Videodrome: The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on March 13th. Young Adult will also be coming out on the 13th, so I’ve decided to give you a heads up on this.

Two days before seeing Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, I finished reading The Pixar Touch by ­­­­­­­­David A. Price. The book, a brief but engrossing history of Pixar, both as a computer graphics hardware company and as the world’s leading purveyor of animated films, made me realize that the struggle for viable computer animation (something we all take for granted now) was a long, arduous process, full of so many pitfalls that it’s a real miracle that Pixar even exists today in any form. Those who pioneered in the computer animation field had dreamed of a day when their graphics would look believable and clean. Up to this point, the dream had been almost fully realized in films like Wall-e and Finding Nemo. But though Pixar and other companies have succeeded in making tremendous visual spectacles, they’ve never been able to make an animated feature with human characters that looked real. As I sat there watching Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin I realized that their dream had come to life. The dream, up there on a big screen, really is a beautiful thing to behold.

The optimal time to see Tintin has come and gone, though. I happened to see it sitting near the back at a second run theatre, with a bunch of children surrounding me and my wife. We had arrived too late to get a decent seat (I prefer something in the middle of the row, center of the theatre), so I had to settle for a visual experience that more closely approximated my own TV than it did an actual theatre; not the optimal way to see this movie. But even from that horrible distance, I was surprised and impressed with the visual splendor before my eyes. Each frame was packed with sumptuous detail and eye-popping color. And more importantly, shot after shot was rendered in near photorealistic quality while rarely crossing into the “uncanny valley”.  It’s not often that I feel compelled to say that a movie is a “visual feast” or to use any other lame superlative for cinematography, but Tintin really does fit the description. It’s the type of movie that you can just stare at sometimes and be baffled at the amount of work and perfectionist sweat that would’ve gone into any one of the frames that are flittering before your eyes. I have seen many other beautifully animated movies before, but they have all had a strictly cartoon aesthetic. This realism, with a dash of cartoon style, marvelously done, was something I’d never seen before.

Still frames don't do the movie justice.

After all the progress that has been made in computer animation over the past two decades, leave it to Steven Spielberg, the children’s director of our age, helming his first and only animated feature to date, to bring us to this point.

If you have any interest in Tintin at all and if you have access to a theatrical screening, you should go now, before it’s too late. If you can’t see it at a theatre, then at least get yourself a Blu-ray disc and make sure you watch it on as big of a TV as you can possibly find. If you have only a tiny relic of a television, don’t even bother.

Now, sit down and prepare yourself for some immaculate boredom.

All that attention to detail, faux realism, and visual magic are wasted on a story so hollow and dull I caught myself often looking at the wall next to me, which, ironically, had a still picture from Saving Private Ryan gracing its façade. As much as I was dumbfounded by the visuals in Tintin, I was even more dumbfounded by how completely inane every other aspect of the film was.

You see, Tintin is a boy detective in France. He buys a model ship with a unicorn on the bow. The ship is apparently dangerous, as two separate strangers warn him immediately after his purchase. Tintin, attracted to danger and adventure, doesn’t care. He takes the model ship home. His dog knocks it over, there’s a little note hidden inside it. Someone tries to break into Tintin’s apartment to steal the model and get the note. Then somehow Tintin figures out that the model and note has been left behind by someone from the past and, yes, there is a mystery to be solved. Then Tintin ends up on a ship and then a plane and then he’s in the desert, and so on and so fourth. There are a lot of bad guys trying to get Tintin and his note, etc, blah blah blah. The plot is so convoluted that I gave up an initial attempt to describe it to you in some detail, and, as you can plainly see, my current description lacks conviction. It doesn’t matter, though, because action sequence is piled upon action sequence until the plot becomes an afterthought, the movie a series of abstract color and movement sequences. If you have an attention span of more than 15 seconds, you will find yourself on overload. And by the time the whole thing is over, you won’t be able to recall one single line of memorable dialogue or any aspect of Tintin’s character that you really enjoyed. As a hero, he’s sort of lifeless. The movie, as a consequence, never seems to breathe.

Through this contrast between excellence and absurdity, The Adventures of Tintin becomes a disappointment of the highest order. Excellence situated right next to mediocrity is never a good combination. Spielberg has shown us in the past that he is more than able to make children’s fantasies and adventures that live on in our memories forever. Anyone who has seen E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark will know that he can develop adventures that thrill our imaginations, make us laugh, and allow us to empathize with and root for the characters on the screen. But anyone who has seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Hook will also know that Spielberg is not immune to just plain blowing it. The tin ear for story and character that he displayed in those movies is present here, and my fear is that it won’t ever go away. He is a child no more.

I never dreamed I would think this, but I now hope that Spielberg spends the rest of his career making movies for adults. It’s time to pass the baton to someone else. A quick look at Hugo and I think I know who he should pass it to.

Spielberg's movie could never approach this level of joyous simplicity and clever humor..

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