*** The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Except for Raiders of the Lost Ark, where it all seemed to just come together, Steven Spielberg’s adventure films have always left me a little wanting. Something I can’t quite put my finger on is missing and it’s not through want of trying on Mr. Spielberg’s behalf. He seems positively obsessed with satisfying his audience, which might be part of the problem. I have my doubts that Raiders will ever be topped by Spielberg (or anyone else) in terms of pure thrill-a-minute adventure cinema, but The Adventures of Tintin certainly comes close in a quantitative sense.
Tintin starts with a bang and barely lets up for a hundred or so minutes. There are several spectacularly imaginative sequences – a desert magically transformed into the high seas with dueling galleons locked in a fight to the death, a breathless Moroccan chase scene with Tintin, Haddock and Snowy careening through the ancient city chasing a hawk, a mechanized faux-sword fight played out using two massive cranes in a darkened shipyard, and the list goes on. Spielberg has always been adept at building some of cinema’s best mousetraps and his efforts here amongst the most elaborate and devious of his career, but they suffer the same fate in Tintin as they did in the last Jones movie. It’s all just too much. The action never ramps up, levels off or dissipates, but is rather omnipresent… and without any lulls, without any buildup, even the best sequences lose their ability to astonish. Spielberg’s latest roller-coaster rides don’t include the slow scary ride to the precipice or any lapses in which to catch your breath and it makes the act of watching them a little tedious. His cookies are all sugar and no flour.
And there’s another problem….there’s no mouse. As hard as I tried to enter the spirit of the story, I just couldn’t get behind Tintin as a character. The cutting edge motion capture techniques that are responsible for the meticulous accuracy of Tintin’s look seem real enough, but deep down, you know they aren’t. There’s no battered and bruised, flesh and blood Harrison Ford being dragged along behind a Nazi half-track or getting the shit kicked out of him by some giant Aryan goon and it makes Tintin feel somehow false. I could say the same for the stupid CGI-enhanced jungle chase scenes with Shia LaBeouf in the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull because they too lacked any sense of believability as well. Almost 90 years ago when Harold Lloyd hung off the hands of a giant outdoor clock 10 stories up in Safety Last, the audience was enthralled because to shoot this scene, Harold Lloyd hung off the hands of a giant outdoor clock 10 stories up. The thrills inherent in scenes like this one are created by the sense of palpable danger and concern for the participants. In the best of the Jones movies (Raiders and the Last Crusade), Harrison Ford brought a similar kind of vulnerability to the forefront and it’s his actions and reactions to Spielberg’s various mousetraps that created the central tension these films fed on.
Without an actor facing realistic physical hurdles to overcome, without a bruise, a cut, or a torn shirt to bring a sense of grittiness or danger to the story, Tintin, and quite frankly most of our contemporary digitized filmmaking, feels an awful lot like a like a video game. There’s hardly a moment in The Adventures of Tintin that isn’t hugely impressive and well done by almost any cinematic standard and yet I just didn’t care.