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“GREAT SNAKES!” Steven Spielberg Returns to His Roots with “The Adventures of Tintin"

by on December 21, 2011

When viewing a film, it is always best to leave one’s personal preferences and biases outside the theater. In my case, with The Adventures of Tintin, it’s a dislike of computer-generated motion-capture features. The issue is not necessarily the technology, but rather Hollywood filmmakers use of the technology to create “realistic” looking figures while often failing in the process.

The Adventures of Tintin has a strong pedigree. This is an ambitious project from filmmaking masters Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. The auteurs have teamed up to collaborate on two Tintin movies that would adapt and tie together numerous adventures and stories from the comics. The plan was to have Spielberg direct the first film and Jackson the second. So, the film certainly has strong talent behind it; but so did similar ambitious efforts from Robert Zemeckis, which ended in disaster.

The story features the intrepid young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell), who is just as cunning as he is smart and quick-witted. The movie opens with Tintin, accompanied by his faithful dog and companion, Snowy, taking a little jaunt in the town square of a city, where his portrait is drawn by a rather familiar fellow, soon after which Tintin purchases an impressive model ship replica of The Golden Unicorn. The model contains a dark secret, which the sinister Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is willing to commit murder to obtain. Tintin is soon embroiled with a sea captain (Andy Serkis) whose family line is directly linked to The Golden Unicorn, in a mystery and adventure that takes him eventually to the deserts of Morocco and the Sahara.

Tintin succeeds as a fine little animated action adventure movie. Spielberg has brought quite a few of his classic touches to the film, making it extremely reminiscent of the classic Indiana Jones movies, and it’s entertaining as well. The score by frequent Spielberg collaborator John Williams easily sounds like it could have doubled in an Indiana Jones feature. The film’s various chase sequences are filled with nostalgic Spielbergian conventions and conceits, and, much more so than Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, it is an effective return to his roots for the director.

Visually, the world of the movie is striking and impressive, including the 3D presentation, and it starts strong with an ingenious animated opening credit montage sequence. However, the animation style comes off as jarring and odd. The film aims to make the characters photo-realistic with some exaggerated, caricatured features similar to their graphic depictions from Hergé’s original illustrations. At times, the constant extreme close-ups of the faces appear grotesquely indulgent, almost as if the filmmakers are saying “Look at how awesome these weird faces are,” and they don’t really mesh well with the photorealistic style. Probably it would have been better to go for something more akin to the animated aesthetic of Brad Bird’s Ratatouille or The Incredibles.

The movie also suffers from quite a few pacing and storytelling issues. The third act drags on quite a bit, peaking too early with an exhilarating chase sequence in Morocco, but following it up with a ridiculous duel between cranes that seems to be some sort of visual metaphor for a swashbuckling cutlass fight. Nor does it really feature a satisfying conclusion, and comes off almost as if an additional reel has been left out.

The script by Steven Moffat (most notable for his work on television’s Doctor Who, Coupling, and BBC’s Sherlock) is solid, but lacks polish, and is thrown off stride by a contrived subplot involving a pick-pocket. The pick-pocket story grinds the movie’s pace to a halt and adds little to the plot. Still, Moffat’s prose and dialogue sounds refreshingly pulpy and authentic to the setting. It is hard not to be enthusiastic when you hear Tintin utter, “Great snakes!” or hear Captain Haddock grouse, “Blistering blue barnacles!”

The performances, especially vocally, are quite apt and impressive. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were nigh undetectable as the Interpol detective twin brothers, Thomson and Thomson. This was especially surprising since the two comedic performers are most famous for such movies as Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Paul, where they also play iconic characters. But the confusion of figuring out which Thomson is which only adds to the fun. Andy Serkis is a pure force of nature in his performance as the crusty, salty, swarthy, and drunken Captain Haddock, and his progression from The Lord of the Rings‘s Gollum to Haddock puts me in mind of Lon Chaney–albeit with digital makeup substituting for material putty.

Overall, Tintin is a fun little animated adventure. And despite the flaws with the execution, I highly anticipate what Peter Jackson does with his planned installment.

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