THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011) (***)
Steven Spielberg has made a rousing globetrotting adventure that harkens back to his early INDIANA JONES films. Using performance capture, he brought to life Herge's world-renowned comic strip character in a strangely realistic and surreal way. The lightning paced action scenes will be well accepted from the videogamer set, while older audiences might want it to have slowed down a bit to let us meet these characters.
The audience is thrown right into the action as Tintin (Jamie Bell, KING KONG) buys a model ship that turns out to be a hotly desired item. Along with his dedicated dog Snowy, Tintin tries to get to the bottom of why Sakharine (Daniel Craig, CASINO ROYALE) will go to great extremes to get Tintin's model and two identical ones. Along the way, Tintin teams up with the drunken Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES), whose family is connected to the great mystery.
While there are brief mentions to Tintin being a famous reporter, we never get to see him report. There is something to be said about a story that throws the viewer right into the action, using the discovery of what is happening to pull them along. Here we don't get to know Tintin enough to care about him more so than we care about the mystery. Capt. Haddock turns out to have a more engaging connection to the plot. He drinks due to the pressure of living up to the adventures of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock. Even Tintin questions his usefulness when a bottle of booze is around. But when the going gets tough, Capt. Haddock gets burping. It's far funnier than it sounds.
The film is actually based directly on several Tintin adventures Herge wrote, however they have been changed. In the comic strip, Tintin and Capt. Haddock were already friends. The film tries to make this an origin story. Because the script has some first act issues, one wonders why this was done. What if we saw Tintin as a star reporter and his friend Capt. Haddock was always getting him in trouble due to his drinking? What if discovering the mystery of the Unicorn was a way for Tintin to help an old friend redeem his pubic image? As a fan, I wonder why the filmmaker would make the relationship weaker for their big introduction to a worldwide audience? But one can only wonder and take the movie for what it is.
Despite wanting more character development, the personalities of Tintin and especially Capt. Haddock come out through the action. Haddock rattling off curse after curse at the bad guys sounded just like I imagined it to be. Tintin is smart and ingenious like a teenage MacGyver. Sakharine is pompous and ruthless. The dimwitted detectives Thomson (Nick Frost, SHAUN OF THE DEAD) and Thompson (Simon Pegg, SHAUN OF THE DEAD) make one glad Tintin is on the scene. And you can't forget Snowy; he takes man's best friend to a whole new level.
The use of motion-capture is a touchy issue. I found it another step forward in the stylized arena. This is far superior to an early effort like POLAR EXPRESS, but it isn't AVATAR. What Spielberg's tightrope walk between photo real and cartoonish does for the film is allow him to push the action. Cartoons have always allowed more latitude for the outlandish. The car chase through the streets of Morocco would not work in straight live-action. With impeccable timing, it highlights Spielberg's skills as a choreographer of thrilling action. How he weaves together Tintin and Capt. Haddock on a motorcycle with a sidecar, a hawk, a tank and a moving hotel will amaze.
The film left me wanting more in both a good and bad way. As originally planned, this is the first film in a trilogy with Peter Jackson taking on the second installment. It might be interesting to see what he would do differently. This is like reading the "quick read" tab on a long article — you get the primary points, but not the depth. Even though I only got a taste this time, I still have a thirst for more adventures.