Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and Tintin (Jamie Bell) go on Indiana Jones-style exploits in The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg's new motion-capture movie. Image: Weta Digital.
If Indiana Jones had smooth skin, a British accent and no sense of humor, he might come across something like the plucky reporter at the heart of The Adventures of Tintin.
Steven Spielberg’s startling motion-capture production rightly puts “adventure” in its title. As with tales of Indy and other serialized heroes, there’s not much in the way of character development in Tintin.
The PG-rated animated movie, opening Wednesday in 3-D, hews to the type of old-fashioned storytelling found in Georges “Hergé” Remi’s The Adventures of Tintin comic book series from the 1920s and 1930s, giving us a trouble-seeking newspaper reporter who remains the same at the end of this tale as he is at the start: all investigative piss and vinegar, with nary a self-doubt, wisecrack or tragic flaw in sight.
Which is fine, when you’ve got so many twisty-turny plot threads to weave together.
(Spoiler alert: Plot points follow.)
Tireless newshound Tintin, performed by Jamie Bell, stumbles onto his next big story at a flea market where he acquires a model ship. The boat conceals a secret scroll coveted by Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), descendant of cruel pirate Red Rackham. Complications ensue.
The going gets good about 45 minutes into the film, when Tintin’s most interesting character, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), comes into view. A drunken mess who’s lost control of his ship to the grim Sakharine, Haddock tries to stay sober, redeem family honor and figure out what happened to treasure stolen from his seafaring ancestors centuries earlier.
Haddock delivers Tintin’s funniest bits, as when he lurches toward a blob of free-floating whiskey during a biplane ride piloted by the ridiculously fast-learning Tintin. Careful to color within the lines established by Hergé’s source material, Tintin screenplay writers Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) and Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) keep Tintin 100 percent serious but manage to slip Haddock some amusing lines.
“Since when did I start wearing a beard?” the captain wonders after he awakes from a flashback.
Haddock’s ancestral memories serve as portal to a spectacular pirate sequence that showcases motion capture to its best advantage, serving up thrills in the spirit of Erroll Flynn’s 1930s swashbuckler movies. The stormy seascape sets the stage for a dashing display of swordplay that subtly stretches credibility to stirring effect.
Weta Digital’s motion-capture technology, which layers digitally generated “skin” onto actors’ performance recorded using body sensors, amplifies the story. When Tintin, his dog Snowy and Captain Haddock journey to a North African palace, they get caught up in a chase involving a raven and a glass-shattering opera singer while tooling around in a motorcycle. The whole thing calls to mind Indiana Jones’ free-wheeling sidecar excursions.
Spielberg smartly keeps close-ups to a minimum. Appropriate to its comic book roots, The Adventures of Tintin inhabits its own visual zone of heightened reality. But the movie’s high-end cartoonery goes overboard when it comes to music: Spielberg’s constant collaborator John Williams composed brilliant themes for Jaws, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Schindler’s List, but for Tintin, his music never stops. Without a memorable musical motif on par with his great Indiana Jones fanfare, Williams’ antic score may get young viewers hopped up, but the wall-to-wall orchestrations leave no room for the pause that refreshes.
Noisy or not, Tintin’s 21st-century version will likely follow the Indiana Jones model by proffering continuing adventures. During the film’s unresolved closing scene, the blond man-child challenges the crusty Captain Haddock to continue their quest.
To be continued? Snowy says “Woof!”
WIRED Spectacular motion-captured imagery juiced by genius dog and Andy Serkis’ sly Captain Haddock performance.
TIRED Unrelenting score leads to ear fatigue.