The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

3 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Adventures of Tintin” is a welcome callback to exciting adventure films for families to enjoy, and also, its opening credit sequence is a callback to those wonderful animated opening-credit sequences that are the perfect ways of letting us know what we’re in for (remember the exciting animated opening-credit sequence in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” for example). While the actual movie is done in motion-capture computer animation, the opening-credit sequence in “The Adventures of Tintin” is back to the traditional hand-drawn animated style (with help from computers).

By the way, since we’re on the subject of credits, have you noticed that these opening-credit sequences are very rare? Usually, movies will show what should be the opening credits at the end, as if we‘re supposed to be surprised by who directed it or wrote it. (To be fair, I know movies just show the title at the opening to get the movie going.) Some movies that do have credits at the opening just show them during the opening scene, as if the editors don’t care how the credits are shown. But with opening credits, you can really get your audience invested in what they’re about to see. While the credits appear, have some creative visuals and have some exciting music. I was glad to see that kind of sequence in a movie again, and here it is in “The Adventures of Tintin.”

“The Adventures of Tintin” is based on Herge’s classic comic books from long ago, and is also director Steven Spielberg’s first animated feature—and in 3D, no less. It’s an imaginative, exciting adventure that features some stunning action sequences and keeps the journey lively as it goes along. Spielberg must have been studying his Indiana Jones guide to remember what makes adventures exciting to execute.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a young, lively investigative reporter that apparently has been all over the world, as things in his apartment suggests (I must admit I’ve never read the original comic books), solving many mysteries and making them into stories for the newspaper. He has a loyal dog named Snowy, who is very gifted and possibly even smarter than Tintin. Sometimes on the same cases as him are two bumbling police detectives named Thompson and Thomason (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, showing great comic relief)…they’re not particularly reliable because they’re so dim.

Tintin purchases a model ship called the Unicorn and believes that there’s something special about it, since the mysterious Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is trying to get his hands on it. Tintin does find a very important clue hidden inside the ship and later meets up with the rarely-sober Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Haddock’s seafaring ancestors have hidden a treasure long ago, which Sakharine and his crew are seeking. So the race is on to find many clues that lead to the treasure’s location.

“The Adventures of Tintin” uses entire motion-capture style animation. It’s when an entire movie is digitally animated after live actors perform their roles, in black box theater, with sensors all over their bodies. With this animation, you can do whatever you want. In “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol,” in particular, this style of animation was really taken advantage of because with this technology, you can really play around with atmosphere and create some sensational energetic scenes.

Take a chase scene late in the movie, where Tintin and Haddock are after an important clue in Morocco, and the bad guys are seeking possession of it as well. There is one shot that lasts for about five minutes as the chase continues—the shot swipes from spot to spot and goes all around the place, further intensifying the action. That’s a marvelous visual shot, and it shows just how far this motion-capture computer animation can be pushed.

There are other sensational action sequences in the movie—Tintin, Snowy, and Haddock must escape from the villains on their ship after being captured; they hijack a small plane and must learn to land it, and fast; and there’s also a flashback involving the back story of the life-sized Unicorn that seems pretty heavy. These scenes are exciting and well-crafted.

The human characters in this movie certainly look better than the other characters used in other motion-capture movies. Tintin does look very human, but I must ask, why do the other characters resemble the doll-like figures in “Monster House?” They either have big heads or big noses, but then again, I don’t care—at least the eyes aren’t too big or too small to be creepy. There is one exception, aside from Tintin and that is the villain Sakharine.

By the way, I must ask, was it the animators’ intention to make Sakharine resemble director Spielberg?

The performers/voice-actors are well-chosen. Jamie Bell gives Tintin an appealing, intense curiosity and carefully avoids steering into blandness. Andy Serkis is wonderful as the constantly-drinking Haddock, who is Tintin’s sole human ally and provides some great comic moments while on this crazy adventure. I’m not really surprised—Serkis is probably considered the king of motion-capture. Remember, this is the man who played Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” movies and Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”

With the right blend of humor and action, and a first-rate technical look to the film, “The Adventures of Tintin” is an ambitious, well-crafted adventure movie. I hope there’s a sequel so these new Spielberg adventures can continue; especially since I doubt people will be expecting “Indiana Jones 5” pretty soon. It has a lot of energy and enough potential to become a film series.

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