As if to make up for the creative disaster that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Steven Spielberg roars back into the action/adventure realm with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, a lively and fun adventure backed up by some truly amazing motion capture effects. Herge’s comic book creation is very much in the vein of Spielberg’s work with the Indiana Jones character and the filmmaker seems to embrace that comparison completely.
While Brad Bird made a more than capable transition from animation to live action embracing the action and movement of his previous animated films, Spielberg makes the reverse transition into animation taking the camera to places he probably only dreamed of before. Tintin’s breathless action scenes are pretty good but echo some of the filmmaker’s latter day instincts in making things bigger and broader.
At times I felt the characters were left behind and the main character of Tintin suffers for it. I never got a sense of the character throughout the film and he’s never given the depth and range of feeling that Captain Haddock is given. This can probably be chalked up to performance as well. Andy Serkis is a veteran of mo-cap and shines through where Jamie Bell as Tintin disappears into the background of the beautifully rendered scenery.
Despite a slightly laggy middle period, the film for the most part moves at a quick pace and never dwells on any one point, jumping from set piece to set piece with the kind of professional dazzle that’s expected of a master filmmaker like Spielberg. The film sits on that not quite so easy to establish line between live action and animation so it’s difficult to ascertain whether to label it special effects or animation but whatever you call it, it’s absolutely stunning from beginning to end. Where Robert Zemeckis’ experiments in motion capture succumbed to the “uncanny valley” and deadened eyes, Tintin provides lively and believable characters. At no point during the film does the audience not believe that they are watching real performers moving through an actual, if exaggerated, environment. Just to look at the water effects is a sign of how far these effects have come and they are truly remarkable in their rendering.
This is Spielberg’s second film of the winter season and, like War Horse, is a technical marvel. But Tintin leaps over War Horse in pretty much every other regard in being a fairly exciting and fun film to watch. It doesn’t quite live up to the high watermarks of his previous blockbusters but one could almost see the filmmaker apologizing for the previous Indiana Jones installment with several exciting action sequences that put that turgid film to shame.