Friday, December 23, 2011

Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Even after seeing the rather rousing Steven Spielberg-directed mo-cap The Adventures of Tintin, I still cannot say I am a big fan of motion capture animation, those cherub cheeked half human hybrids lost somewhere in that uncanny valley one hears speak of, but as far as cinematic adventures go, the director, playing once again at his popcorn-fueled breakneck Indiana Jones/Jurassic Park pace, has created a rollicking, unpretentious, nearly non-stop swashbuckling hell of a fun ride.

First coming into contact with the Belgian comic book adventures of intrepid manchild Tintin back in 1981, after reading comparisons to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and as legend would have it, immediately falling in love with writer/artist HergĂ©'s sleek and simple designs, Spielberg befriended the comic book creator (whose real name was George Remi) and would eventually acquire the rights to film his own version of the adventures of this beloved (but admittedly little-known outside of Europe) comic character.  Cut to 2011, and years of artistic purgatory, and finally the director of E.T. and Hook has put character to screen to create what he himself has rather arrogantly, but innocently enough, called "Indiana Jones for kids."  The end result may feel a little funny at times (I still cannot get past the mo-cap style, though to give the director his due, this is the closest I have yet come to doing so) and the payoff of the finale may not quite live up to the promise of its earlier set pieces, but all-in-all, it is indeed a balls-out parade of action and adventure and good old fashioned storytelling that Spielberg is always capable, of but rarely able to pull off in such a consistently effective manner.

Featuring Jamie "Billy Elliot" Bell in the titular role of journalist-cum-detective Tintin and mo-cap poster child Andy "Gollum" Serkis as his salty, besotted sea cap'n compatriot Haddock (not to mention nerd patrol bro-couple Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the bumbling roles of inept policemen Thomson and Thompson - two characters that give the film its occasional screwball bent), The Adventures of Tintin is a story of intrigue and skulduggery, full of the MacGuffins of Spielberg's beloved Hitchcock, as well as high seas pirate adventures, Indiana Jones-esque sky hijinx and a Moroccan-set car chase involving man, dog and hawk that will knock your proverbial socks off.  In other words, this is Spielberg, not wearing his morose serious face (which, even though overblown at times, does have its place in the director's oeuvre), but doing what he has always done best - telling a story full of bravura and classical cinematic kismet, while never thinking itself to be too high-minded to laugh at itself and its own tricks and tropes.

This is the kind of classical filmmaking, though ironically here, using some of the most advanced technological tools available, that first made Spielberg a star among the young turk Hollywood of the 1970's, and would inspire J.J. Abrams to make Super 8 earlier this year, his own homage to the director.  I personally have always been much more of a fan of the fun-loving, rather than the serious-minded Spielberg (the director's serious-minded companion piece War Horse is due out any day now and I suspect it will have much the same cloying effect that well-received but fault-laden films like Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan had), and this animated adventure tale certainly falls into that category.  It also doesn't hurt to have a screenplay written by Edgar "Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz" Wright, Joe "Attack the Block" Cornish and Steven "Doctor Who" Moffat.  These writers, also in a fun-loving mood, bring the characters of HergĂ© to bold and brilliant life - even if they are in mo-cap (the process, though at its best here, still has its bugs).

Now here, as in the comic, the character of Tintin is played as nothing more than a pragmatic and idealistic centerpiece for the much more layered supporting cast to rally around (or against as the case may be), so the character seems a bit flat at times, but the playfulness of the comics is given full share of these aforementioned adventures (the opening credits let us know right away that this will indeed be the case) and even the motion capture style has, as they say, come a long way baby.  Playing out as some sort of blend of Indiana Jones (think the original Raiders or even Last Crusade) and The Pirates of the Caribbean (the actual Disney World ride, not the eponymous and increasingly annoying movie franchise) this first in its own inevitable animated franchise (Peter Jackson, who acts as producer here will supposedly take the director reigns of the next one) may not make the best use of 3D and CGI this holiday season (that would be Scorsese's succulent and homage-filled Hugo) but still, The Adventures of Tintin (subtitled The Secret of the Unicorn in some circles), despite its flaws, is one of the most rollicking, unpretentious, nearly non-stop swashbuckling hell of a good times to be had in cinema today.   Granted, it may not be a great film (though solidly good throughout with moments of sheer cinematic giddiness), but it sure is fun fun fun - and that is what this Spielberg is all about.


MP said...

I'm a diehard fan of Tintin but since I know that Spielberg's on it I fear that it won't stand up to my expectations... However I will try to catch this one during the holidays!

Kevyn Knox said...

Spielberg can get more than a bit cloying at times, but he is a much better director when he is going for the less serious-minded mindset. It is not a great film, but it is quite fun.

Jacob said...

I thought the film was okay. Not a masterpiece nor was it terrible. I found some of the parts of the film to be incredibly slow and the plot was messy. Fantastic review.