By Matt Sills
This Christmas weekend will see six movies get a wide release, each trying to beat the other to a pulp at the box office. Big time directors like David Fincher and Cameron Crowe coming out swinging. Big budget actioners like the new Mission Impossible movie hoping to pummel the competition. Yes, it's going to be a fight this weekend, but one man is pretty much guaranteed to make the biggest push, and that man is a someone whose been at the top of his game for almost 40 years, Steven Spielberg. Spielberg has not one, but two films being released this weekend, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse. Can either of these films beat the four other films being released? I don't know, but I'm not here to figure that out. Instead, I'm going to put Spielberg's films up against each other and try to figure out which one will reign supreme.
War Horse, while not nearly as old, is probably the more well known of the two films. It is based on the 1982 children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, and its 2007 stage adaption, which has won numerous awards, including the 2011 Tony for Best Play. Joey, the horse of the title, is loved and cared for by his young owner Albert, until Joey is sold into the cavalry at the outbreak of World War I. The film follows Joey's journey, as he is used by both sides of the war, and inevitably, being stuck in the no man's land between the two. Soon, Albert begins his own journey into the battlefields on a quest to reunite with his beloved horse.
Both of these films are based on beloved children's books. Both stories offer sweeping journeys into places most of us will never get to go. Most of all, they both promise to be exciting, and probably a little emotional. So which story do I want to see? Both, and I think most people will agree with me, so I'm calling this one even.
Tintin stars such actors as Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Cary Elwes, Andy Serkis and Jamie Bell. War Horse stars...a horse. So it would seem Tintin has the advantage here. But Tintin is not live action. It's performance capture animation, along the lines of films like Beowulf and the Jim Carrey-starring A Christmas Carol. While these actors do provide voices and the movements of their characters, they're on-screen avatars are animated. Motion capture technology has greatly improved since it was first used in The Polar Express, but there is still something detached about it. It's more human than traditional hand drawn or computer animation, but the characters have always felt soulless to me, like mannequins who can move. Yes, there are moments when mo-cap characters can transcend the creep factor and has emotional depth, like Andy Serkis' Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films. But that's one motion-capture character among actual humans, not an entire film populated by them. I, for one, find mo-cap to be nothing more than an experiment that's still just weird to watch. Besides, the last time a Spielberg film had an animal as its focal point, it had such an emotional effect on me that I refused to go swimming in the ocean for years. This round goes to the horse.
What, you thought both of these films were directed by the same guy? Well, you're right and you're wrong. There are actually two Spielbergs, and each of them is represented this weekend. There is the fun Spielberg, and the serious Spielberg. The fun Spielberg is found in Tintin. That's the Spielberg that giddily scared us with Jaws, had are hearts racing with the Indiana Jones series, and made us cry with joy at E.T. Then there is the serious Spielberg, the War Horse Spielberg. That Spielberg directed Empire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Munich, and his crowning achievement, Schindler's List. Of course, I'm narrowing this man's incredible canon down for simplicities sake, and a lot of these films could easily fit in both categories. But it's only a weekend, and you've only got so much time. You've got to choose one Spielberg to spend Christmas with. Are you going to choose the guy who's going to bring you a treasure map and a ride around the world, or the guy who's going to bring you a history book that will probably make you cry at some point? Yeah, that's what I thought. Round three goes to Tintin.
On the face of it, you've got the fun, goofy cartoon versus the serious, emotionally resonant war film. War Horse looks like an award winner, one of those movies that just screams to be nominated for Oscars. It's already been listed on multiple end of year best of critic's lists, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture - Drama. This is also the kind of film that people love to praise Spielberg for. Yes, the man can make a popcorn movie, but it's his serious work that has always gotten the critics buzzing. However, before you start handing over your award to the horse, take a look at Tintin, which has also been nominated for, and won, multiple critic's awards, and also happens to be nominated for a Golden Globe. I'd also like to remind you that Raiders of the Lost Ark, a fun B-level popcorn movie, was nominated for Best Picture at the 1982 Academy Awards. Yes, you read that right. Add to that the fanboy excitement of Tintin's Spielberg/Peter Jackson collaboration, and you have a very close race here. But I'm going to go with the critics, who overall seem to be giving the edge in reviews to Tintin.
By a two to one count, Tintin just beats out War Horse as the Spielberg movie to beat this holiday season. But the real decision will be made by the ticket buyers. What will they decide? Will they agree with me and follow the adventures of Tintin, and go for a ride with War Horse? Guess we'll find out in a few weeks.