WAR HORSE & THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
Without a doubt, Steven Spielberg is the most celebrated film maker of our times.
With JAWS, he practically invented the notion of the event blockbuster, and his movies, including the iconic Indiana Jones series and the JURASSIC PARK franchise, have grossed billions more than any other film maker could imagine.
This year, along with the usual CGI-saturated multiplex mayhem that owes a debt to the man, Spielberg was paid tribute to in Greg Mottola’s sci-fi fanboy satire PAUL (in which he had a voice only cameo), and J.J. Abram’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS/E.T. homage SUPER 8 (which he co-produced).
‘Tis the season for Spielberg to step up to the plate himself, as the man has 2 movies to unleash on holiday movie-goers: the WW I epic drama WAR HORSE, and the CGI-animated THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Both are set in the first half of the 20th century, and both are, you know, for kids!
WAR HORSE evokes the golden age of Hollywood, when movies were first making the change from black and white to vivid Technicolor. A friend, Will Fonvielle, said it was “like a John Ford” film, and that nails it precisely – so much so that it looks like every other critic is making the comparison. In telling the simple story of a horse named Joey, who leaves a small farm in the English county of Devon to serve in the first World War.
Through a series of extremely well orchestrated battle scenes, Joey goes from serving the British to aiding the German army, before finding his way back to his original owner Jeremy Irvine.
Emily Watson and Peter Mullan play Irvine's parents, with Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis, and Benedict Cumberbatch portray solidiers in the trenches, but, hey, you know it's all about the horse, as we can see in lots of Joey's close-up reaction shots.
Spielberg heavily lays on the sentiment, John Williams’ score leaves no moment unpunctuated by swelling strings, and long-time Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kamiński fills the screen with gorgeous scenery that looks like it was all shot at golden hour.
In other words, WAR HORSE is another powerfully cheesy crowd pleaser by the master of powerfully cheesy crowd pleasers.
Based on the world popular, yet not so well known in America, series of comic books by Belgian writer/artist Hergé, THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is also a crowd pleaser, but one that tries way too hard. I read the Tintin books when I was a kid, and I really don’t remember them being jam packed with high octane action, yet that’s what you get in Spielberg’s first animated film as director.
Spielberg was reportedly turned onto Tintin when a critic made a comparison between RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and the globe-trotting tales of Hergé’s boy hero, and therein lies the problem – even with the involvement of purist Peter Jackson (co-producer), Tintin and his world is too Indiana Jones-ified.
Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, and his white fox terrier Snowy (who like all animals in Spielberg movies is as smart or smarter than the humans - a trait he must’ve learned from Disney), join with the crusty boozing Captain Haddock (a hilarious but often indecipherable Andy Serkis), and the bumbling cops the Thompson Twins (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), on a wild treasure hunt involving scrolls found in model ships, which are sought by the sinister Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig).
The performance capture imagery has come a long way since THE POLAR EXPRESS, with beautifully brisk vistas flashing by as Tintin engages in chases, fights, and all kinds of frantic, fast paced fury, but it’s way too busy to be truly engaging.
The plot may be impenetrable to those unfamiliar with the books, John Williams’ score cribs too heavily from his Indiana Jones soundtrack work, and it has a way too blatant set-up for a sequel, a la the end of BACK TO THE FUTURE (which, of course, Spielberg executive produced), but a franchise is what Jackson and Spielberg have been planning for ages, so that’s a given.
That said, the fun witty spirit of the original Tintin does rear its head every now and then. If only they slowed down the onslaught of nonstop thrills enough to get a better glimpse of it.
It’s funny to note that even in an animated Spielberg feature there’s lens flare going on. Old habits die hard, huh?
Despite their ample defects, WAR HORSE and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, are both prime popcorn pictures that don’t care about anything but entertaining tons of people.
That they will do this Christmas weekend, when many folks will be looking for a good excuse to get out of house. Spielberg’s brand of family friendly fare will surely suffice.