Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin - A Little Thinthin

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011) Starring: Daniel Craig, Jaime Bell, Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish. Produced by Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Peter Jackson. Based on comic book series by Hergé. Music by John Williams. Run Time: 107 minutes. Color. US/New Zealand, Animated, Action, Adventure, 3-D

Just to set the record straight, I’m reviewing this film without having ever really read Hergé’s comic book series, so I’m not coming at this as a fan boy. Nor am I necessarily overly enamored with Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg. Both have been involved in as many bad movies as good over the duration of their careers, despite what their reputations might suggest. Since I’ve never read any Tintin, I won’t be commenting on how accurate the film portrays the characters or plots in the comic book. There are those more knowledgeable on that subject and I will leave it to them to discuss it on those merits.

I want this review to be about the movie itself, not how does it stand up as an adaptation but as a film.

One of the reasons I was interested in seeing this in the first place has to do with wanting to keep up. It’s a little like reading a book you’d rather not just because everyone is talking about it. Given the stature of Spielberg and Jackson, I’m guessing this is a film people will be talking about. It’s basically the same reason I went to see AVATAR (2009). Going in I’m hoping that TINTIN has more going for it than Cameron’s SMURFS meets DANCES WITH WOLVES film of two years ago. At least I’m not already familiar with the plot points of TINTIN, which is a plus and a chance for surprise.

My one concern before I saw a frame of film was the possibility that I would experience the uncanny valley, wherein the animation looks too human for its own good. I can honestly say that once the film started the uncanny valley wasn’t so much an issue as was why they shot this movie the way they did. Using motion capture, the actors played their parts, only to be animated over. This has been done many times before and while TINTIN is far superior to THE POLAR EXPRESS, as a viewer I wondered why they didn’t either animate it from the start or do a live action version of the story? What they ended up with is a hybrid that is sort of like watching cartoon characters walking about in the real world. I would have been happy if the entire film was animated in the same style as the opening credits. It wasn’t shot this way to save money, as it reportedly cost $200 million. It comes off as stunt filmmaking, as in we can do it this way, so why not, rather than is this the best way to tell the story. Except for a few prosthetic noses, it’s hard to know what about TINTIN couldn’t have been done as a live action film.

I won’t go in to the plot of TINTIN, since it has not yet been in theaters, but it’s somewhat convoluted plot has to do with lost treasure, cryptic clues and family feuds. And it is heavy on action, almost to the point of distraction. Spielberg doesn’t seem to be satisfied with being the most commercially successful director of all time; he must also want to be known as the director with the most action per minute of film. This film almost makes the Indiana Jones franchise look like a walk in the park. There is one action sequence that frankly goes on so long your mind can start to wander. This is not to say that TINTIN is all bad. Just that it could have been better.

There are things that the film does well. Spielberg obviously knows his craft. The choice of shots and the way the humor is set up are good. But as with some of his films, story takes a backseat to the visual. And like AVATAR, this is a very visual film. Sometimes, though, the film seems to be an extended cutscene from one of the UNCHARTED video games.

The film comes dangerously close to assuming you’re familiar with TINTIN and that it doesn’t need to set up the characters at all. Saved from the possibility of an exhaustive exposition sequence, the viewer is given no backstory for Tintin, save for a few visual clues. Again, having never read the comic, I don’t know if Hergé never bothered to explain his past or that the filmmakers decided the viewers who didn’t already know would want to research it on their own after seeing the movie. As an example, our only clue that Tintin is a boy is that everyone refers to him as such in the film. Otherwise, he could be a young-looking thirty for all we know.

And this brings up a point about the marketing for this film. As consumers of pop culture we have become accustomed to long build ups for films, TV shows and video games and so I am somewhat surprised that there was not more of a push to get TINTIN out into the public consciousness before releasing this very costly movie in America. Whether or not this will effect box office remains to be seen.

It is also really hard to figure out how they chose the cast for this film. Since no one had to necessarily look like their parts why, as an example, cast Daniel Craig at all, when the characters he plays don’t look like or even really sound like Daniel Craig? I have nothing against Craig as an actor, but it is hard to know what he brings to the role that others couldn’t, since he literally disappears on screen.

I’m not surprised that Andy Serkis is prominently used. After all Peter Jackson is involved, so Serkis can’t be far behind. It is a somewhat similar relationship as Tim Burton and Johnny Depp or Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. If you see Jackson’s name as producer or director I look for Serkis in the billing block. I know that there has been a ground swell about what a great actor Serkis is ever since he was Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but what we’re really left with is him as a voice actor. While motion capture can follow movements, it’s hard to know where the actor ends and the CGI takes over. This is not to take away from Serkis’s talent, but it would be nice to see him act as an actor rather than a fancy prop.

Now TINTIN has already been a big success overseas, but it’s hard to know if that will transfer into big domestic box office as well. For moviegoers who would go to any Spielberg film, then this is your holiday as he has a second film, WAR HORSE, opening just four days after this one. Based on the ads I’ve seen for the latter, I would venture that TINTIN would be the bigger of the two releases. But it is rare to see a director be his own competition. Usually they try to avoid that situation.

After having seen TINTIN at a holiday screening at Paramount, I can honestly say that I would not put down good money to see it. But I’m sure I am in the minority of holiday filmgoers. THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN will be a big success. After all, they’ve already set up the sequel. Literally.

No comments:

Post a Comment