Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin Review

Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” (based on the popular comic book series by Belgian artist Herge) will no doubt be a crowd pleaser. From the very minute we first see our scrappy, red headed, baby faced hero, you know you’re going to be in for a treat. “Tintin” is a swashbuckling adventure (and the latest movie to use motion-capture animation) stuck somewhere in between “Indiana Jones” (movies of which Spielberg served as director) and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which is all well and good but also serves as a problem.

As much as it pains me to say it, I think Herge’s cherished creation is outdated. The old-schoolness of the action and events that take place in the movie feels far too familiar by today’s standards; especially with the “Jones” movies and others like it. There are car chases, motorcycle chases, airplane flying, a desert village in North Africa, clues that lead to treasure. There’s a dastardly and greedy villain and a wacky sidekick used mostly as comic relief. The only thing that’s missing, strangely enough, is a love interest.

There’s also a flaw with the protagonist himself. Tintin (played enthusiastically by Jamie Bell) is Indiana Jones, MacGyver, and a Hollywood action star all rolled into one. He can do everything, he can fly a plane, solve puzzles, make elaborate contraptions out of everyday objects. He can beat up bad guys easily, even if some of them are much bigger and stronger than him. He’s a comic book hero (a familiar one at that) and this movie treats him like one. He speaks in astonished gasps like in a thought bubble on a panel and suffers from Saying-Important-Clues-and-Plot-Points Out-Loud-To-Himself Syndrome. He’s bland.

The rest of the characters have their moments but are just as flat, including his goofy, drunken sidekick Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the humorous cop duo Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) and the devious antagonist Ivan (Daniel Craig). The only one who’s constantly interesting and entertaining is Tintin’s faithful dog Snowy and that’s mainly because—whether it is live action or animation—dogs always steal the show.

On top of that the movie expects the audience to know all about Tintin and the others right from the start. Thankfully I had read a few Tintin books as a kid. At the beginning Tintin is already established as a well-known reporter. One day he finds a model of a ship called The Unicorn, that contains a clue to some kind of treasure that supposedly went to down with the real version of the ship long ago. This sets off a chain reaction. Bad guys led by Ivan want the clue along with two other models that each hold an additional clue. When Tintin is kidnapped and taken aboard a ship he runs into Haddock who is the ancestor of the Captain Haddock who manned The Unicorn. This in turn leads them to North Africa and so on.

While all of this is mildly entertaining it would have been better (since this is the first Tintin movie) to establish Tintin a little more. Learn about his origins; even show more of him interacting in his hometown. Spielberg is too hasty in trying to get Tintin’s epic journey started that we barely have a chance to get sense of his character at the start. There’s also a small side plot involving a pickpocket who collects people’s wallets that should have been expanded upon. I found it more unique and interesting than the recovery of pirate treasure.

Nevertheless, the film looks great. Motion capture movies don’t always work out too well (talk to Robert Zemeckis) but here the characters as well as the locations are full of detail and look very realistic. And even though it dims the picture, Spielberg puts the 3D to good use. There are a few sequences (one involving Tintin and Haddock flying a plane through a thunder and lighting storm) that are especially spectacular. Still, live action or not, too much action becomes overwhelming and after a while “Tintin” becomes exhausting, making the predictable ending less tolerable.

But as I said before “Tintin” is bound to be a crowd pleaser. It has the kind of kinetic, rousing energy that the general audience will respond to. And there will be sequels, you can be sure of that. All I can hope for is that Spielberg and producing partner Peter Jackson try to take the premise deeper and perhaps darker, because this movie is basically a motion capture comic book.

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