Dec. 23, 2011 - Issue #845: Headstones
The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn
Hergé, Tintin's creator (appearing in a clever opening scene), wanted Spielberg to adapt his books for the screen. But this first in a planned trilogy, the tale of a treasure hunt, is a boys' club adventure that turns the comics' straight lines into roller-coaster tracks and flattens any politics or subtext into exotic backdrop. Any original Frenchness is gone. This yarn's awfully British, from Marlinspike Hall and the sad sot of a Scot Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) to an Englishman (Jamie Bell) playing Tintin.
The motion-capture echoes the clean lines and crisp backgrounds of Hergé's books, but the bodies still have some slightly stiff poses and the faces seem a touch plasticky. Still, there are striking moments: clashing cutlasses spark as a trail's blazed towards a gunpowder-store; the photo-realism of a ship's rusting steel walls; Tintin and Snowy paw for a keyring amidst a group of men sleep-sliding in a cabin. The camerawork, though, is relentlessly restless. Swooping up for an aerial view, zooming in or circling around, again and again, Spielberg's eye is dizzying.
Our intrepid Tintin (his front tuft of red hair, in one seafaring scene, resembling a shark fin in homage to Spielberg's first blockbuster) is often a busybody, snooping about as Snowy helps him sniff out clues, but any investigation and suspense are soon snuffed out. The movie's too busy with bodies leaping, lunging, scrambling, ziplining, or tangling. Our hero's plucky and persevering, defined by constant forward motion and nothing more.
Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock), Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish's script whispers nice allusions (to Le Petit Vingtième, to a lost Holmes case, and even to Serkis' Lord of the Rings refrain "My precious"). There's a sharp focus on glass, building that motif to a shattering climax. But usually the story's overwhelmed by action and camera movement. Any sense of peril's abandoned for a Looney Tunes, Mouse Trap game extravaganza (see: car chase w/ bazooka + broken dam + tank-moving hotel) that's only interrupted by exposition, over-explanation, or reviving Haddock's fighting spirit with spirits.
When Haddock and nemesis Sakharine duel with huge cranes, the movie's hollow heart is revealed—an elaborate technical display of choreographed CGI, a modern-day mechanical exercise in moviemaking. And the model ship that launched Tintin's hunt? See Tintin, Haddock and Snowy roam a ship, action figures on Spielberg's model set.
In Hergé's books, the boy-reporter and friends were cartoon characters running through a semi-real world; here, Tintin and pals are semi-cartoon characters careening through an unreal world. Instead of charming, intriguing, and exciting us, Spielberg and co. usually try to bowl us over, as if we're that clumsy pair of inobservant detectives, Thomson and Thompson.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
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