Tuesday, 20 December 2011


"How's your thirst for adventure, Captain?"

It’s odd to have a sense of nostalgia while watching a film. What I mean by this is that at my young age of 21 it is odd to have flashbacks to my childhood, which really was less than ten years ago. I grew up with Tintin as a household character. I took out Hergé’s comics from the local library, and I sat in front of the television to stare at the same adventures in an animated form. My theory is that my familiarity with Tintin is largely due to Canadian content requirements set upon Canadian broadcasters, as the well-known 1991 series was a co-production between France and Canada. Or perhaps it is Tintin’s French background that in turn led Tintin to be prominently featured in my elementary school French classes. Regardless of how or why Tintin entered my life, the Spielberg adaptation had a lot of childhood love to live up to.

I am thrilled to say that for me The Adventures of Tintin manages to reinvigorate my childhood memories in a thrilling and engaging 107-minute film. The film draws from three of my favourite Tintin comics - The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943) and Red Rackham's Treasure (1944). The film assumes a familiarity with Tintin as a character, which may confuse audiences who have not been previously exposed to Hergé’s world. However, even those familiar with every Tintin story are not fully aware of Tintin’s origins. We learn that Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a boy of an indeterminate age who works as a journalist, which is the drive behind his curiosity. The inquisitiveness drives the adventure narrative that becomes almost non-stop. Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish have skillfully integrated the three Tintin stories into a unified plot that breathes new life into what could have been a very familiar story.

The proverbial elephant in the room still remains, however. Why shoot the film with motion capture? Why not live action, or a solely computer generated animated film? My biggest worry going into The Adventures of Tintin was the inevitable “uncanny valley” theory where the “barely human” animation would cause a distracting revulsion. Within the opening ten minutes, the fact that an actor in a barebones studio captured each performance is certainly noticeable (with the exception of Snowy). Motion capture performances are largely used for inputting characters into live action settings, and Andy Serkis is the king of motion capture performances. He is best known for his roles as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Kong in King Kong, and most recently has had a surge of support for his motion capture role of Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In The Adventures of Tintin he performs the dual role of Captain Haddock and Sir Francis Haddock, and to be honest was unrecognizable. Of course, in the motion capture environment, that is largely the point. It doesn't matter what the actors look like, for their voices and movements are what give the character soul. The animators provide the environments and design not possible in a live action setting. And yet, by using an actors movements, Spielberg and company further the seamless integration of the viewer into the film world. As a result, it works.

Actor Jamie Bell (Tintin) and Steven Spielberg

If there are any faults in the performance, it's that the process used to transform performances in the bare sets into the lavish 3D environments becomes as interesting as the film itself. To this end, you may find yourself distracted. But just as Tintin’s blank biography serves as a way to suture us into his narrative, the performances captured become sealed into the beautifully constructed milieu that is both faithful to Hergé’s original artwork and imaginative in their respective 3D spaces.

While uncanny valley issues and the usefulness of motion capture filmmaking are fun to discuss and explore, the reality is that as a children’s action-adventure film, The Adventures of Tintin meets and exceeds its entertainment purposes. Jaws will (hopefully) drop during one extended action sequence which involves a chase throughout the fictitious Moroccan port of Bagghar as Tintin, Haddock and Snowy attempt to secure three necessary scrolls from villain Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and his trained hawk. For old and new Tintin fans, the film is engaging, entertaining, and a true action-packed adventure; a combination that is seemingly becoming rarer and rarer these days.

And what of Tintin's Oscar chances for the year? The most obvious category is Best Animated Feature. This year has been rather lackluster in outstanding animated features. For me, the closest contender to Tintin would be Rango as serious competition. The year was so sparse for excellent animated fare that Cars 2 and Happy Feet 2 have a legitimate shot at scoring nominations as well. The question will rely on how well the Academy responds to a motion capture animated film. The Best Animated Feature category was added in 2001, and the only film to win Best Animated Feature that also included some motion capture performances has been Happy Feet in 2006. However, Happy Feet used the performances sparingly. However, Tintin appears to be ineligible for Best Animated Feature because in 2010 the Academy clarified its rules regarding animated films. The new rule reads "[an] animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of greater than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time." Where does this put Tintin? The rule was largely clarified to prevent films such as Avatar and Transformers from competing in the Best Animated Feature category, and yet it completely alienates films such as The Adventures of Tintin. Luckily it was indeed deemed eligible for Best Animated Feature in November along with other animated films such as Kung Fu Panda 2, Puss in Boots, Gnomeo & Juliet, Mars Needs Moms (another heavily motion captured film), Arthur Christmas and more. It seems as though we must wait until the nominees are announced on January 24th to see if Tintin has receives its deserved nomination.


Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish; based on the comic book series by Hergé. Performances by Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.

1 comment:

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