Leave it to Steven Spielberg to make the massively disappointing Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull only to follow it some years later with a motion-capture adaptation of a beloved European comic book that is more Indiana Jones-esque than anything we've seen in two decades. The Adventures of Tintin is an entertaining, fun and superbly detailed action-adventure film that people of all ages will enjoy.
Jamie Bell stars as Tintin, a clever ginger-haired Belgian reporter who has a knack for stumbling across clues that lead to great adventures. One day, by chance, he decides to buy a model ship, unaware that the ship contains a clue to a lost treasure. Soon thereafter his home is ransacked, the model stolen and his life threatened. Rather than backing down, Tintin sets out to discover the truth and stop the bad guys from winning.
In other words, it's Indiana Jones, only a little flashier, a little zanier (crystal skulls aside) and animated. And a whole lot better than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
It's funny that, just earlier this year, Mars Needs Moms flopped horrendously, with critics calling it the death knell of "motion-capture animation". Since then, Martin Scorsese's Hugo has received wide acclaim and, now, Spielberg has given the world The Adventures of Tintin. Mars Needs Moms didn't kill motion capture; it just killed Robert Zemeckis' production company, which was responsible for more or less pioneering the technology, and creating some truly terrible movies.
Unlike any motion capture movie before, including Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin is the first to establish that, thanks to the technology, it is a better film. The special effects are simply amazing, every character, setting and action scene exquisitely detailed. Spielberg has mastered what Zemeckis for so long attempted to do: to blend over-the-top special effects and characters with a sense of reality. The characters are generally cartoonish, with the drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) the best examples. They don't look like real people, but they look real, at least in the context of the world that Spielberg has created. From the sweat on their brows to, most importantly, the glean in their eyes, they are photo-realistic.
The best part about Tintin is that Spielberg manages to walk that fine line between reality and fantasy, between goofy entertainment and serious action. Set in a very real-looking yet timeless Europe (and Africa), Spielberg always keeps the movie grounded in reality. Characters die and Tintin especially looks and feels like a real person, just as vulnerable and susceptible to risks as any live-action character in any live-action movie. Even better, Spielberg doesn't shy away from things that could neuter a story for the sake of appealing to children: Tintin shoots a gun, men get shot and stabbed and half of the jokes revolve around the fact that Haddock is a stinking drunk.
Nevertheless, The Adventures of Tintin has a childish charm; the movie works at a breakneck pace, never letting up as it goes from one exciting or chuckle-worthy sequence to the next, the characters always in danger and yet not in a way that would stress out a little kid. The movie gets zanier as it goes along, too, the action sequences becoming more over-the-top, but never obnoxiously so. Spielberg's attention to detail, and his willingness to stretch the realm of reality without completely breaking through into fantastical, pays off in a big way.
Unlike Polar Express or Beowulf or even Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin is the first motion-capture movie that would not have been as good had it been traditionally animated, or made as a live-action feature.
As good as it is, The Adventures of Tintin takes a little while to get going. The first 20 minutes or so, while well made, are inconsistent as Spielberg finds the narrative and the story accelerates. On the positive side, the movie gets better as it goes along; negatively, only in a few elaborate sequences does it feel like it's firing on all cylinders. It's a very good movie but not a great one, far superior than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but not as enthralling as the other Indiana Jones movies.
But it doesn't have to be, and I doubt that was Spielberg's intention in the first place. The Adventures of Tintin is that perfect kind of kid's movie, a film that parents (and other adults) will enjoy as much as their children, perhaps even more. That doesn't mean it's a perfect movie, but it's a fun ride while it lasts.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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