The past 10 years have been a bit rough for Steven Spielberg, from “War of the Worlds” to “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. He had a few gems (“Minority Report” and “Munich”), but the ‘90s were much kinder to him. Sadly, the holiday season didn’t fare much better for both his latest films, “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin”.
What happens when you get three cinematic innovators — Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright — together on a digital animation adaption of an 82-year-old comic book character? Apparently too many pilots makes for too many narrative compromises of a final product.
Never heard of Tintin? This is the source material for “Leave it to Beaver”. Before the American ‘50s laid waste to all things corny, Tintin was out solving crimes and reporting on them in Europe. To the film’s credit, we get this information early on, as the film jumps right into the plotline. After purchasing a model boat, Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) uncovers clues about a lost ship, the Unicorn. Eventually kidnapped, he comes in contact with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and an adventure around the world ensues.
I don’t understand who the audience is for “Tintin”. With Nickelodeon backing it and a PG rating, you’d think it would be for children, but it’s also full of sword fights (no blood, but plenty of fresh corpses), gun fights and a drunk ship captain who, at one point, belches into a plane’s engine to give it a little extra juice. This is a film for fans of the comic that ran from the late ‘20s to the mid ‘70s (so probably not kids) and critics who continually rave about the good ol’ days of the movies. In the end, “Tintin” offers little to current moviegoers who easily tire of slapstick humor and childish antics.
I’m sure this is how Indiana Jones acted when he was a child, but for my money I prefer Harrison Ford over that short-lived “Young Indy” show. No amount of action or visual precision of graphics can save the lack of intrigue in this 100-minute snore fest.
It’s odd that Spielberg would immediately follow an animated film with a live-action movie where the lead character isn’t human, but animal. The common denominator: both films feel rather lifeless. However, “War Horse” fare far better with action scenes and performances, even if it’s 90 minutes too long.
Our melodramatic story begins with the birth of a horse, but he’s not like every other horse, of course. Young Albert (Jeremy Irvine) gives our little Mr. Ed the name Joey (perhaps the dumbest horse name in a while), and teaches him how to till the land. The rest of the film follows Joey as he moves through various owners during World War I, starting with Captain Nicholls (Tom Huddleston). Broken hearted, Albert vows that he’ll be reunited with Joey no matter what (but who knows if that’ll come up again).
After his role in “Thor” and “Midnight in Paris” in 2011, Huddleston proves once more he’s a star to watch. Leading star Jeremy Irvine, however, is far too obnoxious. Fresh off his television role as Luke in “Life Bites”, he’s just as whiney as some of the greats. Remember that kid who kept shouting, “Shane,” or every time Jar Jar Binx opened his mouth? Well now they have competition with a kid complaining about his horse.
If you’re not into horse films, this one will probably just drag on like “Seabiscuit” and the rest. “How to Train Your Dragon” set a new standard for what an animal film can do, but “War Horse” doesn’t stick with the owners long enough to emphasize this particular thoroughbred’s significance. Rather than a film about a boy and his pet, Joey is a war horse moving through Europe. It just doesn’t work. Most people don’t talk to animals like this, and it’s hard to watch a film that basks in such an obvious suspension of disbelief.
At his best, Spielberg still knows how to craft some sensational war scenes, but his emphasis on melodrama to conclude filmic conflict is insulting. The idea that Germans and Brits could put a pause on fighting for a horse is just too unbelievable…and insulting. This type of sentimentality merely leads to comparably naive conclusions like “love heals all.” In the end, film can do so much more, which Spielberg has –– just not this time (nor with “Tintin”).
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