Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin - Theatrical Review




THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN



Release Date: December 21, 2011

My initial reaction to the very first trailer I ever say for Tintin was not exactly positive. I wasn't a fan of the art style being used, hadn't really loved any of director Steven Spielberg's recent work and had no affiliation with the comics the film was based off of. Who would have ever guessed it would have turned out this well.




Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Arclight Pasadena
Time: 7:15 pm January 1, 2012
Projector Type: Digital 3D
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime: 1 hr 44 min
Studio: Paramount

Biases:
Loves: (Classic) Steven Spielberg, anything resembling Indiana Jones, Peter Jackson, Edgar Wright...and uh, everyone involved in this movie
Likes: Adventure movies
Neutral: When the destination doesn't live up to the journey
Hates: Not ever really getting to know who Tintin is
Planning: Two more films in the series


This is the first film in a very long time where my optimism had absolutely nothing to do with what I was shown in the trailer or any of the advertising campaign. What sold me was the enormous amount of talent that was brought together on the project. You have Peter Jackson (LotR Trilogy) who was producing and even did a some second unit directing work, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) who worked on the screenplay, John Williams (composer of everything that is awesome) doing the score and Steven Spielberg in the director's chair who seemed to be tapping back into his youthful nature that was once thought lost long ago. Collaborations are never a sure thing but I'll be damned if those names (and many more) being attached to this film didn't send tingles of joy through my body whenever I would stop and think about it. The possibilities of what a team like that could produce were unimaginable but somehow they did it, The Adventures of Tintin is the best darn adventure film I have seen in years and also one of the best films of the year.

Daring reporter Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) has just purchased an antique model ship named after an infamous pirate ship called the Unicorn. Little did he know that would lead him on the adventure of a lifetime where he must face off against countless thugs who are in search of the real Unicorn. He, his savvy dog Snowy and the perpetually inebriated Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) must unravel the mystery of the Unicorn before the mysterious Rackham (voiced by Daniel Craig) beats them to the punch.

Tintin begins his investigation into the mysteries surrounding The Unicorn.

After the fun opening credits sequence (which was very reminiscent of the opening for Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can by the way) it took only a few minutes before a severe amount of nostalgia washed over me. I am sure there are many other films, books and videogames one can directly compare Tintin to but none more fitting than that of another adventurer Steven Spielberg made famous thirty years ago, Indiana Jones. The comparisons are staggering when you start to think about. The overall aesthetics of the world of Tintin as well as the general era it takes place in is a dead ringer for the world of Indiana Jones. But when you throw in the soundtrack by John Williams (whom of course did the legendary soundtrack to all the Indiana Jones movies), the character Tintin who has a mundane professional career as a reporter/writer for the paper (Indiana Jones was a teacher), the whimsical, somewhat unbelievable but always exhilarating action set pieces, the quest to find an ancient relic and the bumbling but useful comrades of Tintin you can't help but think this is the spiritual successor to the Indiana Jones series. And that isn't even mentioning the sound effects that I suspect are a direct lift from those Indiana movies as well (just wait until you hear Tintin punch someone).

But then you have to think about why Steven Spielberg even wanted to do Tintin in the first place (he actually purchased the rights for it back in the mid 1980s). It starts to become clear as day that the Tintin comics by Herge is not a copy or even an homage to those Indiana Jones films, it is most likely the reverse. While it is well known that George Lucas was greatly influenced by those old serial adventure films from his youth when creating Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, I never had any idea where Spielberg's influences came from. After seeing The Adventures of Tintin I would find it very hard to believe that the comic series it is based on didn't play a major role in his approach when directing Raiders. Now if Tintin were just a bunch of hobbled together pieces of other films and franchises it wouldn't hold up but thankfully Spielberg and company were up to the task of making Tintin succeed based on its own merits.

Tintin and Captain Haddock meet for the first time.

The first thing you are likely to notice is the look of the film. I am not talking so much about the world but more about the very clean animation used to bring these characters to life. Much like another favorite animated movie of mine this year (Rango) they used a unique version of motion capture to animate everyone and the result is one of the most fluid and lifelike animated movies I have ever seen. The only thing that ever sucked me out of the film's reality are the somewhat distracting character designs or more to the point, their facial features. I can't really say if they are bad but with Tintin looking normal for all intents and purposes, in comparison everyone else looked to be overly cartoonish with greatly exaggerated facial features. A prime example of this is Captain Haddock who is one of the most lifelike animated characters I have ever seen but whenever there is a close up and that huge nose of his takes up half the screen I found myself (almost) taken out of the moment almost every time. Perhaps it is one of those situations where I will grow to like the character designs and get used to them over time but as of right now they are one of the very few missteps in an otherwise near flawless film.

While I am on the subject of missteps, there is one glaring miscalculation that should have been resolved. Back to my Indiana Jones comparison, in Raiders of the Lost Ark when we first meet Indiana he is on the last leg of his current adventure. During that time we learn that he moonlights as this adventurer/archaeologist who seeks out old relics on the side that usually results in him getting in way over his head. Then when we eventually see him at his school teaching we know that there is much more to him than just the mild mannered professor of archeology we see him as in that moment and that another adventure is just around the corner. Where Tintin fails at this, and this is an apt comparison considering all the other pieces that Tintin took from the book of Indiana, is that we are thrust into the main adventure immediately. We never get that moment to identify who Tintin is or what he is about. To put it blunty we are never properly introduced to the character Tintin which is a problem since he is the main character in the film.

