Spielberg’s Dueling Movies

Steven Spielberg will be releasing two directorial efforts this December. One, “War Horse,” looks like a standard Spielberg drama. The trailer is filled with filled some jaw-dropping images, including a shot of a woman opening a door reflected on a horse’s eye (reminds me of a similar scene from “Citizen Kane” involving a snow globe). The trailer doesn’t say much, in fact, it plays more like a silent film, with only one character giving any dialogue over John Williams’ always-cinematic score.

Five days earlier, Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn” will come to theaters. Spielberg’s first animated film, it looks to be a twenty-year labor of love, though we’ll see how he and Janusz Kamiński deal in a new medium.

Two movies in one year (actually one week) might seem like a rare accomplishment, but it is not without precedent for Spielberg. Let’s look at the director’s previous bi-annual-release track-record, and maybe get an idea of how 2011 will fair.

1989: “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Always”

Always is one of the few Spielberg films I have yet to see, and I have yet to find someone to encourage me to do so. So I’ll take the advice of Roger Ebert (who didn’t like it) and the American public (who did not see it) and continue to avoid this one. The “Last Crusade”, conversely, was the #1 movie in the world in 1989, and a favorite of my childhood.

1993: “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List”

What’s there to say. These were two of the biggest movies of the 1990s, released within six-months of each other, by a single director. Take that James Cameron. “Jurassic Park” was Spielberg’s most successful film, a landmark for computer-generated imagery, and the highest-earning film of 1993. “Schindler’s List” won Spielberg his first Oscar, and is considered one of the top ten American films of all time by AFI.

1997: “The Lost World” and “Amistad”.

Okay, a poor comeback for the director after a four year hiatus. Don’t get me wrong, I really like “Amistad” and I am a fan of the last third of “Lost World”, but following his most successful year, it’s a disapointment. These two films do continue a trend for Spielberg. Just like in 1993, he released a blockbuster in the summer, then a quality drama in December. He returns to form six months after “Amistad” with “Saving Private Ryan”.

2002: “Catch Me if You Can” and “Minority Report”

“Catch Me” was an enjoyable caper film, known best for its opening credits. “Minority Report” is a grand piece of film-making, one of my favorite science-fiction films, and what “AI” should have been.

2005: “War of the Worlds” and “Munich”

Again, a blockbuster summer release followed by a winter prestige film. “War of the Worlds” I have yet to see (it has been in my Netflix Queue for the last six years) but was the forth most popular film that year. “Munich” was another incredible work, one of my top 10 films of the decade.

So what makes this year different than the last bi-annual years? First of all, both movies will be released in the same week. If I had to guess, War Horse looks more like the prestige picture, though Tintin has a talented writing team. If Spielberg’s past record is any clue, odds are at least one of these movies will be worth seeing in theaters. My guess is War Horse will be the better film, but people will go see Tintin instead. If Spielberg can pull of two concurrent-running critically-acclaimed blockbusters, it will be unprecedented. Unlikely, but unprecedented. Here’s to trying.