Two box office champion directors and a cult favorite joined forces for a film that was a first for all of them, a 3D motion capture animated story. It is clear that director Steven Spielberg, producer Peter Jackson (“The Lord of the Rings”) and co-screenwriter Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) were thrilled at the total freedom of animation, bringing storyboards to life without any pesky problems posed by weather, local ordinances, camera placement, safety, or the laws of gravity. And so they have created a film that is non-stop, brilliantly staged action, with every mode of transport and obstacle, half Indiana Jones, half M. Hulot, with a touch of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, turning the entire material world into a giant Rube Goldberg contraption. Wonderfully cinematic shots and transitions show us how the masters have fun with pure, unleashed movie story-telling.
The comic book stories of the boy reporter Tintin created by an artist/writer known as Hergé (Georges Remi) are wildly popular in Europe but not well known in the US. Tintin is brave, capable, inquisitive boy of indeterminate age, probably somewhere around 14. His excuse for getting involved in all kinds of adventures is that he is a reporter though neither the books nor the movie waste any time on the details of actually writing or filing stories, or, indeed, on any facts about Tintin’s origins or family. He has a dog, Snowy, who is as intrepid as he is, and their journeys give them many chances to rescue one another in many exotic locations.
Spielberg and Jackson (whose WETA firm did the animation) did not try to copy the iconic linge claire style pioneered by Hergé, though there is a sly nod to it in the delightful opening credits and in a street artist’s sketch of Tintin at the beginning. Instead it is an intensely detailed motion and performance capture with hyper-real textures and 3D effects that make the vertiginous chase scenes feel very visceral. Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell) buys a model ship that turns out to be of great interest to a mysterious man named Ivanovich Sakharine (voice of Daniel Craig). That leads Tintin to an adventure that involves cities, a desert, an opera singer, a potentate, pirates, dim policemen (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thompson and Thomson), as he is drawn into a multi-generational saga involving lost treasure. Along the way he meets up with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a drunken sailor who is part sidekick, part clue.
It has a lot of alcohol for a PG movie and some parents may be uncomfortable with the repeated references, some intended to be humorous, to drinking and drunkenness. And some will find the non-stop action overwhelming and just too much to process, even in these frenzied movie-as-video-game days. Even the exacting eye of Spielberg and the prodigious talent of WETA have not quite mastered the physics of movement with motion capture technology. The textures are wonderfully vivid and tactile and the angles and velocity are superb and the seas and ships toss convincingly. But the weight of the bodies when characters leap or fall or objects crash feels strange and somehow off and the faces never find the right spot between the realism of the textures and a more stylized or cartoony look. This is one element where they should have been more true to the original.
Translation: Non-stop peril and action but no one badly hurt, character abuses alcohol, jokes about drinking, some smoking
Family discussion: Are Tintin and Haddock a good team? What do you most admire about Tintin?
If you like this, try: the books by Hergé