Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Here is one of the stranger results of my upbringing. I am a huge fan of Tintin. Not of the concept or of this that or the other adaptation. I actually grew up reading the comic, because my dad is a huge fan. As a result I'm more familiar than most Americans with the (actually fairly extensive) comic this film is based on. And as a result, I was aware of both the strengths of the original material and the shortcomings the movie would have to overcome. And while it kept true to most of the materials strengths, it couldn't quite overcome some it's failings.

The story amounts to a combination of the stories of Red Rackham's Treasure and The Secret of the Unicorn with elements of The Crab With the Golden Claws. Tintin, a reporter who fights evil for some reason, buys, on a whim, a model ship. Hidden in the mast is a tiny scroll which some mysterious figures are seeking and are apparently willing to kill for. Tintin sets out to find the other two scrolls...because there might be a story in it, is the given reason.

And already we've hit on one of the major problems with the film. The director's love for the material (which becomes increasingly obvious when you take into count the absurd number of in-jokes for fans in the film) was such that he didn't want to alter the characterization or personality of Tintin at all. As such, for the first half of the film or so, all Tintin has, by way of character motivation is 'Well why not?' which ceases to be believable when he's getting shot at. He also has an extremely thin character arc that really only hits in the third act for about a minute.

As a result, the first third of the film is pretty bad. It's slow and tedious and all of the films flaws are on full display. But once we have all the shit set up and, much more importantly, we introduce Captain Haddock (Tintin's bumbling alcoholic sidekick, who is the one to get an actual character arc), it manages to pick up. It ironically enough manages to sidestep most of it's issues by focusing heavily on the action, keeping things moving fast enough for us to not want to take an real issue with it.

And the action, and with it, the direction, are no doubt the highlights of the film. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and his long experience shows. The setpieces are unique and inventive and take advantage of the fact that it's animated and thus they don't need to stage or create any of the big setpieces physically. A really well done ship battle in flashback is particularly engaging and the transitions (yes the transitions) are usually unique and interesting.

The animation is mostly excellent, with a lot of detail given to the motion capture aspect. Honestly it comes as close as anything to making the mocap worth it an animated film. Unfortunately it does fall into the old uncanny valley trap, though less than usual. Most of the more cartoonish characters come through alright, though the more realistic characters start to be creepy when focused on, particularly Tintin (come on guys, it's the eyes, we're so close). The voice acting is mostly good, aside from a disappointingly bland turn from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the Thompson twins.

Apart from the above mentioned problems, there are some issues at the script level. The dialogue in particular seems to be often poorly written and a tiny bit redundant, but it's intended to be a kids movie so maybe that doesn't matter so much? The story also just sort of stops, probably a result of the planned sequel, directed by Peter Jackson and expected sometime after he finishes his work on The Hobbit. I'd also be remiss if I didn't tell you that the periodic comedy bits really don't gel with the rest of the film (especially an extended one about refueling an airplane).

I'm still not sure how I feel about this movie: The direction is excellent and with a little better story and characterization we could have had something great on our hands. Ultimately, the best thing I can say about it is that it's pretty good and while it won't be on any year end 'Best list' on this site, if you have kids and you want to take them to something, this is the movie for you. Apart from that, while there are better things out, I can't really recommend you avoid this, even while I can't really recommend it. So if you're inclined, go see it. Sorry if that isn't helpful. See you next time.

Elessar is a 21 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wishes they'd just do Tintin in Tibet.

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