Rating: 4.25/5It’s good to have Steven Spielberg back. It’s been a while since we had a proper picture from the man – while 2005′s surprisingly gritty Munich showed off a surprisingly grown-up Spielberg devoid of the boy-with-the-movie camera mix of dark humor and whiz-bang finales, 2008′s frail and balding Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull showed that you can’t go home again. Except that The Adventures of Tintin shows that you can kinda go home again, so long as that home is digitally rendered.
The Adventures of Tintin, based on the internationally beloved comic book series from the Belgian creator known by the pen name Hergé, follows a boy reporter named Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), who, along with his dog Snowy, ends up hurtling into adventure and intrigue when he buys an antique model ship and sinister forces want what’s contained within the thing. Somehow, Tintin ends up teaming with a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis) in the process.
Tintin is the perfect kid-friendly adventure film. Part of its success is who was tapped to write the thing: creative British folk with nerd cred, and not Hollywood screenwriting hacks – cineaste icon Edgar Wright, Attack the Block director Joe Cornish and “Doctor Who” revolutionizer Steven Moffat. The adventure they’ve written is so shockingly irony-free and timeless it’s easy to be transported back to the simplicity of a childhood spent enjoying cartoons. Never does anyone question how a boy can become a reputable journalist — he just is, at the very beginning of the film.
Then there’s the element of Spielberg himself, seen here in what some optimistic, hyperbolic critics might call a “return to form.” As an optimistic, hyperbolic critic, I’d say, yeah, pretty much – Spielberg, who bought the rights to Tintin way back in 1983, taps into that Raiders of the Lost Ark energy to deliver a rousing adventure flick, and one that utilizes and updates the genre while still seeming very classic. The action sequences are fun to watch and – while still relatively kid-friendly and full of Pixar-level visual gags – the humor gets surprisingly adult. This is a film where one of the characters’ raging alcoholism is both a running joke and a plot point, but never, ever a source of bad drama.
The key to the film on a technical level is that Spielberg doesn’t go nuts with the cinematographic possibilities offered by the computer generated format. In other words, he doesn’t put together shots that swing around and swoop unrealistically or go inside and around things as if David Fincher were turned into a sentient liquid – instead, he treats the visuals of the film like he would a live action movie, composing shots that make sense, enlisting frequent cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to consult on the lighting and only using the freedom of a CG world to do insane shit like create one continuous set piece shot because, hey, why cut when you don’t have to? By employing subtle enhancements to something you could conceivably create with physical objects, the effect is akin to a really great live-action sequence, not just a cool-looking cartoon.
While I loved the film, I’m not certain moviegoers will be quite as open to it. I don’t think the world’s ready for a boy reporter and his dog who go on adventures, but maybe future generations will be open to it. Whenever that happens, they’ll have The Adventures of Tintin.