Adventures of Tintin, The (United States/New Zealand, 2011)

December 19, 2011
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Adventures of Tintin, The Poster

Had The Adventures of Tintin been a live motion picture rather than a motion capture-driven animated endeavor, it would have been compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean. As it is, however, with the cartoonish characters set against the photorealistic backdrops, it is a closer cousin to the Uncharted series of video games than to any motion picture. Uncharted 1, 2, and 3 represent some of the most "cinematic" of all console games, but they rely as much on interaction as on their storytelling prowess for their addictive qualities. Take away the playability and the experience goes a little flat, and that's what we get with The Adventures of Tintin - an unplayable video game that's fast-paced and amusing but never coming close to the best director Steven Spielberg has offered when in his "pure entertainment" mode.

The Adventures of Tintin is based on a series of French-language comic books. During his existence (which began in 1929), the character of Tintin has enjoyed considerably more popularity throughout Europe than in North America. Although by no means "unknown" in the United States, Tintin is less ubiquitous than he is overseas; children today are likely to be unfamiliar with him. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have joined forces to craft a series of Tintin movies (this is viewed as the entry level edition of a new animated franchise) - both are fans of the comic books and their creator, Hergé, and a second Tintin movie does not depend on the film's success in the U.S. market since it is already a major worldwide success. The first draft script for The Adventures of Tintin was written by Steven Moffat, the current showrunner of Doctor Who, who had to move on from the Tintin series when offered the opportunity to replace Russell T. Davies at the helm of the BBC TV series (his longtime dream job). Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish stepped into the breach.

The Adventures of Tintin represents the first time Spielberg has made a 3-D feature. The results are mixed. Generally speaking, it's a competent use of the format, but there's nothing awe inspiring or remarkable that demonstrates why The Adventures of Tintin is deserving of the process. Light levels have been corrected but the 3-D remains low-key. The overall experience will not be diminished by seeing this in 2-D, just as it is not impaired by 3-D. The glasses and the surcharge are most likely the determining factors as to which version is preferred.

The Adventures of Tintin follows the exploits of a young journalist named Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell) who, accompanied by his faithful white dog, Snowy, and the rarely-sober Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), seeks the location of the lost treasure of one of Haddock's seafaring ancestors. Tintin and Haddock, however, are not the only ones on this quest. Also seeking the shipwreck's location is the mysterious and humorless Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who is willing to kill to achieve his goal. With one clue in Tintin's possession and another in Sakharine's, the race is on to find the third and final piece of the puzzle, which is owned by a powerful Middle Eastern sheik.

The quality of the motion capture animation is as good as anything we have seen, but there's nothing in the story or its execution that identifies it as Spielberg's work. Indeed, in many ways, it is an inferior product from what we have come to expect from one of the United States' greatest living filmmakers (although it is a decided improvement over Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). From a technical standpoint, The Adventures of Tintin is first-rate, but both the story and the character identification are thin. The action, which comes fast and furious, is exciting in the way that animated action often is - it's flashy but generates little in the way of tension or suspense. The screenplay it chock full of sly and witty moments, but it's no more "adult" than what we have come to expect from top-flight animated productions. In short, although there's plenty to recommend Tintin, especially to families in search of lightweight, unpretentious Christmas entertainment, there's nothing that elevates it to a new level.

The voice actors were all well chosen. Some of their names are familiar but their vocal performances have the requisite anonymity that allows us to believe in the characters rather than being distracted by a familiar speaker. Since the animated characters are not designed to look like the actors providing the voices, we don't find ourselves looking at a digitized version of Jamie Bell or Daniel Craig. (In fact, Haddock bears a passing resemblance to a young Walter Matthau with a beard.) Andy Serkis, who often shows up in movies featuring motion capture, gets to play a human this time (instead of Gollum or an ape).

Tintin fans may react more positively toward this movie than members of the general public. Those with a deep and abiding love for the character and his adventures should be appreciative of the obvious affection shown by Moffat, Jackson, and Spielberg in bringing this story to the screen. Others - especially those who don't know Tintin from Rin-tin-tin - will find this to be a fast-paced animated adventure that owes debts to Raiders and Uncharted. It may not be the most original movie in theaters at year's end, but it's among the most fun.

Adventures of Tintin, The (United States/New Zealand, 2011)

Run Time: 1:47
U.S. Release Date: 2011-12-23
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1