The Adventures of Tintin
So, um, I had something to say (okay, write) a moment ago. It was on the tip of my tongue (okay, fingers). It was... uh... oh yes! Something about Steven Spielberg's big-budget animated adaptation of Hergé's comic book creation Tintin. Something... not positive. Something... elusive. Such is the problem posed by Spielberg's light, airy movie about an intrepid little journalist named Tintin and his cute little dog Snowy, who embark on some big adventure and basically run in elaborately pixelated circles for a hundred minutes or so. Surprisingly, considering this is a Spielberg adventure flick (a genre he's proven to be quite well suited for), The Adventures of Tintin is fully forgettable fluff. Clearly, I can barely remember anything about it at all.
Okay, I exaggerate. I can recall some stuff about the movie. But the point is that this Tintin never made even the slightest impression on me. Its charm passed me by rather quickly, though that would imply the movie has charm and I'm not really sure it does. So whatever it has in place of charm (expensive pixels, I guess) passed me by in a hurry, which is appropriate given the brisk pace. The Adventures of Tintin is like a roller coaster ride that refuses to wait for its passengers. Either you get on quickly and enjoy its showy thrills or you miss the ride completely and end up left on the platform, watching disconnectedly.
Watching a roller coaster ride is certainly not as much fun as participating in one and it's that difference that separates The Adventures of Tintin from other Spielberg adventure flicks like Raiders of the Lost Ark (still his crowning achievement in my opinion). Spielberg once had the ability to pull the viewer into the action so that every jolt seemed to register so loudly and expertly that the effect would leap off the screen and into our laps. The action came alive and its gravitational pull was powerful. There was depth and dimension to the onscreen set pieces and Spielberg communicated it all with masterful precision.
That connection to the action is sorrowfully missing from Tintin and so it's especially ironic that this marks Spielberg's first contribution to the current 3D craze. Now literally operating with an extra dimension, he ends up making one of his flattest movies to date. There's no life in this picture, which stems from the other Spielberg first: it's animated. While many directors can work wonders in the medium (and Spielberg has overseen some decent animated efforts as a producer), this challenge proves too lofty for the filmmaker.
Deciding to approach the movie as a motion-capture exercise, Spielberg follows in the footsteps of pal Robert Zemeckis, whose last three features have been motion capture movies shot with actors on green screen sets. Zemeckis botched his first attempt, too, with the saccharine lump of cinematic coal The Polar Express. But his follow-up efforts, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, were marked improvements, so perhaps it's a rite of passage to craft a stinker the first time working with this technology.
Either way, the pretty pixels that blanket the suited actors and green screen sets in The Adventures of Tintin create a whole world of empty spectacle. Spielberg can't figure out a way to inject a soul into his picture and so all that boisterous big-screen action may as well be starring some dexterous corpses. The dead-eyed effect that has plagued past motion-capture animated movies is certainly less distracting and disturbing here, so Spielberg does appear to have inspired the animators to push the limits of the technology. And the animation is quite attractive, with extreme detail programmed into every object and effect. But for all its good looks, The Adventures of Tintin is still trapped in that dangerous territory between live-action and animation, where a pulse is difficult to find.
By striving for photorealism in most aspects other than some facial features and Snowy the dog, Spielberg has crafted an impostor. It doesn't really look like Hergé's world (or at least what little I know of it, since my hurried attempt to familiarize myself with the character wasn't exactly comprehensive) and it sort of looks like real life (the backgrounds and various textures are intended to be quite realistic), but it still ends up a strange hybrid of mediums, as is the case with motion-capture pictures. Finding a way to bridge the gap and justify the need for the bridge is the challenge and it's one that Spielberg seems to trip over. He does use the technology to stage some otherwise dangerous action sequences and he employs a virtual camera quite imaginatively in a raucous single-shot chase sequence late in the movie. But the overall effect is curiously hollow.
It all comes down to magic, that special ingredient that used to be the glue of Spielberg adventure movies and is now woefully missing here. Spielberg is clearly passionate about the Tintin property and he still stages complicated action sequences with energy, but it all just feels like a fancy carnival ride that's too safe and derivative to make an impression. The script credited to Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish crams a few Tintin comic books into a single adventure, but after a bit of mystery building and character developing, it quickly turns into little more than a whole bunch of chases where the stakes are about as high as the hair on Tintin's head (his quiff may be elevated, but it's still only a couple inches tall). The cast is promising, but star Jamie Bell and supporting players like Daniel Craig and motion-capture vet Andy Serkis are unable to inject much personality into their characters beyond a laidback attitude or a tiresome shtick. So it's Spielberg and his army of pixels fighting to keep this ride moving. And it does move, but not by any sensible adherence to the laws of physics. The Adventures of Tintin has all the dramatic weight of a 90s screensaver. Oh well. At least it looks a whole lot fancier.