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Adventures of Tintin, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Belgian Waffle"
2 stars

In theory, the notion of Steven Spielberg bringing the stories of intrepid boy reporter Tintin, the hero of the long-running comic-book series created by the late Belgian cartoonist Herge, to the big screen seems like a slam-dunk. On the one hand, he is already an old hand at creating breathlessly exciting and globe-trotting adventures with a period flavor through the Indiana Jones films. On the other hand, his ability to deploy cutting-edge technologies--such as 3D and the type of advanced motion-capture animation that brought the likes of "Avatar" to life in this case--in eye-popping ways would presumably attract audiences who were largely unfamiliar with Tintin, especially in the U.S., where the stories have never quite caught on as anything other than as a cult favorite or an occasional Dennis Miller reference. And yet, "The Adventures of Tintin" is a curious misfire that finds Spielberg trying so damned hard to dazzle audiences with one elaborate action sequence after another that the whole experience is more exhausting than exhilarating.

The story opens with Tintin (Jamie Bell), accompanied as always, by his valiant pooch Snowy, visiting an outdoor market where he impulsively purchases a model of an old ship called the Unicorn. Moments after doing so, he is immediately besieged by two separate men who wish to buy it off of him with money being no object--the first being a coarse American named Barnaby (Joe Starr) and the other an erudite and somewhat shifty-seeming type named Sakharine (Daniel Craig). Tintin spurns both offers but, his curiosity now piqued, he begins to investigate and realizes that the model contains a clue leading to hidden treasure. Before he can do anything about it, however, he is shanghaied and taken to the bowels of a steamer that has been commandeered by Sakharine and its mutinous crew by plying its true commander, Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), with enough alcohol to fully neutralize him.

As it turns out, Haddock is the last descendant of Sir Francis Haddock, a once-heroic naval commander whose name and bloodline was considered cursed after losing his ship, the Unicorn, and its valuable cargo hidden within after an attack by a band of pirates led by the fearsome Red Rackham. The elder Haddock hid three clues in three models of the Unicorn that, when put together, would lead to the location of the treasure. Tintin, Snowy and Haddock escape from Sakharine and his men and make their way to the Moroccan city of Bagghar, where the remaining ship and clue are in the possession of an Arab sheik, and, with the questionable help of bumbling Interpol agents Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) attempt to retrieve it and track down the location of the treasure first. Surprisingly, the quest lands everyone right back where they started and allows Tintin to try to find the treasure while Haddock attempts to avenge his honor of his ancestors against Sakharine in a hellacious dockyard duel utilizing swords, bottles and cranes in the fracas.

As I said before, all the ingredients seem to be in place for a rollicking Spielberg entertainment of the first caliber but right from the start, something seems to be strangely off with the proceedings. For starters, the screenplay, a conglomeration of three of the original Tintin tales hammered out by Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish, is jam-packed with incident from the get-go but despite all that, it soon becomes apparent that there really isn't much of a story at the center of all the busywork and what little there is really is not especially involving. Instead, there is one increasingly elaborate action set-piece after another that is presumably meant to distract from the lack of a compelling story but as Spielberg himself should have learned after "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," it is virtually impossible to make a movie that consists of nothing more than one over-the-top action peak after another for its duration because the audience will eventually find themselves feeling so exhausted after a while that nothing can possibly rouse them after a while. And yet, virtually every scene in the film has some elaborate structure to it--even the sight of Snowy chasing an errant cat around a room seems to cause more destruction than the climax of "1941"--and it all just grows kind of boring after a while. Even the much-celebrated chase through Bagghar, presented here in a single unbroken take, turns out to be less than meets the eye--it goes on for too long to be effective and the one-shot gimmick (which isn't as impressive as it initially seems when you consider that such a thing is easy enough to accomplish in animation) calls so much attention to itself after a while that it only winds up taking viewers out of the scene instead of letting them get caught up in the action

Speaking of boring, the character of Tintin himself is kind of a washout as well because,as presented here, our hero is kind of a colorless dope. Even though he is still technically a kid--albeit one who is a crack shot, can fly a plane and engage in any number of feats of derring-do--he seems to have no family, no friends other than Snowy and even though he repeatedly claims to be a reporter, we never see him doing any actual reporting. In print, having a central character who isn't particularly distinctive or detailed makes a certain degree of sense because by leaving him somewhat vague, it allows readers to sort of project themselves into the narrative and see the action as though they were looking through Tintin's eyes themselves. However, that approach does not translate very well to the big screen and centering a story as potentially exciting as this one around a character as generally lackluster as the way Tintin has been depicted here seems borderline perverse. Perhaps to compensate, all of the other key characters--especially the heroic Snowy--are made to be as colorful as can be but the general blahness of Tintin negates their efforts and only serves as a serious drag on the proceedings.

Even taken simply as a technical exercise, "The Adventures of Tintin" comes up short in the end. Over the years, people has presumably been trying to get a Tintin movie made and I can only guess that one of the key roadblocks was indecision as to whether to attempt to do it in live-action, or in traditional animation, which might lessen the sheer spectacle but which would allow for a closer translation of the distinctive look of the Herge comics. Instead, Spielberg has chosen to split the difference by utilizing motion-capture animation as a way of bridging the gap but winds up getting the worst of both worlds as a result. On the one hand, the action loses a lot of the palpable impact that it might have had if it had been presented as a straightforward film and considering the awe-inspiring achievements that Spielberg has presented viewers with over the years, it would have been a lot more exciting if it had been done in live-action so that all of the events depicted had some kind of weight to them. (Some might argue that depicting the extraordinary actions of Snowy would be impossible in live-action but as anyone who has seen "The Artist" can attest, dogs can do a hell of a lot these days with the proper training and even if that proved to be incorrect, most would have forgiven some CGI fudging in that respect.) On the other hand, the visual style is so far astray from the classic Tintin look without being especially memorable on its own that it will do nothing except inspire ire from long-standing Herge fanatics and indifference from everyone else. As for the 3D, Spielberg handles it a bit more gracefully than most other filmmakers these days but once again, his inability to make anything special of the format is a disappointment, especially in comparison to the wonders that Martin Scorsese was able to conjure through his current multi-dimensional family film epic "Hugo."

"The Adventures of Tintin" isn't a complete disaster along the lines of such Spielberg clunkers as "Hook" or "The Terminal"--hell, it isn't even the worst Spielberg effort being released this week. However, when you consider the promising nature of the source material and the high caliber of the talent involved with the project, even his most passionate devotees will likely consider it to be a major disappointment. This should have been a slam-dunk entertainment of the type that would thrill and excite viewers all ages--the very thing that Spielberg made his name doing in the first place. Instead, all he has done is given us what is, when all is said and done, essentially an extended commercial for a video game that few people would actually want to spend their time and money on in the first place.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=20592&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/20/11 21:11:50
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User Comments

3/22/20 STUPIDCLOUD Better than Final Fantasy movies. 5 stars
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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  21-Dec-2011 (PG)
  DVD: 13-Mar-2012

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  DVD: 13-Mar-2012

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