious. This is cinema built as an engine to entertain. Every scene feels carefully constructed to inspire a vivid reaction, whether it be chuckles or screams or anything in-between. This movie is a masterpiece for a reason.

But because we’re so focused on Spielberg as a director of action, visual effects, and audacious fantasy, we sometimes lose sight of his ability to direct actors and sell character. While Spielberg is a master of cinematic shorthand when it comes to introducing his heroes (we know everything we need to know about Sheriff Brody with a minute or two of meeting him), he also knows when to hold back his cards. Spielberg can treat a character reveal with the same gravity that he treats a jump scare or an action beat.

That brings me to my favorite scene in Jaws and quite possibly the best scene in Spielberg’s entire filmography. You know the one. Quint (Robert Shaw), the crude and abrasive shark hunter, bonds with Brody and Hooper during a quiet evening on board the Orca. Their quest to kill the Great White that’s been terrorizing Amity has hit a lull. All they can do now is wait. And talk. And swap stories about their scars. What begins as a lighthearted conversation, one of the best scenes of male bonding ever put on film, takes a dark turn. Quint reveals that he was on board the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the Navy ship that shank shortly after delivering the atomic bombs that would be dropped on Japan to end World War II. He speaks of surviving in the middle of the ocean, watching as sharks picked off his fellow soldiers. This crass sailor reveals the trauma beneath his toughened exterior. He lets his guard down for just a moment, long enough for us to understand him and his fears and his obsessions.

Jaws is a frightening movie, still effective because the infamously unreliable shark animatronic kept on breaking down and forced Spielberg to rely on suspense instead of special effects, but the scariest moment comes not from the beast of the title. It comes from a man remembering the worst time of his life, the day that haunts his every moment. It’s a spellbinding performance powered by brilliant writing. And Spielberg, one of cinema’s most gifted storytellers, knows that he just needs to plant his camera and let it play out.

Vanessa Bogart: The Raptors in the Kitchen in Jurassic Park

From the moment the raptor’s nose comes into view and that breath hits the kitchen window, every muscle in your body goes rigid. The whole scene takes place in one room, in real time, with two of the most successful hunters evolution has to offer, two scared and battered children, and about every reflective surface and noise making object you can imagine. I am of course talking about the kitchen scene in Jurassic Park.

I have probably seen Jurassic Park more times than I have seen any other movie in my life, and yet every time I see the raptor open that door, it feels like I am watching the scene for the first time. I know every line and every sequence of events by heart, but from the moment those raptors enter that kitchen until little Timmy (Joseph  Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) make it out, it is a blur. I know the pots get knocked down, I know the ladle falls, I know Lex tries to hide in the kitchen cubby, and I know Tim runs for the freezer. However, every time I hear the clank of that ladle on the floor, every time I see Lex struggle to get the door closed, and every time I see Tim unable to gain traction on the melting ice, I can’t breathe. Not to mention, whether it was my first viewing or my thousandth viewing, whether watching it as a child or an adult, I still get faked out by the raptor running towards Lex’s reflection. Every. Single. Time.

The fear of these giant, vicious creatures is already well into effect by the time the kitchen scene starts, but what transforms this scene different from just another escape into something that still inspires anxiety and tension decades later is its perfect execution. The score is understated in the quiet moments, letting the labored and terrified breathing of the children and the banging of all of the metal surfaces speak for themselves. The tapping of the raptors massive claws on the tile is amplified compared to the scurrying little legs of the film’s most innocent would-be victims.

It is children against beasts, with no adult or weapon to save them. In concept alone, it is not difficult to make the scene one of the most intense moments of the film, and yet Spielberg, with the help of two very talented young actors, managed to make it iconic, not just in Jurassic Park, but in the entirety of his career.

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