Written by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright &
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 1:47
for adventure action violence,
and brief smoking
Written by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 2:26
for intense sequences
of war violence
A Steven Spielberg double feature with The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse where for the first time I felt Spielberg lost his ability to have us connect with the characters. While Tintin at least benefited from some great animation and adventure scenes, War Horse left me with almost nothing.
When I was but a wee lad, I used to read a lot. In the far right hand back corner of the library, underneath the magazine/newspaper rack for some reason, they kept all their Tintin books. I discovered them one day and couldn't stop reading. So I've been a fan of the character for years, even though I haven't read them in a while. I was hesitant about a movie version when I heard it was going to be motion capture animation since I wasn't sure the technology had gotten far enough where it would look good. Luckily, I was mistaken since The Adventures of Tintin looked tremendous, even in 3D. Only one character, Tintin unfortunately, looked a little off in the eyes, but because all the other characters had something else going on in their faces - beards, hats, etc. - they all looked OK. Tintin was really just a round head so his eyes stood out more. That being said, the movie was fun with a decent story and some amazing adventure scenes. That's one thing Spielberg hasn't lost - his ability to put together some fantastic adventure sequences. The problem with the film for me was that there was virtually no connection to the characters. I've read the books so I know who all these people are. But the movie basically throws you into the middle of the story without giving you any background on anyone, except a little on Captain Haddock. Tintin is this famous journalist but the most we get is a montage of a few newspaper headlines and Tintin himself at one point saying he's a journalist. Considering he looks like he's 12 and has a tiny white dog following him everywhere, I think a little more about who he is would have been in order. We learn about Captain Haddock because the story revolves around his ancestors, but it's more about his family history than his history. I know there isn't a ton of time in this film since this isn't really supposed to be a 3 hour epic, but a little more info on who everyone is would have been really nice to help the audience connect with the characters. While I enjoyed the 3D and the adventure, I didn't feel anything for the characters so I wasn't all that emotionally invested in the outcome.
Then there was War Horse, the movie that was getting a lot of awards buzz early on. For most people, I don't think horses are really that cute animal that you feel a real love for immediately. If for instance this was called War Dog, I might have cared more. But I was willing to give it a shot. The film was shot beautifully and while there was a serious lack of star power, I thought the actors were fine. But the emotional base of the movie was between young Albert and his horse Joey. Early on it was fine since we saw the two of them basically growing up together and fighting through adversity. But when Joey is sold off to the army at the start of the war, the movie lost me. *Spoiler Alert* While they two reconnect towards the end of the film, there's a good 90 minutes (I'm guessing) where the movie is about Joey and his travails through the war. He goes through a great adventure, but how much emotion can you get out of a horse? They have no facial expressions and while they can be handsome creatures, they're not that cute. Again, imagine this movie was about a dog - you'd immediately fall in love with him and they're playful animals who can show happiness and sadness and sorrow. Horses... not so much. So while Joey goes through a war and a handful of owners, I didn't really care one way or another. The worst part was that during this entire time we never saw Albert. At no point was there a return to him on his far, pining away for his horse so for nearly half the movie we never see him. When we do see him next, he's joined the army. To look for his horse? That was never clear to me. Did he join because it was his duty, or did he believe he'd see his horse again? Either way, but the time we got back to the Albert and Joey show, I had lost any and all interest in what happened to them.
And so that's what surprised me most about these two films. In neither of them did I care about the characters and for me, that was one of Spielberg's hallmarks as a director. Not only did you get a good story and great performances, above all you cared about everyone which got you emotionally invested in the film. But whether it was the animated characters of Tintin or the human/animal characters of War Horse, I never really felt one way or another about anyone. At least with Tintin you had some really cool animation and adventure moments to fall back on. With War Horse the entire movie rested on the audience feeling invested in the Albert and Joey relationship and there was nothing to hang your hat on. In fact, at one point Joey is owned by a young girl and her grandfather and I thought at the end Joey should have ended up with her. And (again, spoilers) for a brief moment I thought it might happen since Joey got put up for auction at the end of the war, and the young girl's grandfather came to bid on Joey. He spent what seemed like his life savings on the horse, only for us to find out his granddaughter died and he just wanted the horse to remember her by. Really, you're spending your life savings on this horse? And how on Earth did you know this horse was alive? He walked for three days to get to the auction which means he lived a long ways away. Was there a flyer sent out? And then you just give the horse back to Albert and walk merrily on home, now completely broke and without the damn horse? It made a so-so movie a little worse with that ending.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was a bit disappointed with both The Adventures of Tintin and a little more so with War Horse. While Spielberg managed to put together two technically sound films, and with The Adventures of Tintin a fun little adventure, in neither film did he connect his audience with his characters, which made me simply not care about any of them.