Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

My only previous experience with Tintin was seeing a few episodes of the cartoon when I was a kid. They made enough of an impression though that I was interested in seeing the movie as soon as I heard about it, especially based on the amount of talent involved in its creation. Directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, written by three talented British writers, and starring a pretty solid cast. It's actually a pretty darn small cast - if you don't count the bad guy's many henchmen, the film has only a handful of characters with real roles, and there are all of maybe two women who have any lines at all. But it's not really a film focused on dialogue, or subplots, or anything that doesn't relate directly to the central quest. If there's ever a movie that earned the term "breakneck pace", it's this one. It stomps on the gas pedal in the opening minutes, and never lets up until it's all over. Even the exposition scenes are packed with action and visual trickery. That and the fact that the script crams together elements of three different Tintin stories lends the movie a sort of rushed feeling, like there was just too much adventure to get through and not enough time. But while it can be tiring by the end, the movie is so packed with charm and fun that I couldn't help but enjoy it the entire time.

Jamie Bell stars as Tintin, a young European journalist (Bell is British, though in the original books he's Belgian) who frequently gets involved in larger-than-life adventures when following a story. He finds a scale model recreation of a famous lost ship, and when he refuses to sell it to a man played by Daniel Craig named Sakharine, he gets kidnapped and brought on board a boat. There he meets its captain, Haddock, played by a drunken and bumbling Andy Serkis, and the two (along with Tintin's dog Snowy) escape, attempting to find the treasure that Sakharine is really after. The treasure ties into Haddock's family history, and he and Tintin become unlikely friends on their quest to solve the mystery of his past. Serkis gives quite a fun performance, even if he resorts to rhyming exclamations a bit too often. Bell fits well as Tintin, it's fun to see Craig play a villain, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are once again a likable pair as Thompson and Thomson.

Of course I haven't really mentioned the fact that the film is animated, or any of the controversy around that. I've seen numerous people complain about the realistic look the movie goes for, rather than exactly mimicking the original art style. There have also been repeated references to the uncanny valley, though I've come to accept that people will now complain about it every time something animated even attempts to resemble reality. Maybe some people really are instinctively put off by any computer animation that isn't completely cartoony, but I was able to watch this entire film without noticing anything that really bothered me. The movie walks a very fine line by obviously being animated but still having extremely detailed nuances in the texture and animation of its characters, but I thought they pulled it off for the most part. I also think they really took advantage of the animated medium, especially in the crafting of the action scenes. There's a heck of a lot of them, and almost every one manages to do things that real life action wouldn't. The highlight of the whole film is a chase scene in a single take, through a Moroccan city and with numerous different characters involved at various points in both the chasing and being chased. Obviously being animated makes such a scene feasible, but even with that caveat, it's still a complete marvel of planning, design, and coordination to pull it off. That it isn't quite the film's climax is a symptom of the fact that the creators might not have known when enough is enough, but it's still a great scene. The last moments of the film are pretty explicitly setting up a sequel, and I hope the movie is successful enough for one to get made, because they did a great job of establishing a really fun and endearing setting, and I'd like to see Peter Jackson take his turn at the wheel.

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