The Adventures of Tintin
Though James Cameron has proclaimed it of himself based on the success of his few movies, I would argue that Steven Spielberg is the real ‘King of the World’; at the very least he is the king of this year’s Boxing Day with the dropping of two simultaneous releases, one that sits quite clearly within the modern Spielberg mould of war and melodrama and one that stands as a subsequent departure from all of the man’s many other movies. The later is The Adventures of Tintin, an adaptation of the cult-classic – and I mean classic – comics from Belgian artist Herge, and although a quick look at the trailer may suggest that they make for a film that well suits Spielberg’s style, containing as they do Indiana Jones-esque adventure, it would also reveal what it is that makes this such a distinctive entry in his oeuvre, the look.
In a way Spielberg’s journey here is the exact inverse of the one taken by Brad Bird to Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol; whereas Bird brought his animated sensibility to a live-action picture, Steven is a practical director given free-reign over his filming for the first time via animation. Spielberg has said that during the process “[he] did feel like a painter in a way, and that was exciting for [him].” and the result is without a doubt as exciting for us as it is a work of art. Like Ghost Protocol the film is admittedly rather shallow in terms of storytelling but it too more than makes up for this with a constant stream of cleverly complex action sequences; each one pushing towards the bounds of convolution with their chaotic spraying of colours upon the screen, but each remaining entirely coherent and cohesive despite this fact. One has to respect the almost balletic grace with which these sequences of rash roughousing are executed because even a director as talented as Spielberg couldn’t conduct them that smoothly were they not taking place solely within a computer.
For me Speilberg’s most literal Doppelganger has always been Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis is a man who has followed in Steven’s footsteps for several years – each one of his films owes a near direct inspiration to one of Spielberg’s early stellar efforts: Contact = Close Encounters, Romancing the Stone = Indiana Jones, etc. – and with this one foray into motion capture Speilberg has again left the man in the dust, this time blowing away with it his decades long effort to distinguish himself in that field. Even if it wasn’t in the hands of a hardened veteran the animation here would still be hair-raising; though one would never mistake it for reality thanks to th somewhat cartoonish features of some of the characters, it is nevertheless real enough to involve an audience deeply within it’s world. In short Tintin spans the Uncanny Valley with ease, leaving those dead-eyed detractors behind to serve as added depth and little more; I dare say that this trilogy will, in it’s way, be as instrumental in the evolution of film as Avatar was.
At least, it would be were the film itself in anyway as modern as the medium in which it is made. In terms of content this is a Tintin film through and through, as the gorgeous opening credits attest, and that is for both the better and the worse. The tone is a nickel store nightmare of Noir merged with Boy’s Own Adventure; the slow, dark conspiracies and bullet-ridden corpses of the former logically shouldn’t fit flush against the constant adrenaline pumping action of the latter, and to be honest they don’t always and this is what holds the film back most, both in the moment and in movie history as a whole. If they were to drop the plot and archaic beats then this could quite easily have become a great kids flick, and if they were to drop some of the slapstick comedy in favour of fleshing out the film more than it could have become a great mature blockbuster, but playing for both leaves it a little confused in the eyes of a modern audience.
Thankfully then there is still an opporunity to get this tone right, or at least to let it settle in our stomachs a little, with another two sequels still yet to come. Though I do think that Spielberg did a stunning job of directing this effort I am still glad that he has decided to take a different tact with the series than say George Lucas might have. Though this entry is ultimately a little underwhelming on its own it serves well as an introduction to Herge’s charming cast of characters and the unique universe in which they reside; both of which when put in the right hands could expand into something amazing and thankfully they have the right hands on board already. Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Steven Moffat and perhaps the new Spielberg Peter Jackson are all on board to bake the new batches and in this case I would say its good having so many cooks in the kitchen. The selfless, creative freedom of all involved will allow the series to flourish in a facilitated way, unlike Lucas’s Star Wars series which languished in his lone hands.
So if you view this as either empty entertainment, shallow scintillescense, or a particularly long prologue then you will likely enjoy the ride for what it is. If however you insist on overthinking things, or if you’ve tried and failed Tintin in the past, then you can quite easily miss this movie in favour of the day’s many other releases or the similair but superior Ghost Protocol. Hell, there is even another Spielberg out there if that’s what you want; and you should, because the man is unparalleled though obviously, sometimes, his films are not.