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Published: 12/21/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Spielberg brings 1940s European comic books to life

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

 

The Adventures of Tintin

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay Steven Moffat, et al. A Paramount/Columbia release, playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons. Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness, and brief smoking. Running time: 107 minutes.

Critic's rating: *** 1/2

TintinJamie Bell

Ivanovich SakharineDaniel Craig

Inspector ThompsonSimon Pegg

If Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was Steven Spielberg at a loss to duplicate his movie magic, The Adventures of Tintin restores much of the master magician's abilities.

By no means a masterpiece, the full-length computer-generated animated film nevertheless has freed Spielberg from the shackles of conventional filmmaking and physical limitations. Spielberg has always been one to take blind leaps with technology in the name of a good film, and CG animation suits him well.

Tintin, for those unfamiliar with the comic books by Belgian artist Herge, is a feisty, young journalist who jumps headfirst into whatever adventures his investigations take him, and he's always aided by his faithful canine companion, Snowy.

Their adventure in the film begins with a model sailing ship Tintin purchases, only to discover someone else wants the replica even more. Tintin is soon caught up in a quest by the villainous Ivanovich Sakharine to find the long-lost ship the Unicorn, which is tied to his family's legacy and fortune. Also part of the adventure is drunken Captain Haddock, a mainstay in the books, who lost his ship to a mutiny fueled by Ivanovich. After Tintin is kidnapped and taken prisoner aboard Haddock's ship, along with Snowy, the three make a daring escape and try to beat Ivanovich in a globe-trotting adventure to learn the secrets of the Unicorn.

Tintin is played with gusto and charm by Jamie Bell, and Andy Serkis, seen most recently as a digital ape in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, provides comic relief as the usually potted Captain Haddock. The cast is rounded out by Daniel Craig as Ivanovich and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson. Craig is menacing and fun, while Pegg and Frost deliver mostly corny gags and pratfalls along the lines of vintage Hee Haw. Tintin's humor has not aged as gracefully as its stories and characters. Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish wrote this script based on three of the original Tintin comics books: The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and Red Rackham's Treasure (1944).

But the film is really about thrilling action and big set pieces, both of which avail themselves well to animation, which isn't hindered by the laws of physics. Consequently, Spielberg's imagination is free to roam, and he delivers some of his most impressive action sequences yet. The climatic battle between Captain Haddock and Ivanovich involving menacing towering cranes is heart-jolting fun, and rivals anything the director has done in real-world movies. Perhaps because of the grandiosity of these kinds of moments on screen, Tintin suffers when not much is happening other than plot development. Even at less than 110 minutes, Tintin feels longer than it is -- or should be.

The motion capture isn't stiff or unnatural, either -- a tribute as much for technological improvements as for the fact the animations are mimicking Herge's illustrations. And with the rare exception of Avatar and now Hugo, CG films continue to be the only viable format for 3D cinemas. Like Martin Scorsese in Hugo, Spielberg is making his debut with 3-D as well in Tintin. If there's any hope for the presentation to survive it's through these notable filmmakers and their appreciation for how the format can properly enhance a film.

Peter Jackson, who co-produced Tintin and has indicated he will direct its sequel, has had a positive impact on Spielberg, much like it was reversed when Jackson was a young filmmaker.

Spielberg wholly buys into the CG world, but whether audiences will buy into a film based on European comic books remains to be seen. For now, those banking on the Spielberg name can once again take comfort in the brand.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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