CS Video: Steven Spielberg Talks Tintin and War Horse


With two very different movies coming out next week, director Steven Spielberg is back in the public consciousness in a very big way – not that we haven’t seen dozens of movies that reference, pay homage or were greatly influenced by his work in the time since his last movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While his animated The Adventures of Tintin and the sweeping WWI epic War Horse don’t have much else in common, they’re both clearly Spielberg, tapping into some of the things we’ve seen from him before as well as entering new territory.

The Adventures of Tintin teams him with Peter Jackson to revive Herge’s popular character who has been the star of 24 graphic adventures, using performance capture and 3D animation. Jamie Bell plays Tintin, the intrepid reporter who comes across a mystery when he buys a model of an old warship called the Unicorn, a model that everyone wants to get their hands on. Helping Tintin solve the mystery is the alcoholic Captain Haddock, descendant of the original captain of the Unicorn, played by Andy Serkis, whose masterful performance capture work has graced Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and King Kong, as well as this year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play the bumbling identical twin investigators, Thompson and Thompson.

Co-written by current “Dr. Who” mastermind Stephen Moffat with fan faves Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, Spielberg has created something that taps into the large-scale adventure of the Indiana Jones movies tempered by all sorts of other influences including Laurel and Hardy, crime noir, high seas adventure and more.

Paramount Pictures hooked ComingSoon.net up with a chance to talk directly to Spielberg about his work on The Adventures of Tintin, and though we didn’t get a ton of time with him, in the brief video interview below, we discussed:

* What he took away from Hergé’s comics when he first read them
* Deciding on doing the movie with performance capture and WETA
* Snowy, Tintin’s faithful dog (who steals the movie)
* Using an FX house like Weta to do the animation
* The movie’s mini-“Hot Fuzz” reunion
* We ask about Jurassic Park 4, which you may have already read here.

A week earlier, we attended a press conference for Mr. Spielberg’s other movie War Horse, an adaptation of the book by Michael Morpurgo and subsequent Tony award-winning play.

It’s the story of Joey, a horse born in the Irish countryside just before World War I and taken in and trained by an ambitious young man named Albert (played by newcomer Jeremy Irvine). As the war breaks out, Joey is sold to a cavalry soldier (Tom Hiddleston) who rides him into battle, and we watch the horrors of the war unfold through Joey’s perspective as he changes owners a number of times while Albert tries to find him.

Here are some of the highlights from that press conference with Spielberg:

Making Films About History

“We didn’t invent the history of the horse and the first World War, which really spelled the end of the horse as a tool of war. This was the end of days for mounted cavalry charges, it was the end of days for the horse as anything other than beast of burden. As time marched on to the 20th Century, the horse became less and less useful in the military operations, it existed more symbolically than anything else. That was part and parcel of Michael Morpurgo’s book that he wrote in 1982 and certainly the play and we adapted both.”

Doing Research

“My first reaction whenever I deal into an episode of history that I don’t know very much about is anger that my teachers never taught me about it. That’s the first thing: why didn’t I learn this in school? And the second thing was just by Kathleen Kennedy and Joanna Johnston, a lot of us went to the Imperial War Museum and they opened up all of their backroom exhibits the public does not get to see on the 1st World War, and we were taken into the bowels of the museum, into their archives, because a lot of their exhibits are rotating exhibits and this was an exhibit for our eyes only and we went back there and we saw some things and got statistics and we learned so much we didn’t know about the first World War. I wasn’t able to bring it out in the film because this wasn’t meant to be a history lesson, so there’s nowhere in the film where it says 4 and a half million horses were killed in the 1st World War, but it was important that we got to understand the kind of jeopardy both Joey and his best friend Topthorn going to be in. It really informed us and gave us a little more gravitas when we started to work with (screenwriter) Richard (Curtis).”

