Paramount // 2011 // 106 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // March 19th, 2012
"He's a restless sleeper on account of the tragic loss of his
"He lost his eyelids?!"
"Aye, now that was a card game to remember. You really had to be there."
Created by the Belgian artist Hergé, adventurer Tintin has been a favorite of European children for decades. There was great excitement, then, when Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson announced they would be bringing Tintin from comic book to the big screen. The first of three planned films, The Adventures of Tintin hit theaters abroad in October of 2011, drawing big crowds and setting box office records in France.
Then it came to America.
If you vaguely remember hearing something about a Tintin movie, but don't really know much about it, you're not alone. Its American release at the end of December fell flat, opening if fifth place behind a trio of sequels, including Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. Well, America, it's time to right this wrong by embracing the breathtaking Blu-ray release of The Adventures of Tintin.
When plucky journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot) buys an old model ship at a flea market, he and his faithful dog Snowy are thrown into a dangerous adventure involving a devious treasure hunter (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale), a drunken sea captain (Andy Serkis, King Kong), and a pair of bumbling policeman (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz), all searching for a massive fortune sitting somewhere on the ocean floor.
Why did The Adventures of Tintin fail to capture America's imagination -- directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, and written by British dream team Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block)? If any one of these filmmakers were making their own movie, it would be my most anticipated release of the year. Together, they're like a cinematic supergroup. And yet the film was largely absent from year end best-of discussions and award nominations. What gives?
Hergé's Tintin may not be as well-known in the United States as he is in Europe, but it's not as though Spielberg decided to make a movie about soccer or parliamentary government. The Adventures of Tintin is perfect for American audiences: a rollicking adventure flick in the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark, packed with thrilling action, mystery, and laughs. More than unfamiliarity with the source material, I blame the lackluster reception on motion-capture fatigue. Robert Zemeckis may have moved the medium forward with animated efforts like The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, but his films exist in an uncomfortable middle ground where characters look too real to be cartoons, and too fake to be real. "Motion-capture" has become a punch line to jokes about jerky animation and characters that look like dead-eyed dolls. That's too bad, because Tintin shows just how powerful the technology can be in the right hands.
Tintin is gorgeous. Every compliment that has ever been handed out for lifelike, detailed computer animation in other films should be mashed together, punched up, and delivered in a gift basket to Weta Digital for their CGI wizardry here. They make George Lucas's Star Wars prequels look like scribbles on a cocktail napkin. Even with the bulbous noses and exaggerated hairstyles, there are moments where these characters could pass for humans in a live-action film.
The fully realized animated characters and environments allow Spielberg to use the camera in ways that would be cost-prohibitive, if not downright impossible, with real actors and sets. The camera swoops in from high above the action. It circles around and beneath the cars that threaten to crush our hero. It passes through solid objects. Tintin is one action set-piece after another. There are chase sequences, explosions, planes in peril, and inventive swashbuckling. If anything, the movie rockets forward at such an unrelenting pace that there's hardly any time to catch your breath or take in the scenery.
The hyper-realistic animation comes with some caveats. These lifelike characters don't feel like Hergé's simple, stylized drawings. The combination of cartoon features and fully rendered features runs the risk of bypassing the uncanny valley and heading straight to nightmare plateau. It's safe to say you've never seen anything like it, and depending on your tolerance for realistic cartoon characters, you may never want to see it again. Give the film a chance, though, and Tintin will take you into a brave new animated world, easily besting Zemeckis's creepy motion capture and even giving the cartoon kings at Pixar a run for their money.
