By Brian Lafferty
June 5, 2012 (San Diego) – The Adventures of Tintin is Steven Spielberg at his purest…and fluffiest. It’s a throwback to the early half of his career, when his forte was adventure tales filmed with the verve of a young boy with quite an imagination, particularly the first three Indiana Jones films. This also extends to films like The Goonies that Spielberg didn’t direct, but his involvement was so pronounced they might has well have.
These films’ influences inform Tintin. I wish it had the same amount of substance, though. It’s entertaining fluff, but it’s still fluff. Perhaps it’s because motion capture is a relatively recent development in cinema and Spielberg and Peter Jackson preferred to play it safe. After what I’ve seen in Tintin, I’m convinced motion capture offers a smorgasbord of possibilities, including those beyond the current capabilities of live-action.
The plot is as simple as one can be. Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell) is a young, intrepid reporter whose purchase of a model ship propels him toward full-fledged adventure. The seemingly ordinary model houses one of three pieces of paper that, when put together, reveals the Secret of the Unicorn. After being kidnapped by Sakharine (voice of Daniel Craig), a ruthless rich man equally determined to uncover the secret, Tintin escapes with the perpetually intoxicated Captain Haddock (veteran motion capture actor Andy Serkis). The pair journey to Africa, where a third model ship holds the final piece of the puzzle.
The screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish (director of Attack the Block) is more adventure-oriented than action-based. Despite the basic, fluffy plot, the thrill of watching this adventure – and to some extent feeling like I was a part of it – gave me a rush equivalent to riding a mile-long tidal wave. I’ve never read the Belgian comic book series from which Tintin is based on, but the adaptation has a page-turning quality.
Whoever constructed the sparse action sequences deserved whatever accolades they got. Though few, they are grand. They integrate exceedingly well with the adventurism. Prominent among them, is the one-take climactic motorbike chase. Aided by the ample space offered by the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, slow movement, and impeccable timing and composition, it’s by a large margin more thrilling than many live action chase sequences. It was this sequence that convinced me of the many possibilities of motion capture waiting to be explored; I cannot envision even the best director shooting the same sequence in a live-action film without cheating.
I admired Tintin more for its style, however, than for its adventurism and action. Off-putting at first, the motion capture lends it an appropriately comic book feel once I acclimated to it. The “camera” gracefully glides slowly and fluidly. When Tintin looks for the American Agent’s killer, he darts in the middle of the foggy street. Cars zoom around, nearly killing him. The camera sweeps to the left, to the right, flies under cars, all while maintaining a clear continuity.
Spielberg and company use the motion capture to build the film’s unique world. Sharp, striking sunlight pierces the Sahara Desert’s deadly yellow sands. The richly saturated colors and the radiant light pop out, but not enough to induce squinting. The visual effects designers go a few steps beyond in dark scenes by infusing rays of chiaroscuro lighting, complete with dust and other particles visible in the beams of light.
I expressed to you the feelings of thrill and adventure gleaned from Tintin. It’s the type of film I thoroughly relished in the moment. Over the ensuing days, it became more and more forgettable. Unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Goonies, I won’t revisit it unless my nieces and nephews want to see it. This does not, however, diminish what I felt during the one hour and forty-seven minutes watching it.
A Paramount Home Entertainment release. Director: Steven Spielberg. Screenplay: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish, based on the comic book series “The Adventures of Tintin” by Hergé. Original Music: John Williams. Voice Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg. 107 minutes. Rated PG.