Thursday, August 12, 2010

Inexplicable Book Review: The Men Who Would Be King (Spielberg!)

I really enjoy books about Hollywood. One that I had bookmarked to read for a while has been The Men Who Would Be Kings, which ended up being a great read by Nicole LaPorte. It basically chronicles the rise and fall of DreamWorks, which now only exists as a shell of itself, as opposed to the grand new studio originally imagined by Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

When it was originally formed in 1994, they envisioned it becoming another great movie studio, a la Paramount and Universal and MGM. However, problems started from almost day one - Spielberg did some hit movies for other companies, as opposed to directing them for DreamWorks. It didn't help that Katzenberg, who revitalized Disney, flopped with most of his early animation efforts before Shrek: Antz, The Prince of Egypt and The Road To El Dorado were all costly and barely broke even, or flopped badly. It wasn't until Saving Private Ryan (1998), American Beauty (1999), and Gladiator (2000) that the company had some film success, followed by Shrek in 2001. The Ring and Old School were surprising successes, but because they lacked confidence in Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow and Adam McKay, the price for Anchorman skyrocketed from less than $1 million (script only) to more than $4 million, as other companies got into a bidding war.

If you're into a sort of "inside Hollywood" tale, it's fascinating to read about the dynamics between the three mega-partners, and how Spielberg essentially served as a whiny kid for his own company. Almost everything was catered toward Spielberg as the Grand Creator, only for him to not really live up to expectations, and to provide floundering management. I whipped through the 500ish pages in about a week.


  1. Dreamworks failed? Wha? But I loved Antz! It's the first movie I remember seeing at the theater. It was magical. I was seven.

    Why wouldn't Spielberg direct exclusively for Dreamworks? It's his project, so he is contributing to its failure?

    And remember a long, long time ago when you said we should do a book swap of BSC for the baseball dudes? E-mail me if you ever find that book!

  2. @ Alison - I haven't seen Antz or A Bug's Life; I'm not sure how I missed both. I was 14 at the time, so that could have explained it. I was kind of out of the target age by that point.

    Spielberg wouldn't direct exclusively for DreamWorks because other companies had properties or scripts that he found appealing. And because he was Spielberg, it's not like anyone had the power to tell him no.

    And I'd love to do that swap! I think I have it packed somewhere in my boxes, but I'm not sure. I plan to do some serious unpacking this weekend though, and I'll let you know ASAP.

  3. I kind of want to read this. I do love snarking on Spielberg on the old blog. I can so see him as the whiny type kid.

    Cool review!

  4. @ Sadako - Thanks! And you'd have plenty of material, no worries. It describes in great detail his problems with making Amistad, and how the other two were getting pissed that he made things not-for-DreamWorks.


Try not to be too much of an ass, unless completely necessary. You are subject to tyrannical moderation.


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