"The Adventures of Tintin" possesses all the technical mastery for which Steven Spielberg is known, but it shockingly lacks the one crucial hallmark of the director's oevre: Heart.
Spielberg started out making arty horror, dabbled in comedy, re-invented to the action-adventure film, and made brilliant sci-fi, before becoming a populist auteur. And through it all, one of the primary ingredients in his work has always been heart, often in suffocating amounts. So how does an adaptation of a comic he has loved for 30 years come out so cold?
What makes this doubly frustrating is that the film represents a massive leap forward in filmmaking, standing as the first motion-capture feature film that doesn’t give you the willies.
Our adventure starts with Tintin coming upon a model ship being sold at a flea market. In quick succession he is approached by two men, each so desperate to own the ship that they tell him to name his price. Stubborn, and possessed of a journalist's curiosity, Tintin sets out to learn what al the fuss is about, an inquiry that puts him on the trail of sunken treasure that went down in the late 1600s.
Thanks to the magic of co-director Peter Jackson and his friends at WETA, "Tintin" looks amazing. The faces are fully articulated, without having that "Polar Express" creepiness about them that has until now made mo-cap so unpleasant. And the colors and lines are beautifully evocative of the original artwork by Tintin's creator, the Belgian artist Herge.
And the film certainly has Herge's pedal-to-the-floor sense of adventure, the kind of which Spielberg created so gloriously in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Spielberg turns the streets of Morocco into a massive game of Mousetrap, a white-knuckle race with more twists and turns than a telenovela, that amazingly is done in a one continuous "shot." Yes, this is more easily done in the world of animation, but it is nonetheless a staggering bit of imagine and expertise.
And yet… It all feels rather cold. Tintin doesn’t seem to actually care about why the model ship is so valuable, or what it leads to, and his side in the fight is chosen for him when the other guys come at him guns –a-blazing. It feels as though Tintin's chasing down the story just to satisfy his own intellectual curiosity. And because the film tells the story of Tintin's first meeting with Capt. Haddock, the duo lacks the rapport that made them so engaging in the comics. This is a common complaint about so-called "origin stories" that launch movie franchises, but at what point to we stop excepting this as an excuse? People manage to make great one-off films all the time that capture the inter-personal dynamics of folks we've never before met—why do we give special dispensation to tent-poles?
"The Adventures of Tintin" opens everywhere December 21st.