Adventures in Journalism
By Carl Kozlowski
Back in 1982, Steven Spielberg tapped into the mindset of childhood so perfectly with his film E.T. the Extraterrestrial, that the film became what was then the biggest box-office success of all time. And through the rest of the decade, he produced or directed a seemingly endless array of films that attempted to recapture that magic by exploring different angles of childhood through films like The Goonies or thrilling all ages in the Indiana Jones series.
But as he shifted into Oscar-seeking (and winning) mode with his 1993 classic Schindler’s List, Spielberg seemed to think he had to abandon his playful side as he turned to other historical epics like Amistad, Munich and Saving Private Ryan or delivered mediocre results with films like War of the Worlds and The Terminal. He tried to get his kid spirit back with a fourth Indy Jones film in 2008 but failed miserably—and wound up taking over three years to come up with another film.
Actually, he’s recently released two films, and they’ve both already scored some impressive award nominations from the Golden Globes and critics’ groups. War Horse is a live-action epic drama about a young man and his horse’s adventures amid WWI, but The Adventures of Tintin is the more stylishly inventive of the two, due to the fact it was shot using both 3-D (Spielberg’s first foray into the medium) and motion-capture effects (which convert human actors into ultra-realistic animated characters, freeing them up to defy the laws of real-world physics in their outrageous travails).
Tintin also marks a welcome return to his childlike spirit, as Spielberg now believes he’s got his mojo back since he’s become a grandfather in the last couple of years. Based on a 24-book series of children’s adventure books by the Belgian artist Herge about a teenage boy reporter who gets into globetrotting investigative adventures along with his dog Snowy, The Adventures of Tintin nonetheless faces a hurdle in the U.S., since it’s popular throughout the Western world in nearly every country except America.
But with the film already doing business like gangbusters overseas, and this being Spielberg’s 3-D debut, Tintin should catch on just fine. Spielberg, his co-executive producer, Peter Jackson (who will helm the first sequel if there is one), and their writing team of Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish wove together parts of three of the most popular books to create one big adventure here, providing plenty of familiar notes for the book’s fans and an even more extravagant story for American newbies.
Here, Tintin tries to find out why several different men are willing to pay through the nose—and even kill—to get their hands on an antique ship model that he bought at a flea market. It turns out that the ship’s miniature sails contain the clues to a vast secret treasure, and soon Tintin is forced into the quest for riches when he is kidnapped and stashed on a freighter ship that has been hijacked from a drunken captain (played by Andy Serkis, who has become the master of motion-capture performances via the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
After helping the captain break free, Tintin and his newfound sidekick, along with Snowy, find themselves in all sorts of outrageous peril as they endure a sinking ship, a plane that’s determined to shoot them dead as they’re hanging on for dear life in the ocean and our hero learning to fly a plane straight through a massive storm. One great action scene leads to another, which makes the film enormous fun. But while the animation helps the film match the books’ colorful visuals, it also provides the only weak point of this highly entertaining film.
Knowing that Spielberg has provided us with some of the greatest action scenes and special effects of all time while keeping action rooted in the live-action “real world,” it might be easy for viewers of Tintin to wish he’d found a way to keep it real here.
Tintin is a delight to look at and the animation keeps even the constant peril family-friendly rather than too scary for kids, but at the same time that approach also removes one from the extra level of exciting tension—of wondering “How does a human being survive that?!”—that made Raiders of the Lost Ark and the first Jurassic Park such timeless rides.