Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin

(Thanks to conviction and planning, overcoming the obstacle of only ONE daily showing and that at noon, Ian and I watched this movie in 2D. We were still distracted by shots that were obviously made to be showcased in 3D.)

One of the things I seem to have left behind as an adult is the joyous experience of reading the collection of Tintin books, those thin, massive hard-cover comics. I read them as a boy in Bermuda, those and Asterix and Obelix, which came as identically built books. More than any individual plot, I can remember the assortment of characters and the joy of reading them. So in describing the movie "The Adventures of Tintin" I would be unable to tell you if the movie was based on any of the books except that I'd read somewhere on the internet that it includes the plots from three. Because I had loved the books in my youth, I knew from when I first heard about it that I would want to see the movie. The sequence included in the movie trailer of the sailing ship cresting the desert dune and dragging the sea behind it was the clincher if one was needed and it wasn't.

This is a beautiful movie. From the opening scenes in the outdoor bazaar, lost on the ocean and then in the desert, the middle eastern seaport, the movie is brilliant bright colours and exquisitely rendered. The animation is so realistic, you forget that it's a motion-captured, computer-generated character, except for reminders from exaggerated noses. Remember the complaints from "The Polar Express" and its successors about how no one has yet solved the motion-capture problem of dead, creepy eyes? Well, problem solved. Stephen Spielberg directed this movie with assistance from Peter Jackson (Peter Jackson as second unit director? There was a surprise). Around about the time that he directed "A.I." I noticed how Spielberg loved to craft shots from mirrors and reflected surfaces, a technique he uses wonderfully and repeatedly in Tintin, transitions that take inspired and innovative advantage of motion capture's faux-reality, including a shot that zooms into the remarkably life-like eye of his character, through the pupil and into the next scene.

Around the same time I started reading Tintin, I discovered the hard-boiled detective books of Ed McBain whose 87th Precinct series include repeated appearances by the two homicide bulls, Monaghan and Monroe. As often as I've read those books, only recently did it occur to me that perhaps Monaghan and Monroe were an hommage to Thompson and Thomson. I would watch a movie that was ONLY about Thompson and Thomson (or maybe it's Thomson and Thompson). I'd forgotten about their trademark patter as evidenced by an early exchange:

Thompson: It's childishly simple!
Thomson: To be precise: it's simply childish!

The casting of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as these two inspectors was sublime.

So with all this, why did I get the sense of being a little underwhelmed when I left the movie theatre? Let me try to spread some blame for this.

Start with the plot. The film moves from place to place without a sense of purpose or connection beyond a simplistic motivation of a scavenger hunt. The person whose half of the review you won't see at the bottom of this expressed a similar sentiment as we walked through the parking lot to the car: "It didn't seem to be about anything." And as you get to the end, in spite of the movie only being a treasure hunt, a greater goal seemingly remains to be continued.

My bigger complaints concern the two main characters, Tintin and Snowy. I realize and accept this is not a traditional cartoon. The character design for this style of animation is going to mean that Tintin isn't going to look like Tintin. But somehow I found it distracting. There's the cowlick, and it's not quite right. The face is not quite right, and dammit, his socks are supposed to be white. The story opens with Tintin having his caricature being drawn. Behind him is a gallery of faces straight from the comics and of course the final drawing of Tintin matches the way you've seen him in all of his books. It was a message straight from Spielberg. This is as close as it's going to get.

Snowy was the bigger distraction. Unlike his master, Snowy was created and rendered as the perfect match to his comic book persona. My issue was not how he looked, rather that the dog acted as Deus ex machina for at least a half a dozen plot points through the movie. Let's put Tintin in a really sticky wicket. How will he get out if THIS!!! Over and over the answer was: the dog. Over and over. And over. It became banal.

It's been a week since I saw the movie and I'm still hung up over what rating I'd give the movie. Three stars or two? "The Adventures of Tintin" was like this beautiful and exquisite goblet of cheap wine.

Ian says three straws. So.

Three Straws.

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