Steven Spielberg: Great Netflix original films 'deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar'

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Mar 23, 2018, 5:23 PM EDT

As entertainment formats change with the technological times, as well as viewer habits, the line that distinguishes theater-worthy movies from sofa-bound, stay-at-home small-screen fare continues to get increasingly blurry. But one of the big screen’s most reliable genre visionaries maintains that the two will — and should — remain on separate sides of the invisible fence that’s always divided the TV experience from the theatergoing one.

In a recent interview with Britain’s ITV News exploring Ready Player Ones take on one of those new formats, virtual reality, director Steven Spielberg disclosed an admiration for great straight-to-digital films on Netflix, Amazon and other streaming platforms. But, he added, movies built from the ground up for streaming TV shouldn’t compete with cinematic features for the film industry’s highest honor.

“[T]elevision is greater today than it’s ever been in the history of television,” said Spielberg. “There’s better writing, better directing, better performances, better stories are being told. Television is really thriving with quality and heart. But it poses a clear and present danger to filmgoers.”

Those remarks came on the heels of Spielberg’s observation that filmmakers on the margins of the studio system are increasingly finding streaming TV a more appealing option to get their projects financed and finished, noting that “those smaller films that studios used to make routinely are now going to Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix.”

But pitching camp in the world of streaming TV comes with its own unique viewer experience; one that shouldn’t sit alongside features designed for audiences to enjoy in a theater, Spielberg maintains. 

“[O]nce you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he said. “You certainly, if you’re a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. …I don’t believe the [streaming] films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”

Even so, Spielberg’s heart and mind aren’t closed to the possibilities that emerging formats present for new types of entertainment. As Ready Player One itself suggests, even virtual reality exerts a strong — if different — appeal; one whose validity he doesn’t question. But, he maintains, its strengths lie outside the realm of spinning a great movie tale.

“I love VR…It does put you in a world,” he said. “It’s not a medium for narrative storytelling, however.” He also described Ready Player One as “a little bit of a cautionary tale” about succumbing to the escapist allure of switching a stimulating VR world with the mundane one we really live in. But, he added, “it’s more fun than caution.”

Check out the full eight-minute interview at ITV News’ YouTube page, and then check your local theater (and most certainly not your streaming box) for Spielberg’s Ready Player One