Imagine for a moment that you're Steven Spielberg. Go ahead. It's fun! You've got fabulous wealth, two Best Director Oscars, seven kids and Tom Cruise's home phone number. What are you going to do now? Buy Disney World? Nope. On May 31, the director, 55, realized a different dream: he finally got his college diploma. Thanks to extension courses, he now has a B.A. in film and electronic arts from California State University at Long Beach.
Back in the 1960s, he dropped out of college in his sophomore year to direct TV episodes for Universal Studios for $225 a week. He says he went back to get his degree because he wanted to please his father and because "I had children of my own. They had been grousing as they got older, 'Well, Dad never finished college, and he did fine.'" Spielberg benefited from some advanced placement: he got credit for Amistad and Schindler's List, but he had to write a paper on paleontology. "For some reason," he says, "Jurassic Park was too apocryphal to count for credit." No doubt the diploma will open up countless new opportunities for him, but Spielberg plans to stick with this directing thing for a while longer. "I never get tired of finding new ways to tell old stories," he says. "I think Minority Report is an old-fashioned story, a film noir, but I've found a new way to tell it."
Minority Report represents something of a risk. It's being released in the most competitive summer Hollywood has ever experienced, but Spielberg is optimistic. "This should happen every summer," says the director who practically invented the blockbuster with Jaws in 1975. "We should be so lucky. You go to these multiplexes, and you see Spider-Man. Then you see Y Tu Mama Tambien playing next door. A hit movie puts people in a movie mood." Audiences will notice that this is Spielberg's edgiest action movie yet. They will also see that his talent for blending extraordinary visions with everyday familiarity remains intact. Twenty years ago, he showed us an extraterrestrial with a taste for Reese's Pieces. This summer Cruise's 21st century crime fighter walks into a Gap that knows everything about its customers, thanks to retinal-identification scans. "I use [products] in science fiction to ground the audience," he explains. "There are certain iconic images that will pull you back down to earth."
When he's not directing, Spielberg spends a lot of time pursuing charitable projects--he recently helped start a digital library to preserve Yiddish books--and running DreamWorks, the studio he co-founded in 1994. He has already wrapped his next picture, Catch Me If You Can, an adventure based on the true story of a 1960s counterfeiter, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. He is also planning a fourth Indiana Jones movie for 2005. "I met my wife on the second one," says Spielberg, "so the happiest memory of my entire life came from that film. That's why I decided to get involved with the franchise again. There are too many good memories to deny myself." And, by golly, someday he is going to direct a musical. "I'm gonna do that even if people laugh it off the face of the earth," he vows. It's heartening to see that kind of confidence, especially in a guy so fresh out of college. --By Jess Cagle