Article By: Dan Clark
Steven Spielberg is a director that has seemingly done it all in the world of movies. In 2011 he marked another box in his career check list by directing his first animated film The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg has had a hand in traditional animation before with his work with Tiny Toons and The Animaniacs, but with Tintin he chose to go the 3D motion capture route. That choice is a questionable one as no one has yet to master the science of motion capture. There is a certain ultra-realistic quality to it that makes it look off-putting. The technology has come a long way since films like Polar Express or Beowulf, yet it clearly still has room to grow. Once you settle in to the overall look of the film you can almost appreciate the picturesque beauty of it all. One would think Spielberg’s trademark style should translate well to animation, and for the most part it does. His love for the moving camera is on hyper drive as it flies around the screen with little disregard for the viewer’s personal inertia. It swoops in and out of frame like a roller coaster that has come off its hinges, and this constant movement is a big reason why the story is constantly playing catch up. The Adventures of Tintin, though ultimately hollow, is an enjoyable ride of frantic adventure and intriguing mystery.
The character of Tintin may not be a household name in many American homes, but he is extremely prevalent across the globe. In order to do this iconic character justice a dream team of talent was put together. On paper you cannot do much better than a film that has Peter Jackson producing, Steven Spielberg directing, a scripted penned by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, along with voice talent the likes of Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg. It’s a smorgasbord of geekdom rolled up into one tight little package. Considering this array of talent involved you can’t help but feel a little disappointment by the final product. When you have a team like this anything less than winning gold is considered failing, and unfortunately they only walk away with the bronze.
Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a rambunctious young reporter always looking for the next big story. Oddly enough he made have stumbled upon his biggest story yet by simple happenstance. After purchasing a model shipped called the Unicorn he becomes a target of a number of shady characters including Sahkharine (Daniel Craig) and his band of rootless thugs. Tintin is not one to back down so he embarks on cracking the mystery behind Sahkharine’s desire. With the help of his faithful dog Snowy he embarks on a crazy journey across the world where he meets up with a number of colorful characters, including a lush sea captain named Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).
Although it is a welcome site not to be stuck with another by the book origin story of a classic character, the narrative would have benefited if more time was spent establishing Tintin as an actual character. Novices to the character may find it difficult to even understand what it is exactly that he does. From the early onset you are thrown right into this frenzy. You have to hold on tight or the story will quickly lose you. It is not that it is so complex it is hard to understand. The issue is the story lacks complex structure. The action is what is moving everything along from moment to moment. Strangely enough it also suffers from a case of too much story. Tintin takes a backseat for much of the film as we learn about the generational rivalry between Haddock and Sahkharine. Sure it is compelling, but it was evident that they were combining a multitude of different Tintin stories into one film. To their credit these stories were tied together nicely as it avoided being overly convoluted. Plus it does develop quite the intriguing tale as the pieces begin to fit together.
You can imagine Spielberg wetting his lips in anticipation while he came up with these elaborate actions scenes. Without the barrier of reality holding him down he constructs extravagant set pieces that seemingly go on forever. A chaotic chase down the streets of Bagghar and an intense sea battle are easily to the biggest standouts. The chase in Bagghar is done in one and long continuous shot that involves zip lines, tanks, explosions, car chases, and you occasional hawk vs dog standoff. Obviously it is not nearly as impressive if it was done in live action, but it doesn’t take away from the fun of it all. To the films credit even with everything going on it remains fun. The comedy of characters like Thompson and Thompson lightens the mood just enough, and the humor all tends to work. Spielberg tends to struggle when it comes to adding humor. He simply lacks a adequately formed funny bone. Perhaps his style just fits this formation, or perhaps even he can suck out the comedy from a script written by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright.
The Adventures of Tintin has its fair share of issues, and is not quite the film its cast lists promises. Still, it is leagues better than the majority of family films made today. The rapid pacing hurts the overall narrative, though its quick trajectory stops it from having any dull moments. Those new to the world of Tintin as well as those who are longtime fans will find plenty to enjoy.