Best known for his frequent forays into cutting-edge special effects, Robert Zemeckis has earned a reputation as a “visual storyteller” of great power and audacity. He has helmed some of the biggest blockbuster hits of the past few decades, having first came to public attention in the 1980s with Romancing the Stone (1984) and the sci-fi comedy/fantasy Back to the Future film trilogy, as well as the ground-breaking live-action/animated comedy Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
Recognized as the foremost of Steven Spielberg’s protégé-partners, Bob Zemeckis is known principally for the many pioneering special effects in his films: the live action/animation mix in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?“; placing Forrest Gump with long-dead Presidents; and the many views of the future in “Back to the Future“.
Contrary to other masters of spectacle, though, Zemeckis’s tricks never get in the way of the story. They are not always invisible, or intended to be. Bob Hoskins and the toons don’t ever really live in the same world, so the effects that merge them come off as part of the film’s comedy. Zemeckis uses his devices to further his captivating stories and characters. They may be indulgent, but they’re not self-indulgent.
Born in Chicago, Zemeckis proved himself at USC’s film school, where his film work won honors and caught Steven Spielberg’s attention. Soon, Spielberg had him writing “1941“, a sure-fire career killer if its failure couldn’t have been attributed to numerous other things — starting with Spielberg himself.
Zemeckis’s first directorial efforts, in the late ’70s, were well-crafted if light. His first big hit came soon, though, when he teamed with Michael Douglas to direct “Romancing the Stone“. Zemeckis followed that a year later (1985) with the first of the mega-blockbuster trio, “Back to the Future“. Robert topped that off with the sensational “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” also in the late ’80s.
Those films are big and fun and profitable and, hopefully, classics. Still, though, up to that point, Zemeckis had never really done a “serious” picture. Enter “Forrest Gump“, the epic of the last half of the twentieth century through the eyes of “stupid is as stupid does” Forrest. Zemeckis won an Academy Award for the film, which is also on AFI’s Top 100 List.
Zemeckis then helmed the too-serious “Contact” and then a few years afterward teamed up with Tom Hanks again on the film “Cast Away“. Ironically, the film, most of which is one man and no score, required a host of special effects and a technically savvy director to keep it from being “Waterworld II”. Zemeckis even figured out a way to keep his crew while Hanks went off in the middle of the shoot to lose 60 or so pounds: he used them to make “What Lies Beneath”.
Spending as much time producing as directing now, Zemeckis recently teamed up with Steven Spielberg again to produce “Monster House”, an animated film that, not too surprisingly, is on the cutting edge of technology with its use of 3D motion-capture, which Zemeckis pioneered with his other animated film, “The Polar Express”.
— Nate Lee
Robert Zemeckis’s directing credits include…
|I Wanna Hold Your Hand
|Romancing the Stone
|Back to the Future
|Who Framed Roger Rabbit
|Back to the Future Part II
|Back to the Future Part III
|Death Becomes Her
|Robert Zemeckis on Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century: In Pursuit of Happiness
|What Lies Beneath
|The Polar Express
|A Christmas Carol