Tintin isn't just a showcase for animation. It's also a ripping good yarn. The screenplay combines three comics: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham's Treasure. The film may not be a direct translation of the source material, but Tintin's creators treat Hergé's characters with reverence. Tintin is the same boyish detective that appears in the books, handier with fists and guns than his Ed Grimley haircut would suggest. The film also introduces key series characters like Captain Haddock, Tintin's boozy sidekick and friend, and identical non-twin policeman Thomson and Thompson, who are responsible for more than a few of the film's biggest laughs. Tintin's humor plays on a variety of levels, with sight gags, one-liners, and references not only to the comic, but also other movies (including a nod to Spielberg's own Jaws). Bringing the same levity and sparkling storytelling to Tintin as their own projects, Moffat, Wright, and Cornish know it takes more than special effects to make a great action movie. It takes heart. And two giant cranes dueling on the waterfront.
The Adventures of Tintin on Blu-ray is so sharp, so beautiful, so detailed you'll want to keep your remote handy to pause or rewind the best bits. The 2.35:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is reference quality. Don't be surprised if you reach for this disc instead of your favorite Pixar Blu-ray. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is just as perfect, filling the soundscape with zipping bullets and explosions, crystal clear dialogue, and John Williams' boisterous score.
The story of how Tintin came to be is explained through an hour and thirty-six minutes of HD bonus features, covering the original comic book, the genesis and development of the film, and the groundbreaking motion-capture setup:
* "Toasting Tintin: Part 1" (1:24)
Spielberg reads a note from Hergé's widow before raising a glass with the crew to celebrate the first day of performance capture, in January of 2009.
* "The Journey to Tintin" (8:54)
The film's director and producer talk about their earliest experiences with Tintin. For Spielberg, it was a French review for Raiders of the Lost Ark that compared the film and comic. It led to the director contacting Hergé, in 1983, about adapting Tintin for the screen. Although the author died mere weeks before the meeting, Spielberg met with his widow who gave her blessing to the project.
* "The World of Tintin" (10:46)
We learn more about the title character, including the correct pronunciation of his name, his probable age, and Hergé's decision not to give him a backstory.
* "The Who's Who of Tintin" (14:18)
This featurette focuses on the actors who brought the characters to life, including the physical Jamie Bell, the hilarious Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis, whose performance as Haddock is every bit as good, if not better than, his critically acclaimed work on Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
* "Tintin: Conceptual Design" (8:38)
As if bringing a beloved comic book to life wasn't hard enough, Spielberg and Jackson did it largely over a video connection between LA and New Zealand. This extra examines the process of designing the characters, locations, and sets, using Hergé's books as a guide.
* "Tintin: In the Volume" (17:54)
Nothing to do with sound, this featurette focuses on the performance capture soundstage -- called the Volume -- a room encircled by cameras in which the actors act and the director can see their performances rendered in CGI in real time.
* "Snowy from Beginning to End" (10:11)
Tintin's trusted canine pal -- named "Milou" in the comic's original French -- comes to life in the Volume through a variety of wire-frame and stuffed models.
* "Animating Tintin" (11:00)
Once the performances had been captured, it was up to Weta to create the finished animation. This featurette dissects that painstaking process, from location dressing and design to lighting and fine detail.
* "Tintin: The Score" (7:01)
A look at John Williams' score, his first for an animated film. Scoring began after an early cut of the film was done, but before the animation was complete, giving the animators a chance to adapt the finished film to the music.
* "Collecting Tintin" (3:58)
A semi-promotional featurette, in which lead conceptual designer Chris Guise discusses the process of creating the film's collectible figurines.
* "Toasting Tintin: Part 2" (3:12)
Filmed on Sept. 15 2011, Spielberg, Jackson, and crew toast the completion of the film over an overseas video feed.
* DVD Copy: The film only, no extras.
* Digital Copy
If you missed The Adventures of Tintin during its theatrical run, there's no better time to check out Steven Spielberg's other 2011 movie. The Blu-ray presentation is among the best of the format, with an informative and entertaining collection of bonus features that provide a look at not only a timeless character but the future of computer-assisted filmmaking. With plans already underway for Peter Jackson to direct the sequel, I can't wait to see what's next for Tintin.
Great snakes! And by "snakes" I mean the film. Not guilty!
Review content copyright © 2012 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site