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Awesome: 6.25%
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2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Adventures of Tintin, The
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by Brett Gallman

"If adventure has a name, it must be Spielberg."
4 stars

With “The Adventures of Tintin,” it feels like Steven Spielberg went back to his old neighborhood to find the adventurous spirit that guided his early films. Except that, when he got there, he found some shiny new toys in his sandbox in the form of mo-cap technology and CGI animation and the perfect, dashing source material. After tinkering with it a bit, he’s now showing it off to us, using these new toys to dazzle us in the same old ways, and, while “Tintin” often never transcends the sheer spectacle of watching someone show off, it hardly condescends to us. It’s far too zesty and honest for that, as you can almost feel Spielberg’s joy along with our own.

In fact, it almost seems like he’s itching to get down to it from the dynamo opening credits sequence that’s accompanied by a jovial score by John Williams (which ends up being one of his most distinctive in years). From there, the film feels like a ball of yarn that’s already partially unspooled, as we’re plopped right into the middle of our title character’s acquisition of a model ship. He’s hardly allowed a moment to revel in his conquest before he’s approached by multiple people attempting to purchase it back from him. As it turns out, the model contains a secret that can be traced back to a generations-old feud involving the families of the conniving Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and perpetually drunken sea captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).

We similarly aren’t allowed to catch our breaths here; Spielberg doesn’t just hit the ground running so much as he’s in full sprint from the outset. This may be a little off-putting to those (like myself) who are unfamiliar with Hergé’s comic strips, as we’re afforded little information of who Tintin is. He’s painted in broad strokes by the newspaper clippings on his wall that indicate he’s a decorated adolescent reporter with an adorable (and highly sentient) dog, Snowy , an easy enough conceit to swallow due to the comic aesthetic. The way we’re inundated into this world and universe is part of how it works its charms, almost as if Spielberg and company unabashedly jerk us up by the hand and lead us on this rollicking adventure.

His screenwriters (Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish) are a trio of bright minds whose European sensibilities would seemingly capture the essence of the character. That’d be for someone else to determine, but I can affirm that they’ve spun quite a yarn that unwinds effortlessly as it trots around the globe, basking in exotic locations and colorful characters. Having been most experienced with Wright’s work, it was easy for me to sense his touch here, particularly in the bounciness of both the narrative and the dialogue.

It’s probably not a stretch to assume that he had a hand in nudging Spielberg to cast his usual cohorts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the roles of Thomson and Thompson, a couple of bumbling detectives who assist Tintin and Haddock on their quest. Their duo act is broad and slapstick, yet brims with an undercurrent of genuine, fast-talking wit that breezes along with everything else here. Snowy similarly provides sprightly comic relief as only a dog can do, with a sort of impish charm that lets you know he'll always be there to get Tintin both into and out of trouble. In a year that's been full of great dogs at the movies, he may be the front-runner for best supporting canine.

With Spielberg, this screenplay finds a more than suitable match; he gathers the scale and awe of this adventure, and there are numerous establishing shots that sweep you away. Each time Tintin arrives to a new location, we discover it along with him with these huge, expansive vistas that swallow the screen but ask us to drink them in. The film may be relatively small in breadth (clocking in at 107 minutes, it’s one of the shortest in Spielberg’s career), but its scope and scale are staggering, filling us with wonder at each transition.

That sense of wonder is also funneled through Jamie Bell’s performance; his Tintin may be underdeveloped in an expository sense, but we gather his thirst for adventure. He’s charged with playing the almost impossibly gallant kid with an “aw, shucks” demeanor that reflects the film’s jauntiness. Serkis steals the show from him in the role of Haddock because he almost has to; the film needs his bold, gregarious presence as a balance. And Haddock is a ridiculous caricature, a Scottish drunkard with a hound dog face and a protruding nose. But, for all its revelry, “Tintin” allows us to see that he’s a bit of a broken man, fallen from grace a bit; he’s got a lot more at stake here than just a quest for gold. The film might not dwell on the heavy stuff, but it provides enough moralizing platitudes to keep this from being a bunch of empty, soulless action sequences.

Even if “Tintin” were just that, it’d still be rather staggering. These set-pieces are immaculately constructed and remind us that, sometimes, it’s enough to simply be wowed at the controlled chaos of well-designed action. In an era that’s become overwrought with blurrily dropping us into the action in an attempt to simply disorient and dizzy us, Spielberg pulls back, literally, allowing us to see the action sprawl with a clear through-line. There’s a sequence where Haddock relates a story involving his ancestor’s fateful encounter with Sakharine’s own precursor that’s thrilling simply because it’s so clearly defined and easy to follow.

Even in the rare cases where this film is expository, it’s moving with action like this. The other sequence that’ll likely end up being “Tintin’s” legacy moment is a chase sequence towards the end. An impressive feat that’s akin to watching dominos fall into place, we watch Tintin and Haddock pursue a falcon carrying some scrolls that are important to their quest. Again, the scale here is magnificent, as Spielberg reveals huge, wide angles that allow us to soak it all in; once he does move in on the particulars, it still manages to pulse with inventive gags and kinetic fluidity.

Part of the marvel here certainly derives from the technology; it’s almost as if Spielberg waited around for the past decade to let it gestate, only to finally take the reigns and show us how it’s done. Achieving a fine balance between photo-realism and the obviously animated style, “Tintin” gets around the soullessness of previous efforts. This can particularly be seen in the character’s eyes, which don’t sport the vacant lifelessness found in those films (many of which were brought to us by Robert Zemeckis). During one of the film’s more perilous sequences involving a nose-diving plane, I subtly realized that I cared about these characters, as if they wouldn’t just be mere pixels falling into a pixilated sea.

I’m one of those oddballs that didn’t see “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” as a total failure, but even I have to admit that “Tintin” captures a certain purity and whimsy we haven’t seen from Spielberg in a while. A spirited, chic, and retro-styled adventure tale, it embraces fun for fun’s sake and makes style its substance. We’re watching Spielberg rollick around in his sandbox, yes, but he’s not one of those rich kids who is selfish with his toys; in fact, the film closes on the question of whether Haddock’s thirst for adventure has been quenched. He of course answers, “no,” perhaps mirroring our own response; Spielberg will be all too happy to oblige as he hands the reigns off to Peter Jackson (who produces here), who will shepherd us back here after he reemerges from Middle Earth. He’ll have a tough act to follow, as this first outing feels like an old master reveling in “a return of the great adventure,” indeed.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20592&reviewer=429
originally posted: 12/22/11 13:25:48
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User Comments

2/13/14 Charles Tatum Terrible script, but some marvelous moments 3 stars
1/26/12 C.M. Chan Great fun! 4 stars
1/25/12 Devin Sabas raiders for a new generation! 5 stars
1/01/12 Steve Michaud Everything that Indiana Jones 4 wished it were. 4 stars
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