Movie watching can never be the same after the doubleheader of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, his first animated film, and his live-action War Horse. Each film upgrades the way our imaginations construct the world, the way we see ourselves in the digital age. All art devotees should recognize the history being made.
Tintin, the intrepid boy reporter from Belgian author Hergé’s cartoon storybooks, and Joey, the young stallion traversing World War I-era Europe as in the hit Broadway stage play, both emerge from the childhood reveries that often start Spielberg’s fictions. These imaginary protagonists go through large-scale comic and dramatic escapades that not only span the breadth of human experience but apotheosize it.
In the language of pop immediacy, Tintin and Joey’s stories are immersive—a term for the right-now gratification encouraged by both digital media and the exhausted cultural legacy recently eulogized in Godard’s Film Socialisme. Tintin’s childhood curiosity and resourcefulness and Joey’s natural grace and endurance are captivating on so many levels that the usual terms of film appreciation hardly apply. This may be key to why many critics under-appreciate Spielberg; they react conventionally to these unconventional films and are bewildered by Spielberg’s refinement, precision, piquancy and vision.
Perhaps the best way to understand the achievement of these two revolutionary films is to realize that they do nothing “new.” Their revolution is in Spielberg’s technique—very familiar after almost 40 years of popular and profound entertainment—but now with a new impetus and subtler depth. As a modernist filmmaker, he turns Tintin into a commentary on traditional genre expectation and pushes beyond it, toward the personal feelings about history and legend that are stirred by fantastic exploits and imaginative catharsis.
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