MOVIE REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin
Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson
The art of fearless pursuit defines Steven Spielberg’s B-movie spectacle The Adventures of Tintin, an infectious homage to Hergé’s popular comic book series and a spiritual cousin to the director’s own Indiana Jones series. The film lives and breathes on forward momentum, maximizing the fluid visual grace of motion capture animation to catapult driven characters from one daring set piece to the next. As boy reporter Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) and his insanely intelligent and capable dog Snowy get a whiff of mystery in the film’s clever opening scene, they dive head first into a rapturous and dangerous hero’s journey almost organically. It quickly becomes evident that Spielberg is less concerned with tangible plot points than the momentary joys, fears, and traumas of his characters, the realizations of friendship and kinship that occur mid-pounce.
It’s fitting then that instinct plays a crucial role throughout Tintin’s globetrotting, time-shifting fable, becoming a thematic mirror to Spielberg’s aesthetic panache. After purchasing a replica of an infamous clipper ship called the Unicorn, Tintin is hounded by the creepy socialite Sakharine (Daniel Craig) for the model’s hidden contents. There’s an overwhelming sense of mystery here, something Tintin can feel but cannot put to words. Early scenes, like the moment Tintin enters a dank old mansion to look for his now stolen ship, is one of many narrative MacGuffins hiding the film’s true interest in aligning character’s fates. Tintin’s initial travails are merely pieces of a prologue leading to his meeting with a disgraced ship captain named Haddock (the great Andy Serkis), whose family lineage plays a crucial role in unlocking the mysteries of the Unicorn.
Like Spielberg’s other great films about generational trauma, including such divergent works as 1987’s Empire of the Sun and 2001’s A.I: Artificial Intelligence, Tintin follows a young man trying to make sense of the past in order to justify the complexities and hardships of the present. A daringly kinetic flashback to the ill-fated battle between the Unicorn and a competing pirate ship captained by the evil Red Rackham is a perfect example of this dichotomy. Not only is the sequence visually ravishing, the two warring vessels circling around each other only to become beautifully entangled by gravity, but also because the time jump is essential to Haddock’s family timeline, a repressed memory that opens up the narrative to even more possibilities.
Like his fellow New Hollywood “film brat” Martin Scorsese, Spielberg utilizes 3-D technology in illuminating ways, especially during Tintin’s two breathtaking action scenes. The first, a single-take chase sequence that begins in the corridors of an Arabian palace before snaking through alleyways, streets, and open-air markets down to the Mediterranean Sea below, is one of the most breathtaking moments Spielberg has ever filmed. The second involves two gigantic cranes clashing in perfect harmony, a modern day pirate ship battle relocated ashore. Cinematic virtuosity permeates throughout both scenes, something only matched only by each character’s resolve to momentarily grasp whatever truths have been eluding them for so long. In our day and age when banality and creative bankruptcy dominate most children’s films, Tintin springs to life from the first frame, capturing the improvisation and power genre films can afford when molded by the right cinematic sculptor. It’ll make the perfect film-viewing present come Christmas Day.
-The Adventures of Tintin opens nation-wide on Wednesday, December 21, 2011