Christmas 2011 saw Steven Spielberg come back to his roots as the creative director with the heart of a child and the positive outlook on the world. Hergé’s classic character Tintin gave him the chance to tackle once again the adventure genre he loves so much, while War Horse felt like a throwback to the old Hollywood movies where, even against the horrible backdrop of a war, you can find decency and goodness in everyone, gritty realism be damned. Both are vintage Spielberg movies, for better or worse.
I was more impressed (and surprised) with War Horse. Judging by the trailer I expected a movie filled with melodramatic fluffiness and a John Williams score swelling into emotional epicosity at just the right cues. I did get that, yet Spielberg – damn him to hell – managed to stir the child in me that used to love this sort of overtly optimistic storytelling. I was actually looking forward to the predictable and inevitable reunion between “Albert” (Jeremy Irvine) and his horse “Joey” (a bunch of stunt horses, I suppose). And not because I gave a crap about “Albert”; in fact, none of the human characters in the film are given enough depth for anyone to care. Nope, it’s the horse that’s developed, and very well developed he is. Fuck, Spielberg even managed to have the horse give a couple dramatic trailerish looks/poses (just check the trailer below), and those trailerish looks/poses had more dramatic weight than when someone like Brad Pitt or George Clooney do them. No, I’m not kidding, they did work well within the context of the film.
Before I forget, here’s a summary of the story: horse is born; “Albert” has nothing better to do than follow him around while he grows up, longing to make him his horse; Albert’s father foolishly buys the horse (they are poor and needed a plow horse to work the farm, not a thoroughbred); despite this display of stupidity “Joey” learns to plow the fields and nearly saves the farm; heavy rain ruins the crops; war erupts; father sells the horse to the military, while “Albert” cries; “Joey” changes hands (hah! horse racing pun… yeah, most of you won’t get it) several times during the war, going from the English to the Germans to the French and back again to the English via the Germans; “Albert” and “Joey” impossibly meet again (spoiler alert); there’s a last hurdle to jump (last horse pun, I promise) before they are finally together; end credits.
Takes a special kind of director to make a movie this sugary and full of flaws so damn good. He even convinced the good people at the Golden Globes awards.
Now let’s talk about The Adventures of Tintin. If you haven’t read the wikipedia link I, uh, linked to above, then suffice to know that “Tintin” is one of the most beloved fictional characters in Europe, virtually being their Indiana Jones way before Indiana Jones made his movie debut. Exchange archaeologist for the more realistically adventurous profession of reporter, add a sidekick dog called “Snowy” and you got “Tintin”. The Spielberg/Peter Jackson film is based on the story “The Secret of the Unicorn” (read the damn link, I won’t explain), and they did follow it very closely. It’s not that I have seen or read much of Tintin before the movie, but it felt like they managed to capture the essence of the characters and story. The problem was… it wasn’t that exciting. Yeah, there were some really nice sequences (especially in 3D), but it felt like a story that belonged in a Saturday morning cartoon and not a full fledged Hollywood movie. This sounds ironic when you consider that Indiana Jones himself was born as a homage to those serials of Lucas’ and Spielberg’s youth, but the films they ended up doing had all the epic quality of a blockbuster. This felt like a lot of work and money was put into something that wasn’t really that grandiose to begin with. I don’t know, maybe it’s all the hype around the movie and the character himself that’s blunting my sense of wonderment. I did enjoy the movie, mind you, I just wasn’t blown away by it.
Either way, both these movies make a nice addition to Spielberg’s resumé, and hopefully he will refocus on directing more, producing less. It is his imagination as a director that made Spielberg a household name, after all.
Next in line for him? A biopic of Abraham Lincoln. Sure will be interesting to see Spielberg’s take on that.