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The Adventures of Tintin 3D (2011)

December 25, 2011


written by: Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish

produced by: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy & Peter Jackson

directed by: Steven Spielberg

rating: PG (for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking)

runtime: 107 min.

U.S. release date: December 21, 2011

Leaving the Saturday morning screening of “The Adventures of Tintin”, the enthusiastic young kid in me wanted to rush home and draw new adventures for the titular hero and his dog. On the way home, curving and swerving in my vehicle, I imagined myself in an adventure. What I was experiencing was the joy and power of cinema, something that isn’t restricted by age, but is also quite different for each person. In the days that followed, I found myself reflecting on the fluid storytelling and exciting action sequences, as well as the enjoyable humor and immersive animation the movie provides. As I enthusiastically advocated the latest by Steven Spielberg – just as I did his previous movies when I was a young lad – I noticed something discouraging: not many people were anticipating this movie nor were they even slightly interested.

Unfortunately, the more I talked and read about a Tintin movie, the more I came across naysayers. Most of these responses were coming from folks who knew nothing about the comic book character created by Belgian artist Herge back in 1929. The Adventures of Tintin pioneered graphic novels as we know them and went on to become one of the most globally recognizable and enduring series – well, except for in the States, I suppose. While Europeans grew up on the popular character and his iconic whisp of hair, most American readers knew little of him, save for select international savvy comic fans.

The other lukewarm-to-negative responses I’ve come across were from those like me who had seen the film prior to its U.S. release. Some stated they just didn’t get it, while others found the film empty and soulless. Yikes. That last critique is perhaps due to the use of the motion capture (or mocap) animated style found here, which has been overused by director Robert Zemekis three times (“The Polar Express”, for example) already, in a cold and creepy manner. Not being a fan of that approach either, I can appreciate such criticism, but “The Adventures of Tintin”, with its expressive characterization and vivid locations, is the best use of this technology yet.

What Spielberg and co-producer Peter Jackson (he of Middle Earth fame) gives us is a lively, unrelenting action romp that joyfully grabs hold of an engaging mystery/adventure while paying respect to its source material, as well as throw a few winks in to other films.

We meet Tintin in 1930s Brussels, as he randomly purchases an ornate model of a three-mast pirate ship called “The Unicorn”, from a local street vendor.  Through this interaction, we learn Tintin (an exuberant Jamie Bell) is a journalist, one who questions everything and is accompanied by his loyal dog, Snowy, an astute canine with equal curiosity. Immediately after this purchase, Tintin is approached by two men who show keen interest in the object, one an out-of-breath Lt. Delacourt (Tony Curran), and the other, a suspicious bearded gentleman named Sakharine (a rapscallionly Daniel Craig) who will pay “any price” for the ship.

Turning them both down, Tintin embarks on a quest filled with riddles and clues, that takes him and Snowy to North Africa and back. Along the way, he stumbles upon Captain Haddock (a fantastic Andy Serkis, who with “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” has had quite a year) an incorrigible drunk with ties to the original owners of the real Unicorn. The alcoholic Haddock and bright-eyed Tintin team-up, realizing that the specific scroll Sakharine is pursuing may be linked to both Haddock’s lineage and an undiscovered treasure.

Providing the charm of the old-school matinee, “The Adventures of Tintin” is an exhilarating thrill-ride, that sees our hero travel by plane, ship, and motorcycle, at a breakneck pace that relishes the idea of fun (and funny) at the movies. Indeed, the tale has no shortage of comedy along the way, both in the form of expertly crafted action sequences and some humorous supporting characters. Specifically, two clueless identical detectives, Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thompson (Nick Frost), who unknowingly assist Tintin in his quest after they apprehend a kleptomaniac, Aristides Silk (Toby Jones, another busy one), who stole Tintin’s wallet. The bumbling duo may seem like obligatory comedy relief, but their clever back-and-forth and Chaplinesque physicality make them a welcome addition, fleshing out the environment and character of Tintin’s world.

