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Tintin: An Indy-like Adventure

Spielberg is faithful to the books but where’s the plot?

Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) in The Adventures of Tintin

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Captain Haddock (played by Andy Serkis) in <i>The Adventures of Tintin</i>.

Director: Steven Spielberg
Rated: PG, Runtime: 107 mins.
Stars: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig

En español  |  A friend of mine here at the office assures me that Steven Spielberg’s action-and-adventure-drenched adaptation of the Tintin comic book series is a faithful tribute to the original, true in both graphic style and storyline. I’m sure he’s right, but for me the boy detective character of Tintin, the creation of Belgian artist/author Hergé, was always the sort of thing pressed upon hapless kids by overprotective parents who found aesthetic safety in the likes of wooden toys, bran flakes and Pippi Longstocking.

This incarnation of Tintin is certainly handsome — the story is presented by way of motion-capture animation, that vaguely unsettling process in which actors perform their scenes covered with little reflective sensors, which are then read by a special digital camera, which in turn applies the action to computer-animated figures. The results in the past have been spotty: The Polar Express, Robert Zemeckis’s landmark motion capture feature film, managed to make Santa Claus himself seem to be some hollowed-out, expressionless automaton — certainly the scariest St. Nick this side of Silent Night, Deadly Night. The technology has improved, and Spielberg benefits from it — the dozens of characters in Tintin seem at times to breathe with life, while at the same time embarking on feats of physical derring-do that would have left a flesh-and-blood Douglas Fairbanks breathless.

If the camera (such as it is) ever stops moving in The Adventures of Tintin, I don’t recall it. From the opening frames, our point of view zooms, swings, flies and tunnels so recklessly we begin to suspect someone missed their daily dose of Ritalin. Add 3D glasses to the mix, and Dramamine is in order (Spielberg should compare notes with Martin Scorsese, who found a way to use the added depth in tantalizing new ways in his vastly superior Hugo).

Oh yeah, the plot: I don’t remember it. Something to do with a map, and treasure and pirates. Really, it’s all an excuse to send us flitting around the globe on Tintin’s heels engaging in wild car chases, airplane crashes and fiery sea battles. The climactic action sequence — a spectacular race involving a fluttering map, an out-of-control vehicle and a broken dam — is mind-boggling in its intricacies but in the end utterly disorienting.

I think Spielberg would like us to think of The Adventures of Tintin as a latter-day Indiana Jones saga. But even Indy stopped to read a book once in awhile.