If Hollywood ever decided to replace the famed 50-foot, hillside letters with a (3D!) Mount Rushmore knockoff, there is no doubt that Steven Spielberg would be among the four titans. For the better part of forty years, the man crossed genres as fluidly as Stanley Kubrick, though with considerable more mainstream appeal. He won Oscars, dabbled in children’s TV shows (Tiny Toons, any one?) and just generally influenced pop culture discussion with every release. Then, after 2005 with the regrettably forgotten “Munich,” Spielberg went cold. More than that, he flatly disappeared from the directorial scene—except to somewhat accidentally film “Indian Jones and the Radiation-Induced Fever Dream.” Later this year, Spielberg will released his long--though not much--anticipated film, “The Adventures of Tintin” and seemingly nobody has caught on to the ramifications.
Spielberg is not a novice to animated films. He was one-third of the brain trust that started the perpetual Oscar-contending studio, Dreamworks. Moreover, he’s produced a number of recent films that greatly relied on CGI, including “Monster House.” A handful of years back, Spielberg got to see James Cameron’s 3D, motion-capture, cameras in action on the set of “Avatar.” For whatever reason (I hate how often that phrase comes up when talking about Hollywood), Spielberg thought such technology could be used in his adaptation of a 1940s, European comic strip, “Tintin”—and so, once again, put his Abraham Lincoln bio-pic on the backburner, next to the “Old Boy” remake and “Jurassic Park 4.” Modern readers have noted “Tintin” as having leanings toward fascism, animal cruelty, violence and just flat racism; but this is only the interpretation of people who didn’t grow up readings the beloved children’s stories.
From “Schindler’s List”…to this?
This all gets a little bit stranger though, when Spielberg was quoted as saying that he wants the “Tintin” movie to be considered an animated film, specifically regarding—almost inevitable—Oscar nominations. If one watches the trailer, the first reaction may be, “duh, it’s an animated film.” However, the aforementioned technology was the same used in “Avatar.” Also like “Avatar,” the actors provided movements, not just voice work. So then one must think back to “Avatar” and realize that they didn’t actually film in a jungle and put in CGI floating mountains and remnants of 1980s acid trips. Rather, “Avatar” was an animated film…but was not nominated, nor considered for nomination, in the category of “Best Animated Feature.”
The category of “Best Animated Feature” has an unfortunately unenlightened history to it. Created in 2001, the Oscar category was largely a response to computer-animated films, though the technology itself only peripherally related to the incredible plots, music and directing. Specifically, critics and audience’s did not like films like “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2” and, to a lesser extent, “A Bug’s Life” having massive appeal yet no academy recognition, even despite reviews, to this day, standing at 100%, 100% and 91%, respectively, on RottenTomatoes.com.
In 2008, though, animated films (read: “WALL-E”) seemed to become even more intelligent and beautiful, easily surpassing the stereotyped, for-children-only, genre. At this point, people wondered if the “animated” category—not unlike the “documentary” category—was, in fact, imprisoning animated films from becoming inarguable winners. In response, “Up” and “Toy Story 3” received “Best Picture” nominations, though in both cases did nothing but ruin any suspense for the “animated” category.
In these last same years, the Academy declared that motion-capture technology itself is not considered animation. Similarly, movies must be at least 75% animated—which means the film “Paul” won’t be nominated in that category…or any other categories. Where this gets multifaceted is that the nearly 100% animated “Avatar” was not nominated for “Best Animated Feature” because James Cameron didn’t want it to be considered animated. He just wanted it to be a ‘regular’ film…that grossed enough money to stack a tower of dollar bills over 188 miles high (which is a really dumb measurement of money).
What this means then, is that the directors/producers get to decide when their movies are “animated” or “live action.” Aside from the categorical frustrations, it opens the door for more Hollywood politicking. That is, what is the best way to win awards with the film? In this case, Spielberg is spot-on with “Tintin.” Pixar basically had a collective brain fart and has no guaranteed award-love with their sequel to their near-unanimously-weakest film, “Cars”—inexplicably calling the new film, “Cars 2” rather than “More Cars.”
More distressing, this pattern is sure to continue, as Spielberg wants to make more “Tintin” movies and Cameron is gearing up for more “Avatar” films; with both franchises using identical animation yet never competing directly. Continuing, if Spielberg proves himself as influential to his fellow-producer, Peter Jackson, as he has influenced J.J. Abrams and Michael Bay, it’s a fair guess to say “The Hobbit” films will be considerably more animated and (…wait for it…) multi-dimensional than the previous “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Now imagine thirty years from now: what’s to stop people from redefining the genres or the technical intentions of the filmmakers? Maybe “Avatar” will be considered an “animated” film. Maybe even “Transformers 3.” Or “The Hobbit.” Maybe then, filmmakers will toss around the idea of doing “animated” remakes of “Titanic,” “Star Wars,” or “Planet of the Apes.” Past that, maybe they’ll do “live-action” remakes of “Tintin,” “Avatar” or “The Hobbit” (ala the 1978 LotR films).
Why all this fuss for a movie still 6 months away? Because Steven Spielberg is a giant of Hollywood--itself a multi-billion dollar industry. More broadly, history is a series of reactions; today’s actions fuel tomorrow’s reactions.
The Earth is moving, people, because a titan is waking up.