The Adventures of Tintin
Thursday, January 5, 2012 1 Comment
I can quite honestly say that I would not be as enthusiastic about the medium of film as I am today without the films of Steven Spielberg. Specifically, that enthusiasm would be nonexistent without the Indiana Jones trilogy (that’s right, TRILOGY). I can remember seeing “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” for the first time as if it was yesterday (yes, I saw them out of order, don’t judge me). Even on a crappy VHS on a small TV, I was swept up in the globe-trotting, treasure-hunting adventures of Dr. Jones and his affable gang of companions. Recently, Spielberg gave us a return to that kind of film with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” but the results were lacking in a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Actually, je sais precisely quoi; it was lacking in heart and character and quality setpieces and any appearance of genuine giving-a-shit. Thankfully, Spielberg has been given a second chance at producing that brand of cinematic adventuring (this time sans the confused mind of a 2012-fearing George Lucas) with the animated motion-capture spectacle “The Adventures of Tintin.” Was Spielberg able to find redemption this time around? The answer is a surprising “Pretty much, yeah.”
“The Adventures of Tintin,” directed by the previously mentioned Steven Spielberg, stars Jamie Bell as investigative reporting wunderkind, Tintin, Andy Serkis as the rarely sober Captain Haddock, and Daniel Craig as the villainous Sakharine. The script, written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish, follows Tintin and his obscenely intelligent wonder-dog, Snowy, as he chases down the elusive treasure of a sunken ship known as “The Unicorn.” Along the way, he joins forces with the bumbling Captain Haddock, who just so happens to have a very personal family connection to the captain of the doomed vessel.
The first thing immediately noticeable about “The Adventures of Tintin” is that the animation is absolutely stunning. After a beautifully rendered, cartoonish opening credits sequence set to a very jazzy and European score by the great John Williams, we are introduced to a bustling market scene featuring the film’s very unique style. At once highly stylized and jaw-droppingly realistic, the art direction takes the uncanny valley by the collar and engages it in a thrillingly pugilistic scuffle, ultimately emerging victorious despite a few close calls. Nothing looked off in any major way, and certainly not enough to distract from the film at all. In actuality, the distraction comes from how damn FANTASTIC everything looked. I’ve never seen animated environments so believable, nor characters so tactile and well-realized. It is truly a technical achievement, and honestly worth the price of admission alone.
Thankfully, the actual movie is quite a bit of fun as well. Sitting at a solid, family friendly PG, “Tintin” is full of slapstick humor and non-brutal action setpieces. Both of these elements are achieved admirably, thanks to a combination of setpiece design and scenery-chewing performances by the talented cast. Each action sequence has its own style and gimmick, with a variety of exciting moving parts that come together like a painstakingly choreographed ballet. There is one sequence in particular that is easily one of my favorite cinematic moments of 2011: a long, exciting chase through the streets of Bagghar that takes place entirely in a single shot. This is obviously less impressive in an animated film than it would be in a live action film, but that’s because in a live action film such a sequence would be IMPOSSIBLE. Spielberg clearly knew to take advantage of the animated format, and does so spectacularly many times over the course of the film.
In most animated films, the characters are merely voiced by an actor who records all their dialog alone in a studio. In “Tintin,” however, the actor’s performances are captured on a soundstage using state-of-the-art motion capture technology. The results are fantastic, as the interactions between the characters on screen feel immediate and genuine, as well as being consistently entertaining throughout. Surprising no one, motion-capture veteran Andy Serkis turns in a lovable, scene-stealing performance as Captain Haddock. Daniel Craig is appropriately sinister, and there are enjoyable turns by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as bumbling Scotland Yard detectives Thompson and Thomson (respectively, although I wouldn’t bet money on my ability to tell them apart).
The script, written by Steven Moffat of “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” Fame, as well as some work by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish of “Shaun of the Dead” and “Attack the Block” fame, is wonderfully entertaining scene-to-scene. It is not, unfortunately, a perfect script. Tintin, the hero of the story, often comes across as a fairly flat character (no pun intended). He just sort of makes his way from location to location, solving most of his problems on accident. The true star of the show is Snowy, Tintin’s super-heroic dog with a taste for whiskey and ninja-like stealth and parkour abilities. Snowy is kind of a badass. Also, Tintin’s motivation for discovering the secrets of the Unicorn are simply that it would make for a pretty bitchin’ story. Haddock’s connection to the ship is a much more engaging and effective one, but it’s treated as the means by which our intrepid young hero is able to find his pretty bitchin’ story.
Overall, I very much enjoyed “The Adventures of Tintin.” It’s a property that is full of already existing content ready to be adapted into a slew of expensive sequels, and I would welcome them with open arms. It’s not quite as iconic and memorable as the Indiana Jones films, but it has enough of that charm and spirit that I would say it is absolutely worth a watch. If you’re a fan of 3D (as I am), then it’s certainly one of the best films released so far in the format (though Martin Scorcese’s “Hugo” remains the crowning achievement thus far). If you need something to take your parents or your kids to, this film is a terribly exciting time at the theater.
Also the villain is a falconer. More villains should be falconers.