Saturday, December 24, 2011

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, and Andy Serkis = Adventure Movie Dream Team


- The Adventures of Tintin is a geek-out-worthy movie of the highest order. It's got Steven Spielberg returning to Indiana Jones-style pulp adventure. It's got Peter Jackson producing and Andy Serkis starring and doing motion-capture. It's got a script written by Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). Nick Frost and Simon Pegg co-star as bumbling inspectors. It's got gorgeous motion-captured animation, and some of the best, most rollicking action scenes that Spielberg's ever put to film. In short: awesomeness.

Based on the classic comics of Belgian writer-artist Herge, The Adventures of Tintin is the stuff that boyhood dreams are made of. I was only vaguely familiar with the character going in, but I quickly discovered that Tintin is sort of like a European version of Jimmy Olsen - a boy-reporter whose investigations take him on all kinds of weird and wild adventures. Clashes with criminals, thieves, pirates, and saboteurs are common for Tintin, but he usually manages to scrape by with a combination of smarts, wits, resourcefulness, and luck. And of course, the everpresent help of his faithful dog Snowy.

This new take on Tintin very quickly sees our dogged young hero wrapped up in a classic mystery that sends him on a globe-spanning adventure, involving treachery on the high seas, buried treasure, exotic locales, and a centuries-old feud between warring families. Along the way, Tintin crosses paths with a sinister character by the name of Sakharine, who's after a model ship that Tintin happened to acquire at the local market. As it turns out, the sip holds the key to a great treasure, and Sakhrine is determined to discover its secret. But Tintin soon finds out that the ship has ties to one Captain Haddock, as the ship was crafted by his ancestor, the pirate Sir Francis Haddock. Tintin and Haddock (with Snowy in tow) set off to unravel the mystery of the model ship, pursued on air, land, and sea by Sakharine and his crew.

All of the voice-acting is excellent, with Jamie Bell bringing a boyish exuberance to the wise-beyond-his-years Tintin, and Daniel Craig turning Sakharine into an enjoyably devious adversary. Meanwhile, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are hilarious as the mustachioed, bowler-hat-sporting crime-fighting team of Thomson and Thompson, two lookalike inspectors who bumble their way to the heart of the movie's mysteries. The standout though - no surprise - is the great Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, who in many ways is the movie's main character. Serkis, so phenomenally good in Planet of the Apes earlier this year, makes Haddock into a hilarious, lovable, all-around awesome character. He's a past-his-prime sea captain who long ago lost himself in a bottle, but who still has a fierce temper and is handy in a brawl. What's amazing though is how Serkis makes Haddock's character arc so genuinely involving and exciting. Yes, this is a pulpy adventure story that's heavy on action, but by god, when Haddock fights for his family's legacy and for his own well-being, well, you can't help but smile, cheer him on, and root for the old captain to kick some ass.

And speaking of kicking ass, Spielberg just directs the hell out of this movie, once again showing why he's the unchallenged master when it comes to crafting set-piece action scenes that tell a story all while keeping you on the edge of your seat. The entire movie is essentially a roller-coaster ride from start to finish, with a couple of action scenes in particular that are simply astounding. One climactic sequence that sees Tintin, Haddock, and Snowy being chased through a North African village is, in all honesty, one of the coolest action scenes I've ever seen. It's kind of funny, in a way, because Spielberg movies like Raiders of the Lost Arc were so, so influential on movies, videogames, etc. - and now you're seeing Spielberg not only top himself, but also show up all those who have followed in his wake. I definitely felt like there were nods to things like Uncharted and Tomb Raider in Tintin - even as those franchises have, of course, borrowed heavily from the Spielberg playbook.

Now, what frees up Spielberg to just go balls-to-the-wall visually here is the fact that Tintin utilizes state-of-the-art motion capture animation. So, unrestricted by the physical confines of real-world sets and cameras, Spielberg can really get crazy and go for broke. I've seen some criticize the use of motion-capture for a variety of reasons: it betrays the clean, simplistic look of the original comics, it crosses the "uncanny valley" so characters look real but not quite completely real, it's too stiff as compared to traditional animation and not as satisfying as live-action. To all those criticisms, I say: whatever. I'm not saying mo-cap should be used for every movie, but to me, it can offer an eye-popping blend of stylized animation with stunningly-detailed and ultra-immersive environments. And as for Tintin, well, to me the movie just looks amazing - great character design, gorgeous locations, amazing detail, and a fluidity and dynamism in the animation and cinematography that can't be beat. I think that Spielberg and Jackson made a good choice here. This is one that's worth seeing on a huge screen and in 3D - it's immersive, stunning to look at, and like I said, a complete roller-coaster ride.

The movie has a great script as well though courtesy of Wright and Cornish. There's lots of their trademark humor, and their gift for imbuing frenetic action scenes with both humor and heart is equally evident. There's something pretty amazing when you realize you're watching an Edgar Wright/Joe Cornish movie directed by Spielberg. It's one heck of a one-two punch.

The Adventures of Tintin isn't a movie about deep plot or complex themes - it's pure adventure, and it's very much in the spirit of imagination-filled, larger-than-life stories that Spielberg has, clearly, always loved - and this is him getting back into that Indiana Jones mode of pure fun and two-fisted action. Maybe not everyone will get this movie - and certainly, we here in America don't have the same attachment to or familiarity with Tintin as they do over in Europe. But if you share Spielberg's love for classic, old-time pulp adventure - and I do - and if your thirst for said adventure is, as Capt. Haddock says, unquenchable, then by all means run out and see Tintin immediately.

My Grade: A-

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