Friday, December 23, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

Grade: 74 (B+)

The Adventures of Tintin is the most purely entertaining Steven Spielberg film since 1993’s Jurassic Park. There is no real darkness, only adventure and wonder. Inspired by the Belgian comic series by Hergé, Tintin is a Spielberg film in the same spirit as the Indiana Jones series (Spielberg learned of the series in a European review that compared the comic series to Raiders), and in that sense in more than makes up for the lackluster fourth entry in the Jones series. It marks a true return of the Spielberg of old, and as a voyage on a new frontier: it is the director’s first animated film, and his first collaboration with Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (who plans to direct the second Tintin entry).

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is an English journalist and all-around adventurer. He and his trusted and loyal dog Snowy get mixed up in a plot involving the villainous Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig) when Tintin purchases a model on the legendary ship Unicorn. He discovers that the model is one of three, each of which contain a scroll leading to a secret treasure. That treasure truly belongs to the drunken Captain Archibald Haddock (frequent Jackson collaborator Andy Serkis), and he and Tintin now have a race to the finish against Sakharine, who may have a longstanding feud with Haddock.

Spielberg has always been a master of blending new technologies with old fashioned movie-making, from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Jurassic Park. This is no exception: Tintin is a stunning new development in motion capture technology, mostly avoiding the creepy, dead-eyed character designs that plagued Robert Zemeckis’ forays into animated filmmaking. This is as strong as anything in James Cameron’s Avatar or Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, and Jackson’s strength in creating exotic and wonderful worlds serves his collaborator well. The vividness of the animation doesn’t stop at the character designs: the new technology has given Spielberg a renewed sense of play, leading to some of his most inventive, enervating set-pieces in recent memory. A master visual storyteller, Spielberg uses the new medium to advance the story and inform the set-pieces. He also uses the technology to throw in several clever references to past Spielberg films, the best of which is a terrific opening credits sequence that serves as an introduction the adventurous feel, a tribute to Hergé’s art, and a throwback to Catch Me if You Can.

The story, as it is, has the same great, Howard Hawks-style “men on a mission” feel, with a dash of Errol Flynn/Michael Curtiz style swashbuckling. Much like Raiders, the artifact at the center of the film is ultimately a macguffin to use as an excuse to string a series of incredible set pieces together; but incredible they are, and the characters that run through them are fun, particularly the salty Haddock and a pair of bumbling, nearly identical detectives named Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost). Tintin, for his part, is mostly an audience surrogate, full of classic Spielbergian wonder and curiosity. If the film falls a bit short of the best Spielberg adventures, it’s because the film starts so strong and can’t top its dynamite first half; the destination isn’t nearly as interesting as the journey, and it’s another case of Spielberg’s late-period trouble with ending his stories. But the film is such a light and downright fun adventure that it’s hard to complain; if it’s a hit, it gives room for Spielberg and Jackson to explore more complex, emotional territory in later adventures. Bring on Tintin 2.

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