The story we get is culled from three Tintin comics from the ‘40s and adapted by three superstar writers, each of whom have experienced success in either writing, producing, and directing – or both. They are Scottish writer/producer Stephan Moffat (BBC’s “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock”), English writer/director Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz”), and English writer/director Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”), and considered their own busy schedules, this must have been a labor of love for these creators. Together, they combined the stories The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure, thankfully omitting any origin or introduction story and instead diving right into the trouble-prone antics of our hero. I specifically enjoyed their handling of Haddock (brought to life by an outstanding performance from Serkis), who proves to be the heart of the story. Since I was only vaguely aware of the character, I can’t comment on how loyal they were to Herge’s creation, but I can’t see how devotees could be too disappointed considering how much fun this is.

“The Adventures of Tintin” marks the first time the character has come to the big-screen, but it also represents a handful of other firsts. It’s the first in a trilogy of Tintin movies that Spielberg and Jackson have committed to make, with Jackson set to take the director reins for the sequel. This is also Spielberg’s first directorial work 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (no thanks to Mr. Lucas), which may bring trepidation to some. But I will always be interested in what Spielberg does next and here is his first foray into animation, which frees him from the pressures of upholding the iconic man with the fedora and whip.

Spielberg is clearly delighting in the unlimited potential the medium provides, showing an unrestrained creative side that is refreshing to see for a director in his mid-60s. With longtime editor Michael Kahn and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, he uses clever match cuts and dissolves to maintain a mesmerizing visual flow. Whether he meant it or not, I found Spielberg invoking elements of Dassain’s “Rififi” and Bresson’s “Pickpocket” as well, but obviously with such fast-paced action, many will compare this to “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. A fitting and ironic comparison, since Spielberg hadn’t even heard of Tintin until a reviewer compared his first Indy film to Tintin back in ’81.

Based on his own filmography, Jackson seems a fitting partner for Spielberg. It safe to assume he had a hand in bringing actors from his previous films, specifically Bell (“King Kong”) and Andy Serkis, who together make a fine globetrotting pair. Jackson brings his own love for the comics as well as his award-winning visual effects studio, Weta Digital, to handle the amazing computer animation duties.

Having seen it now in both 3D and 2D, I can confidently say that you can’t go wrong with either. The 3D used here isn’t at all gimmicky, and actually quite impressive, even though it’s probably not as brightly lit as plain old 2D. Then again, the 2D isn’t as immersive as what we the 3D offers, it’s really a matter of preference. Whatever you choose, this is a movie that must be seen in a theater to fully experience its visual delights.

But this is Spielberg through and through, and John Williams score – so reminiscent of his work on the Indiana Jones movies, yet still something new – only makes it more obvious.  From the delightful opening credits (which reminded me of “Catch Me if You Can”) to the stunning chase sequence in Morocco, “The Adventures of Tintin” capitalizes on a needed niche. Not necessarily the comic geeks, but moreso that age range that is just approaching tweenhood. So, let the naysayers cry foul! I doubt I’m alone when I readily admit that I eagerly await the further adventures of Tintin and his brainy mutt.


RATING: ***1/2

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle permalink
    January 8, 2012 3:25 am

    I had heard vaguely of Tin Tin before the movie, but had no idea what it was about other than “possibly boring old boy stuff.”

    It was a consolation prize, after talking the boy child out of Devil Inside. I’m so glad I resigned myself to it.

    I was all set to be creeped out by the “uncanny valley” effect, but no… It was just a beautifully told little story, with engaging and amusing characters, and made new fans out of the kiddo and me.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      January 8, 2012 1:49 pm

      Ah, you chose….wisely! I hear “The Devil Inside” is awful – and not good awful. Glad you and the boy enjoyed “Tintin” and you’d do well to check out “The Artist” (in theaters now) and “Beginners” (on DVD/Blu-ray) to see other fine canine performances.


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