If, like me, you find the movie technique known as motion capture creepy, you might be put off going to see Steven Spielberg’s 3-D “The Adventures of Tintin.” Motion capture is a sort of halfway house between live-action and animation, with real actors, wired with reflectors and filmed by multiple digital cameras, employed as stand-ins for characters who are then animated against preset backgrounds.
In the past, this technique, as demonstrated in movies like Robert Zemeckis’s “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf,” came across as machine-tooled – soulless. The main achievement of “Tintin” is that at least the cartoon people and pets come across as characters and not hollow, humanoid entities.
This is not, as it turns out, quite enough of an achievement for me. “Tintin” is a mélange of second-tier derring-do out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Spielberg has transferred his mania for graphic storytelling into a new realm, but essentially we’re watching a live-action variation on some pretty old stuff.
The exploits are based on three classic Tintin books by the Belgian comic-book artist Hergé (the pseudonym for journalist and illustrator Georges Remi) – “The Crab With the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn,” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure.” Those titles alone provide a taste of the film’s flavor. With his quiff of orangey hair and his boy-wonder doggedness, Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his trusty terrier Snowy circle the globe in pursuit of buried treasure. Along for the ride – which entails airplanes, frigates, and motorcyles – is the boozy sea captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Chief nemesis is the malevolent Sakharine (Daniel Craig), with whom Haddock has, as they say, a history.
There are some amusing bits: An opera diva belts out arias and shatters glass in glorious 3-D; the intrepid Snowy rides to the rescue more than once. But Spielberg makes the mistake of piling on the action nonstop, and even though he’s a whiz at dynamic compositions even in this computerized format, enough is enough. It’s the same mistake most action directors with a smidgen of Spielberg’s talent make all the time. The “Pirates of the Caribbean” series is a prime culprit. (A one-sentence review of the penultimate film in that series could have read: “Is it over yet?”)
The cartoon character Tintin, first introduced in 1929, has been so wildly popular in Europe that Spielberg and his producer Peter Jackson may be hoping for a similar bonanza stateside. But Tintin – and “The Adventures of Tintin” – may prove a bit too quaint and well-mannered for American audiences. Maybe this is why Spielberg throws so much highflying action, uncharacteristic of Hergé, into the mix. He’s trying to infuse a European-style boy sleuth escapade with some American-style whiz bang. He’s hoping, in vain I think, that this motion-capture “Tintin” will yield box office “Goldgold.” Grade: B (Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness, and brief smoking.)
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