This year, the holiday season is all about Steven Spielberg. The two-time Oscar winner for Best Director, who belongs on any short list of the greatest living directors, has two films hitting theaters within four days — this after not releasing a film since ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ in May of 2008. Out Christmas is ‘War Horse,’ Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s World War I-set novel about a young boy, his loyal horse and the strength of friendship and love in the face of terrible conflict. If that doesn’t sound like the type of light-hearted film fare you can bring your whole family to over the long weekend, there’s also ‘The Adventures of Tintin,’ a motion-capture spectacle that just might be the best Indiana Jones film that Indiana Jones never made.
Based on the internationally popular comic strip Tintin by Belgian artist Herge, ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ follows the titular Tintin (Jamie Bell), a young reporter prone to adventures with his trusty dog, Snowy. After finding a mysterious model ship at a flea market, Tintin is thrust into a globe-trotting quest with a drunken ship captain (Andy Serkis) to discover a lost treasure and stay one step ahead of the villainous Ivanovic Sakharin (Daniel Craig). Co-produced by Peter Jackson, ‘Tintin’ has been on Spielberg’s radar for nearly two decades; it’s only now that he was able to use motion capture technology — and frequent Jackson collaborator Serkis — to affect the look and feel of the comic strip without compromise.
In the lead-up to ‘Tintin’s’ American debut (the film has already earned an incredible $239 million internationally), the already rich Spielberg rang up to discuss motion-capture technology, whether Serkis should be in the awards conversation for his recent body of work, and which of his own films he’d want to retrofit into 3D.
I spoke with Richard Curtis for ‘War Horse’ and he said that you had this incredible ability to conjure up fully realized film scenes on the spot from your imagination. Based on that, was working with motion capture and 3D in ‘Tintin’ the most imaginatively fulfilling moment of your career?
Well, motion capture is just another tool in a vast tool chest. It was the right tool to use to be able to make this movie as close to the original artwork of the great Herge, who illustrated and wrote all the Tintin books. But, at the same time, the adventure of making ‘Tintin’ is always the same for every movie, no matter what the medium. It’s telling a good story and getting the actors to acquit that story in the funniest and most breathtaking ways possible. That’s where my focus was — being able to tell a good story.
But it seems that in the last five years, directors like you, James Cameron, and now even Martin Scorsese are using these new technologies to tell these good stories. You can’t speak for them, but why have you gravitated toward the more digitally-enhanced format?
Well, don’t forget: we invented the technology. We’re not just standing on the shoulders of giants; we’re the inventors of the technology to begin with. The first leading characters in history that were digital characters were the dinosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park.’ That had never happened before. Jim Cameron did groundbreaking work in using digital technology in making ‘Terminator 2’ come to life. And Marty is a newbie to the group, but he was able to use digital technology and a very adroit and artistic use of 3D to be able to enhance his story with ‘Hugo.’ It’s not like we’re old dogs learning new tricks; we’re the old dogs that invented the tricks. [Laughs]
How much have you seen digital filmmaking evolve since ‘Jurassic Park’?
It began there and it has just gone on and on and on. It has created great opportunities for filmmakers to tell their stories; it has also been abused and turned into cavalcades of special effects, where you basically pay $10 to see a bunch of special effects with no story whatsoever in evidence. So, it has been both used and abused, but that happens with every artform.
You got to work with Andy Serkis on ‘Tintin’ and he gives this wonderful performance, his second of the year after ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes.’ There has been some Oscar chatter for his work in ‘Apes,’ but there’s always that push-back against digital performances. Do you feel performance capture work should be looked at next to traditional acting with regards to awards consideration?
I don’t know. I don’t ever get involved in the conversation about what should be eligible and what shouldn’t be eligible. I just know that Andy Serkis is one of the funniest, most creative actors I’ve ever worked with. And, for the first time, in ‘Tintin,’ he got to actually act. He didn’t just have to act with his eyes or his face, the way he did with Gollum or Kong or ‘Planet of the Apes.’ It was a full performance with his vocal skills, his accent, his over-the-top body language. Andy literally inhabited the volume of Captain Haddock, and somehow added another 20 gallons of energy and personality to that character. It was was one of the most fun experiences I had, working with both Andy and Jamie, as a kinda odd couple. When you really look at the movie from an American standpoint, it’s like a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby road picture.
When he was doing press rounds for ‘Hugo,’ Martin Scorsese said that perhaps ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘The Aviator’ would be interesting to see in 3D. Which of your films would you want to retrofit into 3D?
The only movie that I would ever even consider retrofitting is the first ‘Jurassic Park,’ which I think would look pretty spectacular in 3D. That’s the only one of my films that I would consider doing in 3D.
Along those lines, if you had the opportunity to do one of your films over, which would it be and why?
I’m so busy looking ahead to all the movies I’m about to make, I can’t even imagine looking back and wanting to go back to something that happened a long time ago. [Laughs] I have no movies I’d like to re-do.