Directed by Steven Spielberg
Expectations: Somewhat high, but I should know better.
Sometimes I get excited about a film despite my better judgement nagging me incessantly to watch something else. This would be one of those times. I read some of the Tintin books as a child, but I am by no means a scholar or in any way knowledgeable about them. I remember the basics, but not much else. When Spielberg announced that he would finally film a couple of the books, I got excited. I thought, “This will be like a new Indiana Jones film, and preferably one without all the negative trappings of the fourth entry into that series (although, I still find that one remarkably enjoyable for some reason).” Then my excitement waned a bit as it was also announced Tintin would be all motion capture animation. I’m not a fan of Robert Zemeckis’s popular forays into the technology, so I found myself torn, wondering if I should be excited or indifferent. Well, I’ve seen Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin and honestly it’s a bit of both.
The film jumps right into the storyline without a shred of character development or stage-setting or anything. Just right into the intrigue. OK, I can hang. If it means more time for fun, high-stakes shenanigans, I’m in. Tintin buys a model ship from a street vendor and is immediately accosted by one man willing to pay double, and then another asking him to, “Name his price.” Tintin, of course, states that the ship is not for sale and returns home with it only to have a short scuffle between Tintin’s dog Snowy and an alleycat result in the ship’s masts breaking, and the secret within to fall out.
The Adventures of Tintin continues on like this at a breakneck speed, literally never letting up its pace for the audience to breathe. It’s absolutely exhausting. In my day, films were slow-moving! And we liked it! You didn’t need constant excitement and– Sorry. Got sucked into my old man brain. In any case, the film is so incredibly fast-paced that it was just too much for me. Give me a bit of downtime for God’s sake. A bit of character development, a bit of storytelling that isn’t whisked off the screen in half a second. For instance, Tintin is a journalist who has a knack for getting himself involved in some dangerous, sticky situations. If you never read the books, you’d have to get this information from the quick shots of the framed newspaper stories on the walls, each on the screen for about a second or two, long enough to read the first few words before it cuts to another newspaper and you read about three words of that one. Perhaps show three papers for a few seconds longer instead of five papers quickly? The fact that I was sitting too close to the screen didn’t help matters either.
I saw the film in IMAX 3D and the 3D added nothing. Not a thing. Through sections of the film I took the glasses off to find that the image was mostly in-focus, so they weren’t even using the 3D all the time! There’s a few moments that stand out for sure, but for the most part it’s subtle depth of field, and when I say subtle, I mean SUBTLE. I figured this would be one to see in 3D, as it was shot and designed with the technology in mind, but if this is the best they can muster then they might as well not even bother. The trailers beforehand looked great though! I’m not really a Men in Black fan, but the 3D in the trailer for Part 3 looked fantastic.
Despite my hatred for motion capture animated films, I was drawn in under the guise that this was Spielberg’s big leap into the genre. With the pre-vis shooting technique of Avatar employed by a quality director that generally tries to keep the digital bullshit to a minimum, how could it go wrong? When Spielberg remembers the old phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” that’s how. Tintin features every shitty digital filmmaking trick in the book, from cameras dollying through panes of glass to absolutely impossible crane shots. You might argue what the point of making a 3D animated film would be if you are still constrained to the rules of physical filmmaking, but I would counter-argue that it would have been infinitely more enjoyable and unique if it had. If this is the “return to form” for Spielberg that some critics make it out to be, then I want nothing to do with the new, old Spielberg. Perhaps I’m an old curmudgeon, but virtual camera bullshit just gets under my skin because there’s no reason or benefit to it that I can see. Sure, the giant Moroccan action set-piece is all one “take,” but what’s the point of that when it’s all digital? There’s nothing impressive about it being one take when everything is realized virtually.
In another note of complaining, John Williams contributes a good score, but anyone who’s seen any Indiana Jones film and become at one with the music will recognize many Williams signatures from that score, re-used and re-purposed for Tintin. During the chase scene in Morocco, the music becomes incredibly similar to the Desert Chase music from Raiders of the Lost Ark with the piano-heavy Tintin theme inserted throughout. Yes, the music is different and it has a much lighter feel than the Raiders score, but it’s similar enough for me to notice. No joke, I’m listening to the Raiders score as I write this, and I stopped to listen to a bit of the Tintin score. I went back and forth between the two to see if my thoughts in the theaters were valid under direct examination and I eventually found myself listening to one score and I honestly couldn’t remember what was playing. “I think it’s Raiders,” I said to myself, only to find that it was Tintin. I rest my case.
But the real question through all this negativity is, “Did I enjoy The Adventures of Tintin?” Kind of. While the globe-trotting adventure is one of my favorite styles of film (thanks to Indy) and the action sequences are fairly enjoyable, what Tintin lacks is heart. The animation looks incredible and unbelievably life-like, but without any real character development I couldn’t connect with anyone in the film. Capt. Haddock is by far my favorite character (and the most developed) but even he doesn’t seem to get the justice he deserves. And while the characters look real, they are but mere simulacra and the feats they perform are over-the-top and cartoonish. This juxtaposition just didn’t work for me as the extreme realism in the visuals makes me call foul of the ridiculous nature of the action specifics. There’s no reason this film couldn’t have been live-action and incredible. Sure they would have had to scale back a lot of the action scenes to something more believable, but hey, then it would be something actually worth watching and actually worthy of the distinction “return to form” for Spielberg. That being said, The Adventures of Tintin isn’t all that bad; it’s just quite a disappointment, an over-stuffed, somewhat heartless tech demo. I remain unconvinced that motion capture is a viable filmmaking option.