AFI FEST REVIEW: ‘The Adventures of Tintin.’ Steven Spielberg Delivers a Visual Treat That’s Light on Soul.
In 1993, Steven Spielberg made "Jurassic Park," a film that represented a huge leap forward in computer effects. Visually, it was simply stunning, and as long as you didn't mind the fact that the characters weren't all that interesting, you could have a pretty fun time with it. Ultimately, "Jurassic Park" isn't one of Spielberg's best movies, but it's a landmark because of how it opened the door for a new generation of effects-heavy blockbusters.
Eighteen years later, Spielberg is at the forefront of a new leap forward in moviemaking. But like "Jurassic Park," Spielberg's new motion-capture film, "The Adventures of Tintin" (which had its North American premiere last night at AFI Fest in Los Angeles), feels more like a model for what cutting-edge technology can do than a really exceptional movie in its own right.
"The Adventures of Tintin" is based on a handful of Tintin adventures from Belgian artist Herge (real name Georges Remi) from the 1940s. Even if, like me, you're not intimately familiar with the stories, "Tintin" couldn't be easier to follow. Tintin (played by Jamie Bell) is a savvy young investigative reporter who goes everywhere with his loyal dog Snowy. While out in town, he becomes interested in buying a 17th century model boat called the Unicorn, which brings him into conflict with a debonair (and possibly dangerous) fellow by the name of Sakharine (Daniel Craig). Sakharine wants to buy the boat as well, but Tintin has already purchased it, only later to discover that a scroll is hidden in the model that contains clues to some sort of treasure. Two other Unicorn models exist out in the world, and together they will reveal the exact location of gold that's buried at the bottom of the ocean. So now Tintin -- with the help of drunken ship captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) -- must outwit Sakharine to track down the boats.
"The Adventures of Tintin" is the first movie Spielberg has made since the truly awful Indiana Jones sequel, "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," and it's a relief that his new film finds him regaining his bearings after that debacle. Unfortunately, "Tintin" doesn't have the crackle of Spielberg's best recent action-thrillers, "Minority Report" or "War of the Worlds." Granted, "Tintin" is geared to a family audience, but while some of its action sequences are nicely done, there isn't enough of the sustained ingenuity that's been the hallmark of his work, even in his later years. For as much as Spielberg has expressed his adoration for the Tintin comics, the movie doesn't feel like it comes from the heart -- it doesn't feel like a movie he desperately had to make.
Instead, it feels like a movie that he knows he can do really well. Specifically, "Tintin" will remind people of the Indiana Jones films with their exotic locales, goofy humor and earnest let's-solve-a-mystery spirit. But Spielberg doesn't entirely bring us back to 1981, no matter how much John Williams poaches from his "Raiders of the Lost Ark" score. It's probably most accurate to think of "Tintin" like Spielberg's comeback album, the one in which a venerable band decides to get back to the basics that made them successful in the first place. The new movie doesn't top anything from his past, but it does offer some gentle nostalgia for days that used to be.