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Published December 22 2011

Director Spielberg not slowing down at 65

MIAMI – A couple of years ago, Steven Spielberg was attending a horse show with his daughter when some kids recognized him and came over to say hello.

“They started saying ‘Oh, man, we love your movies so much! We love all your films – except for that last Indiana Jones picture. We all hated that one!’ ” Spielberg recalls, laughing.

“I asked them ‘Why did you hate it?’ And they said, ‘It just wasn’t as good as the other ones. We didn’t like that alien thing at the end. That was stupid. He shouldn’t be going after aliens anyway. He should be going after archeology stuff.’ ”

Spielberg is familiar with that sentiment. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was the worst-reviewed film in the series that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” launched. Even Shia LaBeouf, who starred in it, has publicly trashed the film.

Just don’t expect Spielberg to apologize for it.

“Then those same kids told me they saw ‘Crystal Skull’ four times,” he says. “I asked ‘Why did you see it four times if you hated it?’ And they said ‘For all the good stuff in it.’ And suddenly I understood how that movie made

$800 million, despite all the negative things I read about it.”

Ever since “Jaws” redefined the limits on how profitable a movie can be, Spielberg has balanced commerce with art: He’s one of the most gifted artists to ever walk onto a movie set, as influential and revered as Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford and Stanley Kubrick. But Spielberg is also one of the sharpest and most shrewd businessmen in Hollywood, arguably second only to his friend and frequent producing partner George Lucas.

Both sides of Spielberg’s persona are about to invade a multiplex near you. This past Wednesday “The Adventures of Tintin,” the director’s first foray into

3-D, entered theaters. The first of a planned series of films based on the comic books by the Belgian author Herge, “Tintin” has already grossed

$233 million overseas, where the eponymous hero, an intrepid newspaper reporter, is as entrenched in the culture as deeply as Peanuts is beloved in the U.S. The movie, which uses the same motion-capture effects James Cameron employed in “Avatar,” is a relentless thrill-ride replete with eye-popping

3-D effects, astonishing animation and sustained action sequences worthy of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“War Horse” follows today with a grand, bold epic based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel about the bond between a young man (played by Jeremy Irvine) and his horse, set during World War I. The PG-13 movie has the intensity and power of “Saving Private Ryan” (without the gore) and the wonder and depth of feeling of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” It is an unabashedly earnest, hopeful, moving work, and if some people may find the movie too sentimental for these cynical times, you get the sense that Spielberg doesn’t really care.

“We were moved to tears by it,” Spielberg says about the first time he and his wife, actress Kate Capshaw, saw the award-winning stage play based on the book in London’s West End. “That was at the start of 2010. My producer Kathleen Kennedy and I bought the rights to the book, and we started pre-production on the movie the next day.”

At an age when most people slow down to enjoy the fruits of their successes, Spielberg, who turned 65 on Sunday, is speeding up instead. He is already deep into production on “Lincoln,” his long-in-the-works movie about Abraham Lincoln, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and slated to arrive in December 2012. He is expected to follow that up with “Robopocalypse,” an adaptation of Daniel H. Wilson’s best-selling novel about an attack on mankind by robots.

“I like to work very quickly, because the faster I work, the clearer I can see the movie,” Spielberg says. “If I work too slow, I lose my sense of rhythm, and I can’t see how the movie is coming together. But if I’m really shooting on the run, and the crew is moving quickly, and the actors are fully prepared, and we’re doing four or five takes instead of 20, I have complete lucidity about the story from beginning to end. That is the demon I battle when I direct: Losing my objectivity.”

Spielberg’s success earned him the ability to produce other people’s films, almost always in genres that are dear to him, and as one of the principal partners of DreamWorks Studios, he is a Hollywood mogul, too. As a result, Spielberg’s name has constantly graced movie screens.

This year alone, Spielberg was an executive producer on “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” an active collaborator with J.J. Abrams on “Super 8” and even made a voice cameo in “Paul,” a comedic homage to 1980s-era Spielberg sci-fi. And other times, he will offer creative input on other people’s films behind the scenes, as he did with “Paranormal Activity” and the first “Shrek.”