The Adventures of TinTin
Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
Steven Spielberg has always been labeled a director of enjoyable fluff, a talented manipulator of emotions with some history’s highest grossing films under his belt. Even though he’s tackled more mature subject matter in movies like Schindler’s List and Munich, he remains a fixture of populist Hollywood entertainment. His last directorial effort, 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal of the Skull, was a colossal disappointment and signaled a worrying trend that the once prominent maker of popcorn magic was losing his mojo. The Adventures of TinTin, based on the popular 1940’s Belgian comic book series by Hergé, is a rousing return to form for the classical Spielberg mold, a simplistic yet entertaining serial that combines state of the art digital animation with a slightly heightened comic book vibe and some dazzling action set pieces. Indeed, the true star of this movie is Spielberg’s use of a mobile camera which weaves in and out of rooms, underneath speeding cars, and nearly everywhere in between. Undaunted by the constraints of traditional filmmaking, Spielberg places the camera in places that would be impossible in a live action setting, and the results are often exhilarating.
Hergé’s stories about an intrepid boy reporter and his lovable dog might be more well known in Europe, and Spielberg is wise to bring in an international cast and crew for the project, including actors Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, and Daniel Craig, along with UK writers Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish, and Edgar Wright. Though the plot is generic and the character of TinTin ( Bell) fairly bland, this is all in keeping with the spirit of the original comics. There’s never been anything revolutionary or subversive about TinTin as a protagonist and the movie never pretends to be anything more than a boyhood adventure yarn, which feels perfectly suited to Spielberg’s sensibilities. Though there’s still a bit of the dead-eyed look that’s plagued animated fare such as The Polar Express and Beowulf, The Adventures of TinTin is the most successful use of the ‘Motion Capture” technology thus far. Spielberg and his team compensate for the inherent creepiness of the technique by giving the characters exaggerated comic features, such as elongated noses and large chins. It’s difficult to fully invest in the characters since the visuals exist in that grey area between stylized and realistic, but the attention to detail here is stunning.
The story concerning the quest for a model ship called ‘The Unicorn’ and his teaming up with alcoholic ship captain Haddock (Serkis) is less interesting than the visual spectacle on display, but there’s no denying TinTin’s adorable dog Snowy and the sheer fun of watching Spielberg cut loose. Haddock is undoubtedly the movie’s most captivating character, and Serkis (who at this point is the reigning king of ‘Mo-Co’ acting), gives a thoroughly enjoyable performance as the drunken seaman. Craig is entertaining as the villainous Sakharine, while Simon Pegg and Nick Frost provide some welcome comic relief as the bumbling Thompson twin detectives. But even as the movie goes through predictable plot points, it succeeds because everything is being guided by a real filmmaker putting his indelible stamp on this evolving technology. There’s never any doubt that the man that gave audiences E.T., Jaws, and especially the Indiana Jones series is directing sequences that bristle with pure moviemaking energy. An extended set piece involving a motorcycle, soaring raven, and a rushing tidal wave of water from a broken dam is worth the price of admission alone, and in an ingenious flashback sequence aboard two warring pirate ships, Spielberg’s deft hand at combining multiple levels of action remains unmatched. These aren’t just good guys fighting bad guys type action beats, but rather a series of escalating domino-like moments that build brilliantly through swooping camera moves and long, continuous shots. Such sequences are of course possible because of the technology, but it all still feels expertly choreographed by Spielberg’s filmmaking artistry.
The Adventures of TinTin ultimately falls short of being a true Spielberg classic because the characters aren’t all that memorable and there aren’t any emotional moments to speak of. But for a pure popcorn time at the movies, the film is tough to beat and a truly impressive technical marvel.