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Mixed Tape Film Series salutes Steven Spielberg with a summer-long retrospective

He’s the most successful director in Hollywood history, and was even before he picked up two Academy Awards for directing Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. The list of box-office hits that he was directed or produced is staggering — and continues to grow with each passing year.

Of course, he’s Steven Spielberg, and he essentially pioneered the summer blockbuster. Hardly a year goes by that his name isn’t boldly touted on some new potential smash. This summer, he’s the executive producer for Cowboys & Aliens and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, both of which aim to continue his streak of box-office hits.

This summer, the Mixed Tape Film Series is saluting the Hollywood giant with its Summer of Spielberg series, opening Thursday, May 26 at the Carolina Theatre (310 S. Greene St., Greensboro). Each film will be shown on the big screen in 35mm — the way they were meant to be seen.

It’s only fitting that the film selected to inaugurate the series would be the one that put Spielberg on the map: The 1975 adaptation of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel Jaws. If you don’t know what the film is about, it’s entirely likely you’ve been living under a rock or on another planet for the last 35 years.

It’s about a great white shark that terrorizes the once-bucolic beach community of Amity. It became the biggest box-office hit in history up to that time, spawning three sequels (none nearly as good) and countless cheap rip-offs. (In fact, a friend of mine wrote one!) People are still afraid to go into the water because of Jaws.

The cast includes Roy Scheider (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”), Robert Shaw (“This shark, swallow you whole; a little shakin … a little tenderizin’… and down you go”) and Richard Dreyfuss (“This was no boating accident!”). Jaws took home Academy Awards for Best Sound, Best Editing (Verna Fields) and for John Williams’ iconic score, as well as a nomination for Best Picture. Jaws is rated PG, but with the proviso “…may be too intense for young children.” (And maybe adults, too!) The phenomenal success of Jaws allowed Spielberg to make an early project nearest and dearest his heart, so in 1977 he made Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which reunited him with Richard Dreyfuss and became another smash. The director’s cut of Close Encounters, which was first released in 1980, will be screened Thursday, June 2 in the Carolina Theatre.

One of the first movies to treat the UFO phenomenon seriously, Close Encounters earned Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Vilmos Zsigmond) and a Special Achievement Award for soundeffects editing, as well as nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Best Original Score (John Williams again), Best Editing, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Sound and Best Visual Effects. Had it not been for Star Wars, released the same year, this likely would have swept all the technical categories. Close Encounters is rated PG.

Spielberg surpassed himself with ET — The Extra-Terrestrial in 1982. The tale of a lonely young boy (Henry Thomas) and the lost alien he befriends clearly struck a chord with audiences, and ET surpassed Star Wars to become the highest-grossing film in Hollywood history. ET will be screened Thursday, June 16.

At the Academy Awards, the film won Oscars for Best Original Score (yep, John Williams!), Best Visual Effects, Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, with additional nominations for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay (Melissa Mathison), Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Picture. Many fans groused that ET deserved to win Best Picture and Best Director that year over Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. I disagree, which made me real popular among my fellow teenagers back in ‘82. That’s what makes horse races, I guess.

ET, which also features Dee Wallace, Peter Coyote, Robert Macnaughton, C. Thomas Howell (in his big-screen bow) and Drew Barrymore, who became an instant star at age 6, is rated PG, and undoubtedly remains Spielberg’s best-loved film.

The series concludes with yet another smash: The 1993 adaptation of Jurassic Park, which is being screened June 23. When it was first announced that Spielberg would be directing the film version of Michael Crichton’s best-seller, box-office success was all but guaranteed.

The setting is a remote island that is to become the world’s most popular tourist attraction: a place where genetic engineering has allowed dinosaurs to be brought back to life in the modern world. Dinosaurs are, of course, very large and sometimes very mean, but park owner John Hammond (Gandhi director Richard Attenborough, in his return to acting after a lengthy hiatus) has thought of every safety precaution. Or has he?

Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L Jackson and Bob Peck are among the human contingent here, but the principal draw is, of course, the dinosaurs — and Stan Winston’s Oscar-winning visual effects certainly deliver the goods, to say nothing of the scares. The film, which is rated PG-13 (guess why?), also won Oscars for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, and spawned two sequels thus far… although there have long been rumors and rumblings about another installment on the drawing board. Not unlike Jaws, however, the first Jurassic Park is clearly the best.

Each film will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5. For tickets, see www.carolinatheatre.com. For more information, call 336.662.5691 or visit www.mixedtapefilm.com.

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