“The Adventures of Tintin,” reviewed


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Steven Spielberg loves film. And not just movies, but the actual, physical medium of light projected through celluloid. He’s one of the last directors alive who still edits his work by painstakingly cutting and pasting strips of film instead of manipulating files on a computer. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy to embrace motion-captured animation. After all, there’s no film in “mocap.” There are barely even cameras: just actors in an empty room and computerized sensors that record their movements.

And yet somehow Spielberg, the analog stalwart, has brought out the best in this new filmmaking technology. For years I’ve watched mocap animated movies in a state of puzzlement: not quite live-action, not quite animation, motion capture seemed to offer only the worst of both worlds: characters bound by real-world physics and hampered by weirdly lifeless faces and eyes. It’s worked at times as a tool of live-action filmmakers, but almost always in more fantastical settings (see James Cameron’s “Avatar”). Whenever it’s been called to approximate the real world, the previous results have been dreadful. Maybe the technology’s improved, maybe the caliber of filmmaker using the technology’s improved. Either way, Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” is the movie that really made me understand motion capture’s appeal. Now I see what mocap can do. And what it can do is action.

Spielberg does things with virtual cameras and animated characters inside his computerized world that would be impossible to capture in the real one. Some are elaborate: he builds chase sequences and sword fights and battles at sea on an epic scale. Others are ingeniously simple: with a virtual camera he can follow characters through walls, or under moving cars, or zooming in and around an African town in one continuous take. Anything seems possible in this world and Spielberg takes full advantage of the possibilities.

In a way, “Tintin” is the best “Indiana Jones” sequel he’s ever made. There are treasure hunts and daring escapes and an air of excitement, both from the characters and the director, that’s palpable. One sequence is so spectacular, I literally yelled out “Oh man!” in the movie theater. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was that beautiful and that thrilling. And there are two or three other action set pieces that are just as good.

The plot and the characters are, admittedly, not nearly as memorable, but the movie is so feverishly paced you won’t notice until it’s over. The story comes from the longrunning series of Belgian comic books by the artist Hergé about a crusading adventurer journalist named Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his fearless dog sidekick Snowy (Snowy). In this film, which at one point was subtitled “The Secret of the Unicorn,” Tintin purchases a model ship at a flea market which, unbeknownst to him, is desired by all sorts of unsavory characters. The ship is promptly stolen and must be recovered and then a tiny scroll that had been hidden in its mast must be retrieved as well. That scroll, and several others, point to the location of an incredible treasure.

Tintin eventually crosses paths with a drunken sea captain named Haddock, who becomes his other partner in his quest for the scroll. He is played by Andy Serkis, the chameleonic actor who previously motion-captured the performances that gave us Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” King Kong in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, and Caesar in this year’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” His Haddock is another remarkable creation; witty, charming, roguish, and perpetually sauced. Serkis is like the Pixar of mocap; he seemingly can do no wrong. He might be the biggest and best actor in the entire world who everyone loves and no one knows.

Tintin himself isn’t much of a protagonist, or a journalist, for that matter — who does this guy work for? Does he ever file a story? — but he’s an acceptable everyman foil for Captain Haddock and the rest of the colorful supporting cast, including Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as a pair of bumbling policemen and Daniel Craig as a mysterious man who wants Tintin’s ship. Really they’re all just there to drive the action. But let’s not forget, the movie is called “The Adventures of Tintin,” not “The Searing Emotional Drama of Tintin.” On that level, the movie is an absolute masterpiece, maybe the first one motion capture has ever produced.

“The Adventures of Tintin” opens today. If you see it, tell us what you think in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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