‘The Adventures of Tintin” – Steven Spielberg Gets Animated

The long awaited adaptation of “The Adventures of Tintin” certainly has a lot going for it. You have Steven Spielberg doing an animated movie for the first time, and he’s doing it along with “The Lord of the Rings’” Peter Jackson which makes this a great combo of talents. It’s a performance capture movie along the lines of “The Polar Express” and “Avatar,” and the technology behind those movies is astonishing. You also have Edgar Wright, director of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” listed as one of its screenwriters.

And yet when it was all over and the lights went up, I found myself feeling indifferent to the movie overall. There’s a lot to admire about “The Adventures of Tintin,” and it is certainly a feast for the eyes. But I was surprised to find myself getting a little bored at times as the movie lost some of its focus and has as its main character a young boy who comes out of all these hair-raising predicaments largely unscathed.

Perhaps it’s my fault that I was expecting something with more depth than I should have. This is based on the famous comic book series created by Belgian artist Hergé (Georges Remi), and its characters are presented here pretty much as they originally appeared. Tintin is a young journalist who, along with his dog Snowy, solves mysteries which fall in his path and then writes stories about them once their truth has been discovered. It’s nice to see a movie about a journalist crusading for the truth as they seem so hard to find in the real world today.

I know I’m being unfair in wanting Tintin to have more dimension. In the end, he is a comic book character who doesn’t need much explanation. There is indeed something cool about a kid as young as him being so knowledgeable about things and of having his own apartment and no boss hanging over his head reminding him of a deadline approaching. But the thing that makes Tintin so cool is what takes away from him at the same time; he doesn’t seem to suffer much throughout all he does, and he comes out of death-defying situations with no real bruises to show for them.

Yes, yes, I know he’s an animated character and that this world is not meant to truly resemble reality. Maybe I should blame this all on the photorealism of the characters and their settings. This kind of computer animation amazes me still in how the line between what’s real and what’s animated becomes truly blurred. The attention to detail on not just characters but their skin and clothing make them seem incredibly real, and it’s amazing to take in. But the more real they become onscreen, the less human they seem in retrospect.

Other critics blame this motion capture animation technique for doing everything except getting rid of that dead look in everyone’s eyes. In this movie’s case, I see what they mean. Emotionally, I never felt fully connected to Tintin or the other characters as much as I wanted to. This ended up making the action seem a lot less thrilling than it was.

Spielberg to his credit stages some incredible action set pieces which are spectacular in how they are conceived. One in particular seems like an endless shot with the good and bad guys traveling all over town while battling one another for precious information, and I almost found myself applauding it after its glorious climax. Still, everything feels lacking in soul which is surprising as you cannot doubt that the filmmakers truly put their heart and soul into this project.

The great thing about “The Adventures of Tintin” is in its casting. Jamie Bell gives Tintin a good dose of innocence that is thankfully tempered with a maturity beyond his years, and he makes you believe that this intrepid reporter can get away with doing the impossible. Daniel Craig, whose voice is hard to recognize at first, makes a convincingly despicable villain out of Sakharine. There’s also a couple of welcome supporting performances from those hilarious Brits Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as identical looking detectives with the same last name (but spelled differently).

The best performance in “The Adventures of Tintin” however belongs to Andy Serkis who, along with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” had quite the year in 2011. As the drunken Captain Haddock, he is a force to be reckoned with and creates an unforgettable character that is as funny as he is at times pitiful. Serkis disappears into this character in much the same way he did as Gollum, Caesar, or even King Kong to where we don’t feel like we’re watching an actor at all. Heck, even if this wasn’t an animated movie, I still think that would be the case.

Serkis is also the only actor not to be upstaged by Tintin’s loyal dog Snowy, a fox terrier that is as clever as his owner. Snowy ends up giving that dog Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer owned in “Beginners” a run for its money in the cuteness department. It truly was a memorable year for terrier dogs in movies!

This is all the more proof that Serkis damn well deserves an Oscar nomination for either this or his brilliant performance in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” C’mon, you can’t leave this guy out during awards season!

As much as I’ve come to abhor 3D in movies, it actually was done very well here. The picture wasn’t too dark, and the 3D was never used in a gimmicky way. Much like Robert Zemeckis did in “Beowulf,” Spielberg and Jackson give the visuals a dimension which makes them stretch out from behind the characters, immersing us even more into their grand adventures. You can get away with watching this one in 2D if you want, but the extra few bucks for that added dimension won’t be a waste.

This movie does feel cleverly inspired by Spielberg’s own “Raiders of the Lost Ark” which this past year reached its 30th anniversary. There’s even a line from that movie which feels purposefully inserted into this one:

“Once again, what was briefly yours is now mine!”

Spielberg certainly hasn’t lost his sense of adventure with “Tintin,” and it’s not entirely his fault that this movie at times feels lacking in Indiana Jones’ exhilarating inventiveness. It’s certainly not a terrible movie, and you are better off taking your kids to see this than that “Alvin and the Chipmunks” sequel which just makes you hate those animals for existing at all. I really wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did. Maybe I came in expecting more from it than I should have, but it’s hard to deny that fun Spielberg and Jackson had in making this one doesn’t fully transfer over to the audience.

There will probably be a sequel (directed by Jackson) in the future. I’m certainly not against seeing it when it comes out.

* * ½ out of * * * *

See also:

“The Polar Express” in IMAX 3D


“Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – A Prequel Worth Watching!

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