Steven Spielberg is offering two new films this holiday season, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. Each of them epitomizes two common threads running through the filmmaker's oeuvre: perpetual cliffhanger action (Tintin) and sentimental wartime heroism (War Horse).
The animated Tintin follows in the steps of Spielberg's Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park films, among others. Based on a mid-20th-century comic book series, Tintin is joyous, clever, and endlessly inventive. The titular hero is a teenage reporter who often finds himself embroiled in mysteries that take him to far-flung locales. He is aided and sometimes rescued by his terrier companion, Snowy. (The premise is established in a wonderful opening-credit sequence reminiscent of Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can.)
When Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) purchases a model ship he fancies, he runs afoul of the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who desires it for mysterious reasons and is warned by another man to get rid of the ship immediately. His curiosity aroused, Tintin researches the ship the model is based on, the Golden Unicorn, which was lost at sea with a secret cargo centuries earlier.
Thus a tricky plot is set in motion that will take Tintin across the sea to North Africa and back, encountering a range of vivid characters and wondrous cinematic environments. One minutes-long, single-shot action sequence involves a jeep, a bazooka, a falcon, a burst dam, a tank, and an entire city of diversionary obstacles. It could never be pulled off as live action.
The Adventures of Tintin is essentially consequence-free narrative, and it evinces a seemingly effortless mastery of action timing. It is the Aaron Rodgers of this pair of Spielberg films.
War Horse follows in the Empire of the Sun, Schindler's List, and Saving Private Ryan line of Spielberg films. It's concerned with the value of righteous-belief-infused hard work, faith, courage, loyalty, and redemption. It is the Tim Tebow of the films. If you like Tim Tebow, you'll love War Horse.
Based on a children's novel and Broadway play, War Horse starts with the birth of a foal — an "awww" moment for the audience at a recent screening and the film holds true to crowd-pleasing form from there. The thoroughbred foal grows up and is bought at an auction by an English farmer (Peter Mullan) who needs a work horse to plow his field but is captivated by the spirited animal and wants to outbid his landlord (David Thewlis) for the prized pony. The farmer's wife (Emily Watson) is not pleased and fears for the livelihood of the family. Their teen son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), is overjoyed — he had seen this horse born and watched it grow up on nearby land. Albert feels a deep connection to the horse, which he names Joey.
Can the horse overcome the odds and deficiencies of its bloodline and plow the field and save the farm? In the film, it's a referendum on faith and hope, and it draws the attention of dozens of villagers, who wish to see this miraculous horse pull off something it shouldn't by any right have the natural ability to do.
But then World War I breaks out, and Joey is sold to the war effort, which needs horses for its cavalry. Albert is devastated. In continental Europe, there are ennobling speeches, brave charges, and slaughter. (The Great War summarized in 10 minutes of film.) Joey is captured by the Germans and passes hands throughout the film, a cross-section of the WWI experience. War Horse attains a kind of episodic pull, a series of little melodramas and big dramas, an occasionally, whimsical, bloodless World War I.
My vote is overwhelmingly with Tintin. And Aaron Rodgers, for that matter. Opinions vary.
The Adventures of Tintin
Opening Wednesday, December 21st
Opening Sunday, December 25th