Creating the War Scenes

“I didn’t really pay attention to the first World War, I didn’t know very much about it, and I also don’t consider ‘War Horse’ to be a war movie, it’s not one of my war movies. This is much more of a real story about the way that animals can actually connect people together. That’s what Joey does. Joey’s miracles are really in his great sense of optimism and hope and all the people he encounters and brings something new into their lives. So this was much more focused on the characters. The war was certainly a horrendous backdrop, created tremendous tension and drama and the need to survive, but unlike ‘Private Ryan,’ the war was not in the foreground with ‘War Horse.'”

Deciding how to tell the story from Joey’s point-of-view

“The second Joey starts to speak (in the book), it becomes a horse of a different color. It becomes much more of a real fable and I think you suspend your disbelief so radically when the horse starts to think out loud that there’s no touchstones with your own life and anything you can relate to. So the first decision was to not let Joey think or speak, but just let Joey emote and exist inside the sequences with these characters.”

The Takeaway He Had From the Play

“One of the catharses for me, and also helping me to want to tell this story to audiences as a film, was something that’s just sort of hinted at in the play. There’s a little moment where the Geordie and the German are able to help Joey, who is trapped in barbed wire. It was a lovely moment in the play, very fleeting moment in the play, but it made a profound impact on me, and that was a moment that Richard and I decided to expand and to go deeper with and that was something the play certainly inspired. The great thing about theater is there are some illusions that you can only create on the boards that you can never create on film, no matter how many digital tools that are at your disposal. That was the amazing moment in the play where the little Joey becomes the adult Joey in that incredible piece of visual theatricality and that’s something you can never do a film.”

Whether It Was Meant as an Homage to John Ford, DW Griffith and Other Epic Filmmakers

“The conscious thing I did was to make the land a character in the story, and by simply making the land a character and falling back to wide shots more than close-ups, to let the audience make choices of when and where to look, certainly that was a dynamic of most movies that were made in the 1930s and 1940s not just by Ford but by Kurosawa in the ’50s, by Howard Hawkes. Directors used hat was before them, they celebrated the land and made the land a character and made environments characters in movies. I just thought that of all the films I’ve made in recent years, this offered the opportunity to include the land as a character which is a determining factor as to whether this Narracot family is going to even survive and either keep or lose their farm and then the land becomes a bloody character as history tells us occurred on the Somme in World War I, No Man’s Land, so because the land was such an influence both in Devon (SP) on the moors and such an influence in France, I just pulled our cameras back and I knew that was going to create all sorts of metaphors and questions of homage to the way directors approached Monument Valley for instance, the way John Ford made Monument Valley a character in so may of his Westerns. But it wasn’t a conscious thing, it wasn’t an homage to John Ford or Griffith or any other filmmaker.”

Working with Janusz Kaminski on the Look of the Film

“I think the greatest distinction in the visual palette I think is when we finally get to the French farmhouse. Emily and her grandfather, that’s the first time that the film is enflamed with color, because it’s a bit of a respite and a great contrast to the coming events in No Man’s Land that we haven’t really seen yet, and so it was our last rest stop before things took a turn to the darker side of the war. I think there was three different palettes that Janusz established, the palette of these farmers just scratching out a living and failing miserably until Joey comes into their life and that had a real sense of nature, the sky the ground. As Janusz has been saying, we waited for the light. We all waited for the light. We waited for the right light, we waited for the right clouds to come over, and I haven’t waited for light in a long time. I kept saying, ‘But David Lean waited for light all the time,’ but he took 300 days to make a movie. We only took about 64 for this one, but at the same time, Janusz was very insistent about waiting for the light, and it really paid off in dividends for us. There’s a whole different color palette in No Man’s Land, from that moment up until the end. We had real sunsets three days in a row, so the whole last few moments of the film, those are actual sunsets supplemented with filters, but that was actually flaming orange-red sunsets that we were able to shoot.”

Look for our video interview with some of Spielberg’s actors from both movies next week… we’ll keep it a surprise who we have!