The Adventures of Tintin
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Rating: PG, for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking
Runtime: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Bottom line: Stylish adaptation doesn't equal its source
"The Adventures of Tintin" boasts one of the most impressive pedigrees of 2011.
Steven Spielberg directs his second release this week and the first animated film of his career (that's more than a little impressive itself, even if the results aren't stellar). Spielberg and Peter Jackson head up a production team full of some of Hollywood's most powerful players.
The film's source material is one of the most enduring series of children's books in Western history. Belgian artist Hergé (nomme de plume of Georges Remi) first published a comic book featuring Tintin and his dog, Snowy, in 1929, and he continued producing Tintin's adventures in one form or another until his death in 1983.
The screenplay was written by Steven Moffat (executive producer/writer of "Doctor Who" and co-creator/writer of "Sherlock"), Edgar Wright (writer/director of "Shaun of the Dead" and "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World") and Joe Cornish (writer/director of "Attack the Block").
The cast is just as impressive. This should be one unforgettable movie. In the case of "Tintin," though, the whole is nowhere near as great as the sum of its parts.
The writers crammed three comic books into one story. Tintin (Jamie Bell), accompanied as always by his dog, Snowy, buys a model ship, only to find out that it hides a hidden scroll. Mysterious henchmen, working for a collector named Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), pursue him as he tries to solve the riddle written on the scroll.
His quest leads him to a ship helmed by Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a loveable guy with an unhealthy love of the dram. Since the riddle has something to do with the Haddock family, Tintin and the captain team up. Tintin will have to solve the mystery and Haddock will have to live up to his rather daunting family legacy (and sober up) if they hope to survive.
Their pursuit of the past takes them practically around the world as they traverse deserts, oceans, a handful of cities and finally return to France.
Fans of Hergé's books will likely be divided. On one hand, the film pays tribute repeatedly to the original comics. On the other, this seems like an Indiana Jones spinoff as much as a Tintin movie. John Williams even composed the score.
The look of the film also bears little resemblance to Hergé's trademark, minimalist "ligne claire" style.
Nor does it look much like a Spielberg film. He chose to do "Tintin" in 3D motion capture and to focus on whooshing, gravity defying (and often nonsensical) action sequences more than character. It's very similar to Robert Zemeckis' "Polar Express" and "A Christmas Carol" in style and depth.
The motion capture technique itself produces mixed reactions and ultimately comes down to individual taste. Personally, I've never been a fan, and "Tintin" does nothing to change my mind.
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" at least stretched the technique and used it in a novel way. Here, it doesn't make much sense, especially when the Tintin comic books are known for their two-dimensional style. Why Spielberg chose to use photo realistic motion capture rather than live action is a complete mystery.
Also a mystery, for those who haven't read any of the comic books, is who this Tintin fellow is. Ironically, Tintin is the character we learn the least about.
Children will likely enjoy the animation and the adventure, but the movie isn't appropriate for children under age 8 or 9 as it features a great deal of gun violence, drunkenness and smoking.
So that's two Spielberg movies in one week that will please relatively small demographics and produce underwhelming box office numbers.
In fact, families have few options at all during this holiday season. The newest Chipmunks movie is being panned by critics and viewers alike, and "We Bought a Zoo" is receiving lukewarm advanced reviews at best.
Looks like it's chestnuts by the fire instead of popcorn at the theater this year.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.