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MOVIE REVIEW
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

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DW Studios

It has taken nearly 30 years for Steven Spielberg to bring Tintin to the big screen, having optioned the rights to a film adaptation way back in 1983. Whether he was sitting on the project until technology caught up with his vision or he was simply undecided as how to realize a film that comes with an enormity of expectation from a salivating fan base is uncertain. Regardless, by co-opting in his Kiwi buddy Peter Jackson — who brings all his Weta magic to the party — Mr. Spielberg has managed to deliver a film that captures all the joyful frivolity of Hergé’s works with a typically Spielbergian sprinkle of unabashed rambunctious action.

While much of the focus and debate has been around the decision to utilize performance-capture technology and whether or not this was a wise or indeed successful means of transitioning Hergé’s work to the big screen, this almost becomes a moot point come the credits, such is the joyous journey that Mr. Spielberg takes us on. True, the performance capture is far from perfect and one can’t help but wonder if the quite splendid animation used in the opening credits might have been a better bet, but it’s sufficient nonetheless.

Crucially too, Mr. Spielberg hasn’t fallen into the well-worn trap of trying to be too true to his source material — which so blighted the likes of “Watchmen” — by effectively giving free rein over the story to the screenwriting triumvirate of Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat and Joe Cornish. Working within the broad outlines of three of Hergé’s books — namely, “The Crab With the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure” — the trio delivers a rip-roaring, action-packed and very funny imagining of Hergé’s world, one filled with knowing nods to the gloriously rich Tintin pantheon as well as to Mr. Spielberg’s back catalog.

Jamie Bell embodies our eponymous pen-wielding protagonist Tintin, who embarks on said Unicorn-themed adventure after buying a model ship at a street market. At once, Tintin is confronted by two gentlemen desperate to buy the ship, with the more menacing of the duo Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (a perfectly villainous Daniel Craig) particularly adamant that he must have it. Unbowed, Tintin reneges Sakharine’s offer, a decision that soon lands our boy hero in the midst of an international treasure hunt after he is kidnapped and stowed aboard the delectably named S.S. Karaboudjan.

As the Karaboudjan steams its way towards the port of Bagghar, Tintin — accompanied by his trusty dog Snowy (who steals many of the scenes they share) — buddies up with the perma-sloshed Captain Haddock (a quite brilliant Andy Serkis) and make their escape via seaplane in a set piece that is reminiscent of Mr. Spielberg’s finest Indy moments and is surely the highlight of the picture. Ducking and diving through a vicious thunderstorm, Haddock — fueled by alcohol — fearlessly teeters precariously atop the plane as it desperately tries to make landfall, only for it to spectacularly crash land in the desert.

As Haddock sobers up in the heat, he’s afflicted by vivid hallucinations of his famous ancestor Sir Francis Haddock, wild imaginings which hold the key to the secrets of the Unicorn treasure. What follows is fairly standard cat-and-mouse fare as Haddock and Tintin attempt to scupper Sakharine’s ploy to get his hands on the booty. More impressive set pieces follow: a market chase and a crane fight, which are as delightful as they are dizzying when viewed in 3-D; and there’s barely time to catch your breath before the film has flung itself towards its rather neat and abrupt conclusion.

“The Adventures of Tintin” marks a much needed return to form for Mr. Spielberg after the farcical “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”; and he clearly revels being back at the helm of this sort of swashbuckling adventure. But niggling doubts still remain over the effectiveness of performance-capture technology as — despite the magic which Weta spin — it still straddles a somewhat uneasy halfway house between animation and live action.

Haddock is undoubtedly the star of the show, and Mr. Serkis’s fine turn confirms why he’s still the go to man in the industry for this sort of work. Mr. Bell is less successful, somewhat failing to really provide Tintin with any depth or character; and it’s frustrating that we’re only treated to fleeting glimpses of bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost respectively).

That said, it’s unashamedly and boisterously entertaining; and with so much of the Tintin universe yet to be unveiled (Professor Calculus anyone?), this is a franchise that could run and run.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

Opens on Oct. 26 in Britain and on Dec. 21 in the United States.

Directed by Steven Spielberg; written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, based on the books by Hergé; visual-effects supervisors, Joe Letteri and Scott E. Anderson; animation supervisor, Jamie Beard; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; art direction by Andrew Jones and Jeff Wisneiwski; produced by Mr. Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Kathleen Kennedy; released by Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. This film is rated PG.

WITH THE VOICES OF: Jamie Bell (Tintin), Andy Serkis (Captain Haddock), Daniel Craig (Sakharine), Nick Frost (Thomson), Simon Pegg (Thompson), Toby Jones (Silk), Mackenzie Crook (Tom), Daniel Mays (Allan), Gad Elmaleh (Ben Salaad), Joe Starr (Barnaby) and Kim Stengel (Bianca Castafiore).

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