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Spotlight on the Stars: Robert Zemeckis

For this week’s spotlight piece, I wanted to take a look at an A-list director, one who’s really influenced the industry in a big way. The filmmaker in question? Why, Robert Zemeckis, of course. He’s known for his work with visual effects, for sure, but his talents go beyond that. He’s been responsible for so many iconic moments in cinema, with only some involving special effects at all. When you see how many outright classics he’s been responsible for, your head will spin that we don’t talk about him even more than we already do. As such, he’s a perfect director to shine this particular spotlight on.

Zemeckis had his start on a relatively small scale, as you’d expect. First he made the musically tinged romantic comedy I Wanna Hold Your Hand as well as the comedy Used Cars. Those were downright independent films compared to what would come next for him though. They got his foot in the door, leading him to make a real success next with Romancing the Stone. Those flicks established him for sure, but it was what was still to come that would make him the legend that he now is.

He went on to really make a name for himself (along with his frequent co-writer Bob Gale) with Back to the Future and its subsequent two sequels, of course. Absolute classics, especially the first one, he utilized Michael J. Fox like no one else ever did on the big screen, making something immensely quotable (it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay too), as well as something that worked on multiple levels. It’s one of the my all time favorite films, with the sequels being real guilty pleasures as well.

Between the Back to the Future installments, he also basically revolutionized how animation and live action could be blended together with Who Framed Roger Rabbit. With the late great Bob Hoskins providing an able straight man, Zemeckis let a multitude of cartoon characters loose, making for organized chaos in the best way possible. Much more than just a kids flick, it’s something rather special. Trust me, if you haven’t re-watched it in a while, do yourself a favor and pop this one in.

The filmmaker made his most critically acclaimed work with Forrest Gump, which not only won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but a Best Director Oscar for Zemeckis as well, among many other statues. Tom Hanks gave an iconic performance of course, but it was just one more example of how he could use special effects seamlessly. If you didn’t know any better, you’d assume Hanks’ title character was really a part of all of the historic events depicted, interacting with all the characters you see. It’s really fantastic work. Even if I might have preferred The Shawshank Redemption in that lineup (or Pulp Fiction), the fact that it beat those two modern classics says something about how beloved it was by members of the Academy.

Zemeckis has also made such diverse work as Beowulf, Cast Away, A Christmas Carol, Contact (a personal favorite of mine), Death Becomes Her, Flight, The Polar Express, and What Lies Beneath. There’s a combination of his live action films and his motion capture flicks as well, with perhaps Contact being a perfect example of his ability to utilize effects in the service of a story. Of course, Cast Away and Her are probably his best known works of late, with both capturing the attention of Academy voters.

Overall, Zemeckis is a true star filmmaker, one with an eye always on the future This weekend, he returns to screens with an IMAX re-release of Forrest Gump, which I’m sure fans of the movie will be giving it another look too, but next year, he’ll return to the awards race with The Walk. Oscar voters could certainly go for this one, particularly star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, but we shall see. Regardless, he’s pretty much a visionary and having him back in the live action realm after his return with Flight has me very excited for what he does next. I know I’ll be keeping a close eye on what he chooses, project wise, and so should you…

Stay tuned for another look at an A-lister next week!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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