Monday, December 26, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Dir. Steven Spielberg

3 out of 5

The world of a beloved Belgian comic book hero bustles to life in the motion capture film The Adventures of Tintin, following the exploits of a young investigative journalist (Jaime Bell) as he unravels a centuries-old mystery involving a cache of hidden pirate gold. When Bell ignores a stranger's ominous warning and purchases an old model ship at a flea market, he comes into possession of a cryptic message that launches him into a maelstrom of adventure, intrigue, and murder. It turns out that the message is a clue leading the finder to treasure concealed on a real ship, the Unicorn, which was sent to the bottom of the sea with an untold fortune in gold bullion stashed in its hull. Joining forces with the tippling Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), an ancestor of the Unicorn's original captain, Bell races to locate the ship's final resting place before a nefarious gentleman (Daniel Craig) who will use any means necessary to get there first. It's the type of ruddy, two-fisted adventure story from the time when Men were Men, sea captains were lovable drunkards, and villains wore mustaches just begging to be twirled.

Tintin features perhaps the most colorful and fluid use of motion capture animation to date. It's a wide-angle cartoon that takes unabashed pleasure in flaunting the laws of physics - a license Spielberg takes full advantage of with impossible tracking shots and a giddy mayhem that's both breathtakingly dense and just plain noisy. The visuals strike an agreeable balance between photorealism and comic surrealism; characters' noses seem to have been assigned in a particularly haphazard and sometimes tragic fashion. Spielberg is successful in being as faithful to the look of the original Hergé books as he possibly can, while adding the proper cinematic touches - a rousing John Williams score here, some deft editing there, topped by the clever juxtaposition of an inebriate Haddock acting out lengthy flashbacks to events on the Unicorn.

But while Tintin is often evocative of a great adventure yarn, the final product is somewhat less than the sum of its parts. Not even a king's ransom of creative talent - Spielberg, producer Peter Jackson, and three-headed writing hydra Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish - can disguise the fact that the actual Tintin stories haven't aged particularly well. Nor is it guaranteed to capture an aged imagination: the film's intended audience skews younger than you might expect, and there is plenty of room for dissatisfaction in its simplistic, circular storytelling. Bringing modern technology to bear upon this antiquated Euro-curio has not changed its essence, keeping Tintin as clear-eyed and optimistic as ever but making it the cinematic equivalent of a splashy Sunday comics serial that temporarily stirs the senses before being folded up with the rest of yesterday's news.

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