The Adventures of Tintin

Good heavens, Mr. Spielberg! Your movie is terrible!
Steven Spielberg
Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
The Setup: 
Animated adaptation of the famous Belgian comic.

I was only moderately interested in this, mostly because with Spielberg there's a good chance his movies will be good, and this sounded like something he might be able to apply his particular magic to. Of course, I also gave War Horse a chance, and ended up walking out after 30 minutes. Also, as with Hugo, he we have a cinematic master applying himself to 3D, and let's see what he does with it. But ultimately what I was most reminded of was a recent film by another Steven who works on multiple movies at once, Soderbergh, and who claims that the movies themselves don't suffer from this reduced-attention approach. And seems oblivious to the fact that the resulting movies just aren't that great.

It also seems to be one of those situations in which a director sought out one of the inspiring artistic works that brought him delight as a youth, and wanted to bring its magic to the world in such a way that ensured that no one would ever enjoy it again.

We open with a fairly fun flash-like animation showing colorful figures doing all sorts of derring-do. Then we are in a Brussels square, and have an immediate call-out to the look of the original Tintin comics. Our movie Tintin is a performance-capture fellow, looking semi-realistic, and... well, we'll get to that. He buys a ship model, which is suddenly sought after by a guy who tells him he's in danger, then by the fellow who will be the bad guy, whose name I've forgotten, who says it belongs in some hall. Tintin takes it home, there's a cat-and-dog chase (I mean literal cat and dog) and a little container comes out and falls behind the cupboard. Once Tintin returns and finds his apartment ransacked, he finds the container, which has a little piece of paper with a secret code.

Before you know it, he's kidnapped and put on a ship bound, why, for adventure, naturally, where he meets the drunken Captain Haddock. The are shootouts and escapes, there's a waterplane chase, and by the time they arrive in a fictional Middle Eastern city, I was already overloaded and disengaged. Interest rose for a second when the drunken Captain sets their boat on fire and burns their oars, and I thought "Oh, this might get interesting," but no, soon it's back to chases and chases and chases, distinguished only by change of location. Manohla Dargis in the New York Times described it best as "a night’s entertainment that can feel like a lifetime."

Along the way one can't help but notice that the animation is incredibly subtle and detailed. Touches like the reflections of light on glass, water on cobblestones, burning ships are all handled with stunning detail, and you are aware of watching the best computer animation money can buy. It succeeds in evoking a sense of wonder... that so many people worked so hard and so much money was spent to create what is such an overall piece of crap. There's this chase and that chase and this other chase and still another chase, and then one more chase, and then an extra chase to grow on, leaving time in the end for another chase. The energy level goes high and never lets up, never accruing mood or texture. Toward the end it's time for the hero to abruptly give up hope, so that the sidekick can deliver an inspirational speech about never giving up, and then a few more chases til the end.

I was reminded of the first computer-animated film to feature lifelike humans, Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within, and how watching fake people is just plain boring. How even in a terrible movie, having actual humans gives you something to watch. Here, money was clearly spent, and the people don't have the dead-eyed look they did in The Polar Express, but they still remain steadfastly uninvolving. Perhaps this is because they have no real character. Tintin is intrepid. Haddock is a drunk. We know little more about them. Something like Up or The Incredibles is able to generate involvement by having actual characters with real motivations, but here there's nothing but action. And although we may be looking at the most shiny pixels money can buy, we're still looking at pixels, so the stunts create no sense of real danger or peril, because we're not really looking at anything. The young kids in the audience seemed to have no problem getting involved with the fake characters and fake action, which makes one not feel out of touch, but simply sad for a coming generation who will make no distinction between humans real and computer-generated.

So if you're going to go I suggest applying your drug of choice and gearing up for a trippy visual ride, which you will certainly get, and not expect much more. This will massage your eyeballs, for sure, but its effects sadly don't extend further than the optic nerve.

Should you watch it: 

No real reason.