Rackham has more than a passing resemblance to Steven Spielberg.

It's not that I ever felt lost about what was going on, but I just wished I wouldn't have had to spend so much time trying to piece together Tintin's back story when I should have been focused on what was going on the adventure at hand. For instance, I am still unsure what age Tintin is. Is that really a big problem? No, not at all. But it is just one of that nagging issues that kept popping up. Tintin appears to be a normal teenage boy at first, then we see he lives alone with a maid, then we see he is a newspaper reporter (which contradicts the notion he is a teenager), then he pulls out a gun and chases down evil doers. Is he a kid or an adult? I just didn't know (and still don't). Once again, this isn't really a big deal but it is something that could have easily been cleared up with a prologue of some sort to help us fill in these seemingly unrelated yet relatively important gaps in our main characters history. It doesn't help that the movie moves at a lightning speed either where I often found myself trying to pull double duty by piecing together who Tintin is while trying to keep up with the accelerated pace of the narrative.

Now you might be thinking, why on Earth is this guy all of a sudden talking so much crap on something he just got done praising? The reason for my incessant nitpicking is that the movie got SO much else right that it was a shame such simple things as introducing us to our main character and a few odd character design choices got in the way of perfection. The fact that I actually said one of the problems is that the movie moves TOO fast should be enough of an implication that this movie is awesome regardless of those nitpicks. As I mentioned, the movie wastes no time getting started and what seemed like in mere minutes we were already underway on the adventure of a lifetime. It's interesting to note that while there is a whole lot of globetrotting going on (if only we had those travelling map sequences...sigh) and we visit a lot of locations, the film feels very intimate and not quite as broad in scope as one might imagine, which I believe suits it just fine.

The Captain and Tintin find themselves stranded in the desert.

This is a roller coaster ride of a movie that never lets up enough for you to even process anything as insignificant as that though. Often times it is stated that when it comes to an adventure, it is the journey there and not so much the destination that matters and Tintin nails that. From the moment Tintin buys that model ship it is nearly nonstop action from kidnappings, murders, thieving pickpockets, escaping a boat full of thugs, flying a plane through a storm at sea, a one on one fight between two gigantic cranes and one of the most intricate single shot action sequences I had the pleasure of seeing in a long time. Even when the film needs to take a break and give us some exposition it does it by presenting us with an amazing pirate ship battle that trumps anything seen the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie.

I can't neglect the characters though, and despite their iffy design they all add their own individual delights to the on going events. As mentioned earlier, Tintin isn't really given much in the way of character development, we know he is a tenacious reporter who loves the thrill of the hunt but that's it unfortunately. The lack of depth to his character was forgivable though when you realize he is the device that is used to propel the story forward and in that light he is more than adequate as our guide through this crazy adventure. All the secondary and side characters add a little spice here and there as well, the twin detectives Thomson & Thompson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) provided the bumbling idiocy, Rackhamheir own individual delights to the on going events. As mentioned earlier, Tintin isn't really given much in the way of character development, we know he is a tenacious reporter who loves the thrill of the hunt but that's it unfortunately. The lack of depth to his character was forgivable though when you realize he is the device that is used to propel the story forward and in that light he is more than adequate as our guide through this crazy adventure. All the secondary and side characters add a little spice here and there as well, the twin detectives Thompson & Thomson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) provided the bumbling idiocy, Rackham was a fun character who filled the villain slot with great ease and effectiveness, all of Rackham's thugs had some memorable moments and even Tintin's dog Snowy proved to be a fine addition who avoided the usual pitfalls of the overly annoying canine counterpart.

Captain Haddock finds himself in over his head.

Then there is Captain Haddock. His late introduction into the film coupled with his drunken nature didn't fill me with much confidence upon first meeting the wayward captain but I found that the more time I spent with him the more he grew on me until he eventually became my outright favorite character in the entire film. When looking at how Haddock and Tintin relate to one another it almost seems as though the roles should have been reversed, Tintin is the straight shooter who is always on point and Haddock is the troublesome but lovable oaf who stumbles his way through everything. Usually it is the other way around (Sherlock Holmes and Watson are a perfect example of this) but I think that reversal worked in favor of the film overall. Haddock was responsible for some of the most memorable moments in the film with all the different ways it would find to have fun with his alcoholic nature. Captain Haddock ended up being the most well rounded and fully realized three dimensional character in the entire film and his drunken antics, while almost always amusing, added a certain sadness to him that just made me love the guy even more.

While I am sure a lot of the credit goes to the writers and animators, I can't help but think that it was Andy Serkis who was responsible for infusing so much personality into Haddock. Between this and his marvelous performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes he has made it quite clear (for those that already didn't know that is) that he is without a doubt the best in his field. It is almost doing him a disservice by simply calling him an actor since he must pour so much more of himself into these roles and rely on what he creates in his own mind to fully realize his characters. While Serkis (and Haddock I suppose) stole the show in Tintin, it wasn't one of those things where the movie itself was left behind in the dust. Filled with great characters, exciting action and some of the best animation (as well as 3D effects) around, The Adventures of Tintin was just simply a joy to watch from beginning to end that provides entertainment for the whole family. I suggest you pack up the kids, head down to your local multiplex and...


CHECK IT OUT IMMEDIATELY


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