Steven Spielberg is back with two new films. Should we be excited?
Wed, Dec 21, 2011 (5:30 p.m.)
- The Adventures of Tintin
- Directed by Steven Spielberg
- Rated PG
- Beyond the Weekly
- Official Movie Site
- IMDb: The Adventures of Tintin
- Rotten Tomatoes: The Adventures of Tintin
- War Horse
After three years away from theaters, director Steven Spielberg is back with two new movies opening within a few days of each other, both old-fashioned, family-friendly adventure stories with little of the verve of his best pop-cinema work. The Adventures of Tintin is pure spectacle, a 3D motion-capture cartoon that aims to do nothing more than entertain, while War Horse is a bit more serious, combining gritty battlefield drama with a familiar Spielbergian coming-of-age story. Neither one, however, has the Spielberg magic that fans may be hoping for, the wide-eyed sense of wonder that the filmmaker brought to classics like E.T. and the early Indiana Jones movies.
Adventures is worse for squandering both Spielberg’s talents and a character beloved by people all over the world (although not so much in the U.S.). Boy reporter/detective Tintin (Jamie Bell) is the creation of Belgian cartoonist Hergé, whose Tintin graphic novels have sold hundreds of millions of copies in Europe. Hergé’s simple, clean line work informed the Tintin animated TV series in the 1990s, but other than the main character’s trademark upturned peak of hair, Adventures sticks to quasi-realism, which means that characters are stuck in the uncanny valley, looking dead-eyed and soulless. A traditionally animated film might have captured the warm, cartoony feel of Hergé’s work, and a full live-action treatment could have given Tintin’s globe-spanning adventure some serious impact. But the motion-capture approach only ends up looking plastic and flat; this is probably the ugliest movie Spielberg’s ever made.
It doesn’t help that the plot, mashed together from several Tintin stories, is convoluted and rushed, barreling from one derivative action sequence to another, only stopping to dump out reams of tedious exposition (and then ending with a blatant setup for a sequel). Tintin himself is a complete blank, following clues from one place to the next like a character in a rudimentary video game, and the supporting cast, including Andy Serkis as a drunk sea captain and Daniel Craig as the villain out to steal the important whatever, isn’t entertaining enough to compensate. Tintin may predate Indiana Jones as a character, but his movie comes across as a pale imitation of a certain 1930s-set action-adventure that Spielberg already made.
The director is on slightly firmer ground with War Horse, although it too suffers from excessive cutesiness. Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 children’s novel (which was also adapted into an acclaimed play), War Horse follows a remarkably intuitive and emotive horse named Joey, who’s conscripted into the British army during World War I and separated from the moony teenage boy (Jeremy Irvine) who raised and cares for him. As Joey goes on a perilous journey throughout the European theater of war, he encounters a range of kind benefactors of all nationalities, all while slowly making his way back to young Albert, who’s never lost hope that he’ll be reunited with his favorite horse.
With its episodic structure and collection of horse-friendly do-gooder characters, War Horse resembles a Benji movie with a horse instead of a dog, and the scenes of Albert carrying the torch for his beloved Joey (he even keeps a picture of the horse in his pocket) while fighting in the trenches are like a Nicholas Sparks movie with Joey standing in for Rachel McAdams. War Horse is old-fashioned in a musty, sentimental way, and although Spielberg does stage one impressive battle sequence (which easily trumps any of the action in The Adventures of Tintin), the violence is muted to appeal to a family audience.
At nearly two and a half hours, War Horse practically drowns in sappiness; if it were genuinely the 1940s-era relic it often mimics, it would be justly forgotten. Spielberg was once at the forefront of crafting fulfilling popular entertainment, but with these two movies he’s merely playing catch-up with himself.