(2011)3.5Jason BuchananRegional flavors can be a tough sell to audiences who haven't grown up developing a taste for a particular product, but in The Adventures of Tintin, director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson do a commendable job of selling American moviegoers on a comic-strip hero who always found more fame in Europe, while at the same time ensuring a fun experience for longtime fans as well. A sweeping technological marvel loaded with spectacular action sequences, the film offers an exciting introduction to the long-running comic strip by adapting several action-packed installments that highlight the colorful, endearing characters and thrust them into a series of dire predicaments that draw out their distinctive personalities.
Adventure-seeking Belgian reporter Tintin (voice and motion-capture performance by Jamie Bell) is perusing a local market when he happens across a detailed reproduction of the Unicorn, a 17th century ship captained by Sir Francis Haddock. An enchanted Tintin lays down his cash just as a mysterious stranger issues a dire warning, and then the persistent Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) appears out of nowhere to make a generous offer on the newly acquired miniature. Later, when his apartment is ransacked and the boat vanishes, Tintin discovers something the thieves had overlooked, but gets kidnapped while chasing a notorious pickpocket. Upon regaining consciousness, Tintin finds himself and his dog Snowy aboard the ship the SS Karaboudjan. Though Sakharine and his men have taken over the ship from Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin, Haddock, and Snowy make a daring escape while uncovering Sakharine's malevolent true intentions. Now, the race is on to solve a centuries-old mystery. Only Haddock can beat Sakharine at his own game, and perhaps with the help of his new friends Tintin and Snowy the crusty captain can sober up long enough to find a treasure that legend has deemed lost forever.
In 2007, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson announced that they would be teaming up for a trilogy based on author Hergé's intrepid young journalist/adventurer, Tintin. But while the comic strip had been hugely popular in Europe since the 1930s, it never really managed to catch on in America. Though it's still difficult to determine whether The Adventures of Tintin will cause a spike in comic-book sales stateside, what's plain to see is that Spielberg and Jackson have spared no expense to deliver a spirited adventure that seems firmly rooted in cinematic tradition while boldly leaping into the future by harnessing some of the most sophisticated filmmaking technology around. In 1981, Spielberg delivered what many critics and moviegoers consider to be the perfect adventure film with Raiders of the Lost Ark. And though it's safe to say that The Adventures of Tintin never comes close to delivering the kind of thrills that helped establish Spielberg as one of the biggest filmmakers in Hollywood history, there's enough technological and creative innovation on display here to unclench the jaw of even the most cynical cinephile: Complex shots that would traditionally require towering cranes and labyrinthine dolly setups are executed with style, energy, and awe-inspiring fluidity; colors and textures are bright and vivid; and characters who have existed for over 70 years feel vital and fresh thanks to a screenplay that deftly balances character introductions, an exciting origins story, and a rewarding adventure.
By combining two Tintin story arcs (from the books Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure) into a single adventure, screenwriters Steven Moffatt, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish smartly afford longtime fans of the series the luxury of diving right into the action while providing just enough exposition to keep up the momentum. With each new piece of the puzzle that falls into place, we're swept away on another adventure -- in Europe, on the high seas, and in North Africa. With each new adventure we not only get to see a bit more personality from our heroic trio of Tintin, Snowy, and Captain Haddock, but also experience bigger thrills. And while all of the performers work to make their animated characters believable, special mention goes to Daniel Craig for turning Sakharine into a truly loathsome villain, and Andy Serkis for portraying Captain Haddock as one of the most colorful drunken sailors ever to stumble across the silver screen.
The Adventures of Tintin may not represent the apex of Steven Spielberg's career behind the camera. It does, however, reveal him to be a rare beast in the world of Hollywood -- an established master who isn't afraid to embrace new technology when the situation calls for it. Seeing new moviemaking technology in the hands of a filmmaker who truly understands the language of cinema is an event that any lifelong cinephile will want to experience -- and the fact that Spielberg has also managed to deliver a genuine crowd-pleaser only sweetens the deal.