‘Tintin’: Nifty technology trumps storytelling

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Tuesday, December 20, 2011 10:42am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Tintin, the reporter-adventurer of indeterminate age whose comic-book escapades have enchanted Europeans for more than 70 years, is not a character most Americans have great familiarity with. So his new movie, “The Adventures of Tintin,” won’t get a free pass based on previous acquaintance, the way, for instance, a Batman movie might.

If it fails with U.S. audiences, it won’t be for lack of energy. As directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by “Lord of the Rings” man Peter Jackson, this animated movie is nothing if not spirited.

Shot in motion-capture style (live actors play the roles, then get digitally drawn over) and offered in 3-D, this thing is a whirling dervish of action.

Tintin, the creation of Belgian artist Herge, is a young fellow with a curious quiff of hair and an earnest demeanor. He is accompanied by his dog, Snowy, and played here (in voice and body movements) by Jamie Bell.

Our introduction to Tintin and Snowy in “Adventures” is charming and funny, as a random purchase at a flea market — a model of a sailing ship — leads to a globe-trotting plot in which a bad guy named Red Rackham (Daniel Craig) butts heads with Tintin, who becomes allied with a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis).

The film has zany set-pieces, including a sea battle in which two ships get their masts tangled (and are thus locked together as the ocean tosses them about) and a wild airplane landing in the desert.

The giddiest sequence consists of one long unbroken “take,” as Tintin scrambles around an Arabian port while chasing, and being chased by, various other characters. You can sense Spielberg reveling in the possibilities of an animated tour de force like this, a world in which no physical limitation, nor stuntman hazard pay, can get in the way of creating movie magic.

When it comes right down to it, though, I’m afraid there’s more technology than magic in “The Adventures of Tintin.” The motion-capture technique can be expressive (in the Jim Carrey “Christmas Carol,” for instance) or kinda creepy (“The Polar Express”), and Spielberg avoids the creep factor by making the characters look cartoony, not realistic.

But for me, the process creates a distance that I found off-putting here. I admired the movie’s technique without getting involved in the story or the characters. And Spielberg’s humor is corny; the funny-drunkard jokes feel like they come from a different era.

If the film is zingy enough for kids, great. I enjoyed sections of it, too. A sequel’s planned, with Peter Jackson rumored to direct, and that could be cool, especially if he finds a way to engage those of us who tend to zone out at the motion-capture spectacle.

“The Adventures of Tintin” (2½ stars)

Big, breathless rendering of the popular comic-book character from Belgium, depicted here in motion-capture animation, which makes the set-pieces giddy but keeps the characters at a distance. Steven Spielberg directs, energetically, and kids should enjoy the action, but the technique tends to bury the storytelling.

Rated: PG for violence, subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, and Stanwood.

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