By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 11, 2011 at 1:58PM
As Jamie Bell, sporting a Tintin haircut, introduced the closing night attraction at AFI FEST 2011, Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" (December 21), he felt the need to tell the audience exactly who Tintin is. Belgian Herge's comic book character was created back in 1929, serialized in newspapers around the world, and over the years translated into 80 languages, selling 200 million copies. "I started reading the comics when I was eight," said Bell. "I've been preparing for this role for a while." Herge had said before he died in 1983 that if anyone could direct "Tintin" it should be Steven Spielberg. The director sent a video from the Virginia set of "Lincoln," admitting that this is the first time he's directed an animated movie.
While "Tintin" has qualified as an animated film for the Oscars, it isn't traditional animation. It marks yet another advancement in the art of performance capture 3-D--"Avatar" VFX master Joe Letteri and producer Peter Jackson's Weta Digital have pushed the technology to new heights (more on this from Bill Desowitz).
Needless to say Spielberg has a blast placing his camera in places where no camera has ever gone before. All limitations are gone in this 3-D digital world, so he shoots under crashing cars, over rooftops, inside fiery battling pirate ships and swooping planes: the director has been set free to indulge every whim. And for the first hour, the movie (adapted with faithful affection by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish) is a marvel of delight, from Tintin staging popping champagne corks to mimic gunfire to such phrases as "Great Scotland Yard!" and "billions of bilious blue blistering barbecued barnacles!"
But eventually the novelty wears thin, as the last third of the film settles into one repetitive action sequence--accompanied by John Williams' too-familiar bombastic score--after another.
As played by Bell, Tintin is a winning smartypants hero (a reporter!), and Daniel Craig and Andy Serkis shine through as villainous Sakharine and likeable drunk Captain Haddock, respectively. But the film's star is unquestionably an animated character: Tintin's canine sidekick Snowy, who is resourceful, loyal and true. When Snowy takes off --and Spielberg's mobile camera with him--running across a herd of cows or stretching to grab dangling keys among sliding bunkbeds of sleeping sailors on Haddock's tilting ship, the movie is at its best. This dog can act.
Which leaves me wondering---if the best stuff in the movie is unfettered animation (like the fluttering train ticket taking off across the woods in "Polar Express"), why not just do CG 3-D Pixar-style animation? Using performance capture makes sense in the context of a live action movie like "Avatar." The only Zemeckis performance capture movie that really worked was "Monster House," which was stylized, it did not try to look like the real world. Weta and Spielberg have delivered an exhilarating E-ride: "Tintin" is a live action/animation hybrid that allows master filmmakers to play with this technology. But maybe animation is best left to the animators.
"It's Young Indiana Jones on steroids, which isn't exactly true to the comics, and which in the end I found to be more exhausting than exhilarating,..[The use of 3D] is fine, but not as playfully virtuosic as Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' or as essential as Wim Wenders' dance documentary 'Pina,' the two most remarkable recent uses of the technique."
"The film is a dazzling experience, full of Spielberg's trademark cinematic energy. It's his best film in nearly a decade (since 'Minority Report,' at least),..Indeed, I appreciate 'Tintin' for the hybrid of mo-cap and animation that it is, because obviously it was the only way Spielberg could do some of the things he wanted to do. The film is just a landmark of visual conception, plain and simple."