Action Set Pieces Save Spielberg's 'Tintin'
Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies
Why Tintin? Why now? Why in motion-capture animation that doesn't even really much approximate, or even feel inspired by, the "clean line" artwork of Hergé, the Belgian originator of the crime-fighting boy reporter of Euro comic book fame? Why Steven Spielberg?
Well, I can answer the last question, if I choose to believe my press notes, which quote the director as saying that at one point he just knew that he and Tintin were destined to "collaborate." Yes, I, too, am completely satisfied by that answer. As for the other questions, perhaps the international box-office returns on those French "Asterix and Obelisk" movies gave Hollywood a hankering for some of that good bande-dessinée money. In any event, I can't really nail down the qualities that made Spielberg himself decide that he and the Tintin character made a good match, as the film largely jettisons the character's quasi-Gallic charm (such as it is) and makes him into something of an energetic cipher who runs through a series of elaborate action set pieces like a young and rather vanilla Euro Indiana Jones with a cute dog (that would be Snowy, the Asta of his genre) and a drunken sidekick.
In fairness to "The Adventures of Tintin," I have to say that the set pieces themselves, often Rube Goldberg-inspired contrivances/constructions that involve Tintin (Jamie Bell) and the aforementioned drunk, Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis), staying one breathless step ahead of a series of rapidly falling metaphorical dominoes, are all good ones, evoking the stop-motion cartoon follies of Wallace and Gromit almost as much as the Indy films. An early chase through a crowded open-air bazaar on the continent, a sea and air chase, a jaunt down roads and over rooftops in a mountainous North-African setting; all these are fast and furious and kind of exciting.
The filmmakers, who include Peter Jackson as producer (lest we forget, the Gollum character brought to life in that the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by Jackson and actor Serkis was made possible by the motion-capture technology at work here), ratchet things up a little too much in "Transformers" style by having a climactic battle between two rivals for a treasure engage in a proxy fight via two derricks. But I don't expect that should surprise anyone.
In every other respect, the film is sufficiently generic as to only be offensive if you're looking to be offended. Sure, there are a lot of "inappropriate" jokes made about the alcoholic Capt. Haddock, whose memory for pertinent details such as a treasure's location on a map only works when it's booze-fortified, but given that Haddock is kind of a cartoon drunk several times removed, one might eventually feel a fool for getting overly exercised over the issue.
The film also earns points for being the least creepy motion-capture movie I've ever seen, which is no doubt due to advances in the technology itself but also is attributable to the filmmakers not really doing a thing to make the on-screen characters look at all like their real-life counterparts. Is that a cheat? Who can say, but at least the result is less disconcerting than the sight of an ultra-buff living painting with Ray Winstone's face in that "Beowulf" thing.
Glenn Kenny is chief film critic for MSN Movies. He was the chief film critic for Premiere magazine from 1998 to 2007. He contributes to various publications and websites, and blogs at http://somecamerunning.typepad.com. He lives in Brooklyn.