Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin (AFI Film Fest 2011)

Much like Catch Me If You Can, Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin begins with a slick animated credit sequence. But unlike any of Spielberg's directorial efforts thus far, Tintin unfolds in beautiful motion capture animation and proves that even after the embarrassment of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Spielberg is still at the top of his game in the action/adventure genre. The director's history with this character goes all the way back to Raiders of the Lost Ark, at which time he read a review of his film that compared his hero to Tintin. He spoke with Tintin's creator, Herge, and secured the rights to make a film. Years later, Spielberg partnered with producer Peter Jackson and his Weta Workshop, incorporating the latest technology to render Herge's comic world in breathtaking 3D and resulting in one of the most fun films of the year.

The Adventures of Tintin
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost


Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a fearless young boy reporter with no family left except for his trusty canine sidekick, Snowy. When Tintin buys a model of a ship called the Unicorn, the mustache-twirling villain Sakharine (Daniel Craig) immediately asks to buy it from him, but Tintin's not interested in selling. Soon, our hero discovers his house has been ransacked because of the model ship and he uncovers a trail of clues that lead him across the world on a race for a legendary treasure. Along the way, he encounters bumbling policemen Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) and a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis) that aid him in his race against Sakharine to retrieve the treasure.


Weta's animation here is absolutely flawless, bringing Herge's art to dazzling life and competing with Rango for the best-looking fully animated film of the year. On a technical level, The Adventures of Tintin is an indisputable masterpiece; but unlike another impressive visual achievement, James Cameron's Avatar, Tintin's story seems to be as important to the filmmakers as technological innovation. The action - and there is plenty of it - is classic Spielberg, recalling the best sequences in his Indiana Jones films while also showing some flashes of the Playstation 3 video game series Uncharted (itself heavily inspired by Spielberg's fedora-wearing icon). One shot in particular - a sublime long take through the streets of Bagghar as Tintin attempts to recover scrolls from an elusive eagle - seems ripped directly from an Uncharted game, with the video game vibe apparent to anyone who's touched a controller in the past ten years. 


That long take is so astoundingly perfect that it instantly became one of my favorites in cinema history, and because it wouldn't be possible with traditional live action filmmaking, it's almost as if Spielberg chose to make this film using motion capture specifically to accomplish that shot. A raging pirate battle told in flashback seems like the director giddily taking another shot at imagery that didn't quite fit into his own pirate film, 1991's Hook, and a brilliantly executed plane sequence is perfectly suited for this type of adventure. These are just a few of the spectacular action beats featured in The Adventures of Tintin, and I would highly suggest seeing the film for yourself (in 3D) to see the rest of them for yourself.

Interesting note: aside from a burly opera singer used more as a plot device than a character, there are no women characters in this story. I'm like most Americans in that I don't have any prior knowledge of Tintin (though the character is popular seemingly everywhere else in the world), so I'm not sure if the fact that there are no female characters stems from the source material or if it's just a choice by writers Steven Moffatt, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. Perhaps there will be opportunities in the sequels; this series was always intended for Spielberg to direct the first film, Jackson to direct the second, and for the two of them to co-direct the third.


The collaboration between Spielberg and John Williams continues here, emerging with another perfectly realized melding of music and imagery that extends the relationship between two of the medium's most celebrated icons. There's even a funny throwback to one of the duo's most celebrated efforts, 1975's Jaws, as Tintin swims with his recognizable Conan O'Brien-esque hair sticking out of the water like a shark's fin. The pacing is quick and energetic, whisking the viewer across with globe with Tintin and his friends, and the writing is equally adept. Moffatt, Wright, and Cornish (the latter of whom have are also directors responsible for some of my favorite movies of the past couple years with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Attack the Block, respectively) do a great job of blending three of Herge's stories together to form a cohesive narrative, and the only complaint I have is with the character of Tintin himself. I found him to be a bit too bland with not enough personality of his own; in this case, though, it's kind of understandable because as the audience, we imprint ourselves onto the character to experience the adventure for ourselves.


Despite this, though, The Adventures of Tintin is unquestionably one of the most fun films I've seen in a while and also one of the best action movies of the year. A return to form for one of the best directors of all time, this movie rejuvenates my hope that Spielberg can direct a thrilling action movie again - he just has to stay away from Indiana Jones to do it. Until next time...

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