Mark Reviews Movies

The Adventures of Tintin


2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: The voices and/or performances of Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones

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

Running Time: 1:47

Release Date: 12/21/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 20, 2011

There is a single shot in The Adventures of Tintin that is so elaborately choreographed that it could only be pulled off in animation—even with Steven Spielberg, that master of implementing special effects, at the helm. It's a long-take chase scene that goes on for two and a half minutes, featuring our valiant hero, his trusty dog, a drunken sailor, a vengeful villain, and his falcon trying to nab possession of a piece of paper upon which a poem and a secret code could reveal the location of a sunken treasure. Also, a dam has broken, sending a wave of water pummeling into the town below, and there's a tank that has plowed into a hotel, dragging the face of the building along with it.

It's a virtuoso sequence and, after becoming a bit complacent with a process that only a decade and a half ago was revolutionary, a reminder of what miraculous sights computer animation is capable of showing us. The Adventures of Tintin also offers some of the more effective usage of the motion-capture technique, which transfers an actor's performance upon an animated avatar, by bypassing the uncanny valley altogether and creating characters that are a hybrid of humans and artist Hergé's cartoonish designs (Only the hero and central villain weigh heavily toward the former). Everything, in fact, is in place for a visually impressive and kinetic adventure.

Everything is in place except for the actual visceral sensation of an adventure. Perhaps the technique is too skillful, for the movie feels like a trained exercise in method—a model of excitement instead of a functioning vessel thereof. The old cliché of the piano teacher questioning the lack of feeling behind the technical skill of his student comes to mind.

Tintin (Jamie Bell), an adult (We can only assume, given that he lives alone in his own apartment and has a job) who looks like a teenage boy with a fluff of reddish blonde hair sticking up in the front, is a famous journalist working from an unidentified town in Europe. During a day at the market, he finds and buys an elaborate model of a centuries-old man-of-war (correcting the vendor on its historical background) and soon after is confronted by a mysterious American (Joe Starr) who warns him of impending danger surrounding the replica. Immediately after, Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) approaches Tintin with an offer to name his price for the model; our hero refuses to sell.

Later, Tintin's apartment is ransacked, the ship is missing, and he discovers himself at the newly purchased estate of Sakharine (whose sweet name, even a character in the movie observes, belies his true nature), who has an exact copy of Tintin's replica ship. The mystery grows thicker when Tintin's faithful dog Snowy (The dog is, if one considers how many times the canine saves its owner's life, the real hero of the story; Tintin would be dead or horribly maimed (not to mention clueless about the central mystery) within the movie's first fifteen minutes without his loyal sidekick) points his owner in the direction of a metallic tube—the aforementioned scrap of paper within it—that became dislodged from the model.

The screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish (based on three of the books that comprise Hergé's comic strips) takes its sweet time revealing the plot; indeed, it is over an hour before Tintin has a MacGuffin after which to chase. Surely this is an element of the overall feeling of detachment from the movie, and the lack of narrative focus drags the front-loaded first act (A subplot involving the identical, bumbling Inspectors Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) and a pickpocket (Toby Jones) only provides some stilted comedy; something is off about the physics of this animated world).

Once the muddle of exposition settles, Tintin meets Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), whose forebear was the great captain of the ship upon which Tintin's model was based and who joins the journalist on his adventure. Haddock is a rambunctious drunk with memory problems (also prone to odd exclamations), and one of the movie's more engaging sequences has him sober up and remember with vivid clarity the tale of his ancestor's fight against an infamous pirate. The hills of a desert, where the trio crashes after flying through a thunderstorm, become the towering waves of the high seas, and a clash of ships results in one swinging like a pendulum from the yardarm of the other. Like the previously mentioned chase sequence, this one is also a marvel of composition, and the climactic fights makes inventive use of a pair of industrial cranes.

By the time the screenplay sets the stakes, The Adventures of Tintin has fallen short of establishing the characters outside of the situation in which they find themselves. The resulting exhibition of technology and action has some solidly redeeming value, but it's only spectacle for its own sake.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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