Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

The negative criticisms I have read about The Adventures of Tintin —that it's dramatically shallow and that it's all surface, etc.— don't resonate much with me. While these observations may be true, that doesn't detract from the movie. It's supposed to be dramatically shallow. To borrow Keith Uhlich's phrase, "But what surface!" This a straight-up adventure yarn, cut to the bone. While this kind of fare may not hold the interest of more serious film types, I lament for their sake. Cinema, apart from offering an array of avenues into the deepest of human feeling and experience, also gives us simpler pleasures, such as a childlike exhilaration of motion. Steven Spielberg has long been a purveyor of these base components of movies and here he explores them via digital animation, which is especially conducive to his classical compositional style.

The chief complaint lodged at Tintin that I am more inclined to accept is that it rarely slows down. It moves through its scenes as well as the overall plot at such a high pace that I wish I could have soaked it all in just a bit more. This is what separates it from its elder brother in the Spielberg canon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which can count pacing and rhythm among its many strokes of genius. Despite these elements being slightly off-kilter in Tintin, there is something to be said for a movie like this that is succinct and direct, as opposed to so much of the bloated spectacle representing today's blockbusters.

Partially making up for the pacing problems is a flurry of wonderful small moments, ranging from Captain Haddock's animated outrages to Snowy's (Tintin's loyal dog) playful interactions both central and aside from the main action. There is nothing about Tintin that will bol you over with its awesome power, other than the shear energy of movement. It's all in the detail, both technically and in content. Jamie Bell holds his own voicing/acting a one-dimensional hero, but the real achievement here is Andy Serkis' performance as the alcoholic Haddock. I was surprised with how well his addiction was portrayed, particularly given that it walks a fine line with the humor. But Serkis and Spielberg poetically capture the sadness of addiction through Haddock's opposing but (sometimes simultaneous) expressions of reckless confidence and intense self-loathing. I was surprisingly moved by Tintin's discovery that Haddock had been drinking again after a short period of soberness and how he handles it. It's the little moments of humanity that —despite being irrelevant to the main plot that rockets along so fast— are most affecting about this film. Yes, it would be nice to see more of these moments take the forefront and the always-moving adventure take a backseat. Nevertheless, we are seeing the evolution of a medium in small doses, each offering a glimpse into the extraordinary visions of which it is capable of realizing. If you're into that shallow kind of thing, of course. (Steven Spielberg, 2011) ***

[A note on the 3-D presentation: I was planning to see the film in glorious 2-D, but the listing on the web was incorrect and so I was stuck with 3-D. I am a fairly vocal detractor of 3-D, but I should give Spielberg and co. props for the smoothest 3-D presentation I have seen. Having said that, I still do not feel as though I can take in the images fully with 3-D. It's just such a strain. So while Tintin has some of the best 3-D I have seen, I was still incredibly frustrated that I couldn't fully appreciate the atmosphere and geography of Spielberg's compositions. I look forward to seeing the movie in my preferred 2-D format on DVD.]

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