Director, busy as ever, talks 'War Horse,' Adventures of Tintin'

Directing “keeps me on my toes,” says Steven Spielberg. And with two films, “The Adventures of Tintin” and “War Horse,” bowing this month and a third, “Lincoln,” currently shooting, the helmer is certainly hopping. As he nears completion on the latter, Spielberg took a breather to discuss with Variety’s Christy Grosz the detailed battle scenes of “War Horse” and his first use of 3D, on “Tintin”:

World War II has been used extensively in film, but World War I much less. Was this setting particularly interesting to you?

Spielberg: World War I was the last hurrah for the horse (in) warfare. It was a time when the technological revolution, mainly in the implementation of new technologies to kill more efficiently and more cruelly, were supplanting the usefulness of the horse, which had brought terror into the hearts of standing armies for centuries. And after World War I, that was over and the horse went back to a more bucolic and sane way of life.

Did you find out anything in your research that you didn’t know before?

I didn’t know how many millions of horses had been wiped out. Not just by the wounds of war but by neglect and disease and exposure and malnutrition. I just was not aware of that until I got involved in the project because of the Michael Morpurgo book and the play (both of which served as the basis for the “War Horse” screenplay).

The battle sequences focus on the clash of old-style weaponry and new technology. Was it difficult to create these violent battle scenes and retain a PG-13 rating?

Always, because that’s why there’s hardly any blood at all in “War Horse.” The battles are intense, but out of a movie that’s over two hours, when you really add it up there’s only about 10 minutes of combat. Everything else is about connections between characters — because of Joey and what Joey brings to everyone’s life that he touches. So it’s really more of a story about courage and connections and less of a story about combat.

The film’s look resembles an epic out of cinema history. Did you set out with d.p. Janusz Kaminski to give the film that classic look?

It’s hard to give a film a classic look — it’s not making that decision and just doing it. I had to, first of all, figure out how big a role the land was going to play, the earth was going to play in this. When I decided very early on that the land was going to be almost as important as the characters and Joey, that changed the paradigm of my style of approaching “War Horse” because the sky and the land meant everything to me. Both the characters need the land to survive, just to scratch out a living under the boot heel of an intolerant landlord. And then they go from that kind of hand-to-mouth lifestyle, right to a different kind of blasted land, of no-man’s land on the Somme in France. Once I realized that the land was going to be a character, everything changed.

You also have your first 3D animated feature, “The Adventures of Tintin.” Do you think 3D is a new horizon for filmmakers?

I’d like 3D to be used when it’s appropriate and when the filmmaker has a vision for its use, not just to be used as a marketing tool. I don’t think every movie should be in 3D. I disagree with my colleagues who believe that every film should be in 3D. It’s another tool in a very large tool chest. I think 3D should be used when there is something to be achieved from it, not just to be able to slam the 3D brand on a movie ad.

Can you tell me anything about the status of “Jurassic Park IV” or “Indiana Jones V”?

(Chuckles) If I tell you that, we’ll have nothing else to talk about the next time, will we?

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