107 minutes | MPAA rating: PG
Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” has so many jaw-dropping moments of visual splendor that it takes a while to realize that there’s really nothing much of interest here except the jaw-dropping visual splendor.
Employing the motion-capture animation techniques employed in films like “The Polar Express” and the Jim Carrey “Christmas Carol,” this screen adaptation of the late Herge’s universally popular comic book hero should please long-time fans. But it’s hard to imagine it winning many new converts to the Tintin brand.
Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliott” fame) is a perpetually boyish, carrot-topped newspaper reporter who goes nowhere without a tan trench coat, brown knickers and a white pooch named Snowy.
He’s sort of like a junior Sherlock Holmes who’s always up to his neck in one mystery or another.
At the onset of this film (written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish), Tintin is at an outdoor market where he purchases an antique model sailing ship from a vendor. (The film appears to be set in the ‘30s or ‘40s…but there’s a timeless element at work that keeps us from pinning down an exact setting.)
Almost immediately others try to buy and/or steal Tintin’s new acquisition; one of them is a suave-but-menacing professorial type named Sakharine (Daniel Craig). Seems the model boat comes from the now-decaying ancestral home of the Haddock family, whose seagoing founder back in the pirate era gained (then lost) a huge treasure in gold, silver and precious jewels.
Bit by bit it dawns on Tintin that the model ship holds some sort of clue. Not only that, but there are two other model ships which also hold clues. All three are needed to find the long-lost treasure.
The trail leads Tintin out to sea, to the North African desert and finally to an Arabian port, accompanied by Captain Haddock , the original seafarer’s seriously alcoholic descendent (Andy Serkis…who was Gollum in “LOTR” and the main chimp in this summer’s “Planet of the Apes” prequel).
“The Adventures of Tintin” is remarkably faithful to the comic books, from the surprisingly sophisticated dialogue, complex (if not incomprensible) plotting, matter-of-fact approach to murder and pre-politically correct attitudes (Captain Haddock’s drunkenness is played for laughs…his memory and higher faculties only function when he’s thoroughly soused).
While there are some moderately diverting characters here (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are amusing as a pair of bumbling Tweedle Dee/Tweedle Dum Interpol agents), no character, not even Tintin, is all that exciting.
But Spielberg delivers one astounding visual sequence after another, including a chase through the narrow streets of a seaside town so convincing you’d swear you can feel the breeze and smell the salt air.
Whatever its faults as storytelling, “Tintin” finds the right balance between cartoonishness and realism.
The film’s backgrounds and settings are photo-realistic…utterly convincing in every minute detail, whether an urban street or a storm-tossed sea.
The characters, on the other hand, are slightly exaggerated — outsized features, bizarre hair — and this very exaggeration, curiously enough, makes them more believable. Attempts to create totally convincing, lifelike animated humans have largely been a bust (I call it “dead eye syndrome”); Spielberg and his artists take a hint from Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” by ensuring that the characters are just cartoonish enough that we don’t get caught up in the fine line between live-action and super-realistic animation.
If possible, see “Tintin” in 3-D…it’s one of those rare films that actually benefits from the added kick.
But don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking at your watch. Beyond the eye candy there’s not much to cling to here.
| Robert W. Butler