Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Tintin' made my head spin

Parts of The Adventures of Tintin are as creative as you'd expect from Steven Spielberg, but the movie left me feeling a bit woozy.

With just about everyone climbing on the 3-D bandwagon, it’s hardly surprising that Steven Spielberg – an acknowledged master of popular entertainment – has tried his hand at it.

In the animated The Adventures of Tintin -- from a comic-book series by the Belgian artist who went by the name of Herge -- Spielberg shows off a mixture of motion-capture animation and moving camera work that makes for a dizzying ride. The story is an amalgam of three Tintin stories, consistent, I suppose, with this milkshake of a movie.

The dazzling opening sequences are set in a flea market where the intrepid Tintin (voice by Jamie Bell) purchases a model ship called The Unicorn. Of course, this is no ordinary model, but a vessel that holds a key to the mystery at the movie's heart. That means the bad guy -- one Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) -- wants to get his hands of the ship. Sakharine tries politeness before resorting to stronger measures.

The story eventually unites Tintin and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), an unashamed drunkard, whose rundown ship has been hijacked by Sakharine.

The story sends this unlikely duo in search of lost treasure, and allows Spielberg to put his hero through a variety of action-oriented trials that are bound to remind audiences that Spielberg also directed the Indiana Jones movies.

The action is skillfully mounted, of course, but there’s too much of it, and it culminates in a clash of dueling cranes that's louder than it is exciting. Moreover, the combination of motion-capture (animation just short of photo-realism) and frenzied activity creates the unwelcome sensation of an amusement park ride run amok – at least it did for me.

I wouldn’t say that Tintin is fall-down funny, but there are welcome splashes of humor, the best involving a couple of bumbling police officers voiced by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.

It’s hardly surprising that Spielberg, who long ago earned his action stripes, knows how to keep a movie moving. And those who grew up with the Tintin series may find the movie satisfying. Personally, I found the opening credits -- which boast an appealing hand-drawn look -- more winsome and winning than almost anything that followed.

For me, Tintin’s adventures felt about as convincing as the look of Tintin’s trusty dog Snowy – which is to say that these adventures felt carefully calibrated to maximize motion capture and 3-D as much as to create any feeling of spontaneously generated pleasure.

I don't know how Tintin might play without the 3-D, but it proved too much for my eyes, which longed for the respite of some quiet exposition, say Tintin tap-tapping on his trusty typewriter.

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