It is easy to criticize that “The Adventures of Tintin”, the first animation feature directed by Steven Spielberg, is more or less than a test drive for him – but this is an exhilarating one for us. With spirited handling of the motion capture technique, Spielberg brings that old-fashioned enthusiasm some of you experienced with his Indiana Jones movies at theaters. I was a kid who watched them only through VHS(and DVD later in the 2000s) and later had to be content with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Skull”(2008) at the local theater(no, it was not as bad as some claimed and I liked it), and this is an exciting present for me despite some serious reservation on the final product.
I guess there are certainly lots of people who are more familiar than me with Hergé’s comic book series about the adventures of a smart young reporter named Tintin and his loyal dog Snowy(or Milou in original version). I remember I briefly watched the TV animation series based on, and I liked it as much as I did when I recently did some quick basic research on Hergé’s books at the campus library before watching Spielberg’s film.
After the main title sequence buoyed by the bouncy score composed by the maestro John Williams(welcome back, Mr. Williams!), the story begins with Tintin in the middle of his adventurous reporter career, which is represented well by several framed articles hung on the walls at his residence. If you know more than me about the Tintin series, you may recognize some of them and have a little knowing smile on your face while I remain nearly clueless.
On one afternoon, during his stroll with Snowy at the street market, Tintin(Jamie Bell) comes across one fabulous model ship. He decides to buy it at a cheap price, but right after he has bought it, two people appear in front of him. Each of them tries to buy it from Tintin with a much higher price. Tintin refuses the offers and goes back to his home, never realizing that he will soon finds himself thrown in a grave danger. Even before learning what is going on or the secret behind the message hidden in his model ship he has just found, he is quickly kidnapped by the sailors hired by a sinister guy named Sakharine(Daniel Craig), one of two men Tintin met at the market. He is certainly not as sweet as his name suggests when he demands Tintin to give him what he wants.
While trying to escape from SS Karaboudjan, the ship in which he is imprisoned, Tintin encounters its alcoholic captain Haddock(Andy Serkis), who has been kept in his cabin with the constant supply of booze(he’s quite happy with that, of course) for some reason. Along with Snowy, who has been following Tintin, both of them manage to escape from the ship, and that is the start of the series of the action sequences filled with excitement and thrill.
The screenplay by Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish, and Edgar Wright is basically a patchwork adapted from no less than three Tintin books. They did a nice job, if not excellent. The seams in their adaptation are clearly shown through less than perfect handing of the pace especially during the first half, and some notable changes including Tintin’s nationality can be awkward to some audiences, but the story remains witty and humorous with fun characters such as a duo of inspectors named Thompson and Thomson(or Dupond and Dupont in the original version, played by a dependable comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), whose bumbling detective job and several unfortunate slapstick stunts make them the serious rivals for Inspector Clouseau. Thank god this is an animation feature where the characters are can be knocked down without serious injuries – or they will probably suffer from the brain damages like Derek Boogaard.
Above all, “The Adventure of Tintin” is a terrific visual experience. The characters and their worlds are nicely rendered into the digital animation, and I enjoyed them a lot. Furthermore, it has what you naturally expect from the director of “The Raiders of Lost Ark”(1981). The action sequences are filled with the energy and the sense of fun, evoking the our fun time with that movie and following sequels in the 1980s. Although his trials with animation action in this film are not always effective, you can feel the joyous excitement and curiosity from the director trying something different to him while also trying to find out what possibly he can do with the new tools available to him. There is quite an admirable longtake action sequence which probably cannot be achieved in live action movies at least in my opinion. I and the audiences fully focused on the characters’ very busy and perilous situation on the screen at last night, and I forgot for a moment I was wearing 3D glasses, which is usually a good sign of excellent 3D effect.
By the way, is 3D necessary for this film? Well, though I am very willing to check out my personal doubt on it with 2D version later, let’s say they did an admirable job like the other notable 3D motion capture animation features like “Polar Express”(2004) and “Christmas Carol”(2009). Except the scenes on SS Karaboudjan, most of the scenes in the film are under the sun, so they are bright enough for us not to care about the dimness of 3D glasses. Besides, this is the animation feature which is a joy ride suitable for 3D, and, like other talented directors, Spielberg knows how not to distract us with 3D. A very few things protruded out of the screen, and, when I finally took off my glasses, the movie was already over.
And there is also that old problem with the uncanny valley. In case of two motion capture animations mentioned above, they are wintry ghost stories which somehow justify that creepy unnatural quality in the faces of their CGI characters. In case of Tintin, the valley gets widened compared to other characters surrounding him, some of whose faces are more carefully rendered with more details on the screen. This creates constant awkwardness through the film, and I could not shake it off while watching it.
Anyway, the actors behind these CGI characters are having a fun. While Jamie Bell imbues likable earnest to Tintin, Andy Serkis scores again with another memorable motion capture performance to delight us. His performance may be hammy and exaggerated, but what do you expect from an alcoholic guy to whom sobriety and water are the things from another world? Serkis especially does a good job in pulling off the sequence which I found a little too ridiculous even in Hergé’s book; the result is more exciting than, say, that boring Pirates of Caribbean movie I had to endure in this year, and, as a former heavy drinker, I find his character endearing.
“The Adventures of Tintin” is the first work of the trilogy Spielberg and the producer Peter Jackson, who is an avid fan of Tintin Series like Spielberg, set to make. With such a combination like that, this animation feature underwhelms us a little bit while not fully exploring its potential, but this is still a good work I can enjoy and appreciate, and we can safely expect the next fun adventures of Tintin from Spielberg and Jackson later.