It’s a shame the same Spielberg who made Raiders of the Lost Ark didn’t make The Adventures of Tintin. Instead, it’s a film directed by the “modern era” Steven Spielberg, a craftsman who’s mastered the art of staging and directing an action sequence, so much so, when he returns to the genre, his work sometimes plays like an assembly-line adventure, with all the pieces fitting together a little too neatly. While Tintin is a very enjoyable, action-packed movie, there’s just something missing from the picture.
Tintin does play more in line with the classic Indiana Jones trilogy of yore than say, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it’s riddled with many of the same problems Spielberg has grappled with over the past decade or so. Pacing seems off. Characters are underdeveloped (or overdeveloped), and every set piece is orchestrated to a tee, with no flaws, and no real sense of accidental movie magic.
Part of the problem is simply Spielberg’s method of direction, specifically when it comes to popcorn entertainment. Around the time he made Jurassic Park, Spielberg had become the sort of director who didn’t even need to be present for one of his films to look like, well, a Steven Spielberg movie. He would cleverly stage his action in storyboards, and conduct direction through video and phone conferences, then travel off to work on Schindler’s List. This rough process of filmmaking yielded a popcorn classic in Jurassic Park, while Spielberg earned a great many accolades for his work on Schindler’s List.
However, as the years have gone by, Spielberg has perfected this method of filmmaking to a point where nothing is really left to chance. This is enhanced with an animated film like Tintin, where every minute detail of the production can be per-orchestrated, right down to how many clouds are up in the sky.
That’s not to say Spielberg isn’t a great filmmaker anymore – he still is a wonderful director and a brilliant craftsman who deserves your respect. It’s just that his dramatic work often outweighs his big-budget popcorn pictures these days because he seems more focused on delivering a better product there.
While The Adventures of Tintin is probably Spielberg’s best action picture in recent memory, it’s simply too flawless at times, with perfect lighting, perfect performances and over-the-top action so intense it almost becomes mind-numbing, not to mention exhausting. The film is layered from top to bottom with action set pieces, each grand enough for the finale of pretty much any film. Unfortunately, in between, there’s little else to the movie. Our characters are Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), a journalist who seemingly reports to no one; Tintin’s dog, Snowy; and a drunkard named Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis), who’s the alcoholic equivalent of Popeye.
Despite its flaws, Tintin is still an extraordinarily fun movie. While disappointing on some levels, it is well made, with amusing gravity-defying action set pieces, and plenty of mystery, evoking that classic spirit of Indiana Jones. And the film is a dazzling piece of animation, underrated and forgotten when the 2011 Oscar season rolled around. But be prepared to lower some expectations. This isn’t really the return of “classic Spielberg.” The film is far too neat and pristine to really draw out that vintage spirit. Regardless, The Adventures of Tintin is a worthwhile experience that’s destined to grow into something great as the story continues in the inevitable sequel.
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