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BY Steven D. GreydanusRegister Film Critic
The Adventures of Tintin (2011) PICK
Lost Keaton: Sixteen Comedy Shorts, 1934-1937 (2012) PICK
War Horse (2011) PICK
Released back-to-back in the last weeks of 2011, War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin represent Steven Spielberg’s return to family filmmaking after over a decade of more adult fare. Both films are based on juvenile literary source material, and both are European-set period pieces, redolent of nostalgia of one sort or another.
Beyond that, the two films couldn’t be more different. War Horse, based on a children’s novel and stage play, is a throwback to Golden Age moviemaking, combining the rugged beauty of a classic Western with an epic, wartime saga. Tintin is a high-tech affair, a motion-capture, computer-animated, action-adventure film based on the world-famous adventures of the Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s intrepid boy-reporter hero.
War Horse follows a noble Thoroughbred as he passes through many hands during the first World War: a drunken farmer, his teenaged son, a young British officer, German soldiers and French civilians. Tintin offers globe-hopping excitement as Tintin gets caught up in a dizzying plot involving hidden pirate maps, long-lost treasure, plane crashes in the desert and a battle royale of dockside cranes.
Both are films of a kind I’d like to see more of.War Horse is full of old-fashioned virtue, decency and sympathy for nearly all of its characters, flaws and all. Tintin is a boy’s adventure that’s generally good, clean fun (though Captain Haddock’s heavy drinking is an issue). Somehow, neither quite engages emotionally, though I found War Horse better in this regard than Tintin.
If you like extras, spring for the War Horse four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo. All the good bonus features are on the bonus Blu-ray disc, starting with a 65-minute making-of featurette and extras on the sound design and editing.
Buster Keaton fans may want to check out Lost Keaton: Sixteen Comedy Shorts, 1934-1937, a collection of decidedly mixed two-reel sound shorts Keaton made during a sad period of personal and professional decline.
There are some gems here, and many of the best sequences are essentially silent comedy, though Keaton does talk (and even sing!). Even when the material isn’t very funny, which is often, Keaton usually elevates the proceedings with his gift for physical comedy.
Among the best: The Gold Ghost finds Keaton as a Bostonian unlucky in love driving aimlessly across the country until his car breaks down in a Nevada ghost town, where he adopts the role of sheriff, then has to stand up to a gang of claim jumpers. Then there’s Grand Slam Opera, with Keaton juggling, dancing and performing other visual stunts — for a radio show! Too bad they all aren’t that good.
Content Advisory: Adventures of Tintin: Action violence, heavy drinking and drunkenness. Generally fine family viewing. Lost Keaton: Slapstick action and violence; brief menacing and/or suggestive content. Generally fine family viewing. War Horse: Restrained, mostly bloodless battlefield violence; an execution of minor deserters; a handful of crass terms. Tweens and up.