Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Although he just turned sixty-five this past Monday, Steven Spielberg truly has not aged a day, and his motion captured animated energetic romp The Adventures of Tintin is a testament to that fact. Sure, the Beard has dabbled and explored serious cinema with occasionally frutiful results, but he is most reliable when he is having fun, and Tintin is clearly the most unapologetically energetic he has been in years, certainly since his underrated Catch Me if You Can. Every scene in this film is conveyed with boundless enthusiasm, yet never lacking in narrative coherence, and through the means of animation, Spielberg shows that his imagination for virtuoso set pieces has not dwindled in the slightest. Indeed, Tintin is further proof that Steven Spielberg’s knack for the action adventure genre is as palpable as it ever was.

Though the plot itself is something of a trifle, the characters and filmmaking itself are deeply invested in it, something that can’t be said for most contemporary action adventure films. Our curious protagonist journalist, Tintin (played with admirable charisma by Jamie Bell), happens upon a model of a legendary ship, The Unicorn, at a flea market. Purchasing the ship, Tintin finds himself in a tailspin of danger, as a nefarious nemesis named Sakharine (a seething Daniel Craig) intends on taking the model for himself. As it turns out, a secret message is hidden within the model of the Unicorn, which leads to a treasure that the actual Unicorn had been carrying centuries earlier. The only way of discovering the true location of that treasure is dependent on the last living descendant of the captain of the Unicorn: Sir Francis Haddock. That descendant has become a drunken, unambitious, down on his luck lad named simply Captain Haddock. As played by the king of motion capture performance, Andy Serkis, Haddock is provided with the film’s only character arc, but gives the audience a genuine sense of pathos as well as comic timing. When he and Tintin meet up, the story kicks into high gear and the pacing rarely flags. Again, the story has familiar tropes about it, so on the surface it isn’t terribly intriguing, but the energy with which it is conveyed is enough to get invested in the plight of the characters.

From a technical standpoint, The Adventures of Tintin is a master class on several levels, and one would expect nothing less from the Beard. Ever looking to push the medium of cinema forward, Spielberg’s cinematic history features groundbreaking technical achievements that accompany many of his best films, such as the visual effects of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jurassic Park. In the case of The Adventures of Tintin, the Beard makes his first venture into the world of motion captured animation as well as his first implementation of 3D. Neither of these are particularly novel, but in Spielberg’s hands they are used to maximum effect, and it is enlightening to see how liberating the experience was for him. Because of the freedom of completely creating a world in a motion captured environment, the Beard has complete control of all of the elements and can literally put his “camera” anywhere he wants within a scene. This was already well established with the successes of James Cameron’s Avatar, but Spielberg’s understanding of composition and camera movement takes it to a new place entirely. Though animated, there are shots and sequences in Tintin that could never have been feasibly achieved, let alone conceived, on a practical scale. I’m thinking especially of the downright dazzling chase scene through the streets of Bagghar, which lasts at least several minutes, diving through windows and around corners with smooth, calculated precision, all in a single (albeit animated) take.

Even with these new technical tools at his disposal, Spielberg also conveys his story from the most basic levels as well: music and editorial. Both John Williams and Michael Kahn have collaborated with the Beard since the 1970s, and continue to be powerful voices supporting Spielberg’s authorial figure. Williams crafts another memorable score supporting the inventiveness and curiosity behind Tintin, and Kahn’s deft understanding of rhythm structures the film’s unflagging pace. Another powerful asset to the animated aspect of the film, is the effectiveness to which Spielberg achieves perfection in match cutting. From a live action standpoint, match cutting requires painstaking attention to detail with respect to composition, camera positioning and lighting in order to have complete assurance when transitioning from one shot to another. That is not to say that the same meticulousness is not applicable to animation, but the effectiveness to which it is executed in The Adventures of Tintin is remarkable. Two scenes in which Haddock recalls the story of his ancestor Sir Francis are told through match cutting, and it works perfectly due to Spielberg’s liberation with animation. As knowledgeable about the history of cinema as anyone, Spielberg’s film is also loaded with fun homages to everything from Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket, to Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, and even his own films, such as Jaws. In the end, Spielberg’s approach to the medium of animation is quite refreshing, so even if the film is focused more on thrills and narrative efficiency, it is nonetheless a pleasure as always to see a master as commercial as he is tell the story with such boyish joy.

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~ by romancinema on December 22, 2011.

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