Let it be known, that the Spielbergian adventure flick has not gone out of style. Three years after he stained his career image permanently with "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull", Spielberg puts out two films this year. One of them is the Oscar play, as much expected and maligned by myself. But to be perfectly honest, it's always been his more commercial plays that caught my attention, which is an ironic reversal of how things usually work. It's when he's not searching for meaning, and rather searching for thrills, that he strikes his strongest films, and also his weakest, but they are anything but banal. How is he the exception to the rule? An experience in cinema that is both his gift and his bane.
"The Adventures of Tintin" isn't an explosive return to greatness for Steven Spielberg, but it is a rollicking ride of a film. Based on the Herge comic series, the first film in Spielberg and Peter Jackson's co-operative film trilogy spends no immense amount of time establishing the Tintin character. From the first minute after the uppity animated opening, he's shown as eager, ambitious, and pretty much your zero qualms protagonist. Does he need to be a lot more? No, but we would damn sure like him to be. If Herge never gave him ample dimension, writers Steve Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish could have taken a bit of license with this one. But it's never really distracting, so there's that.
And then we're thrown right into the mystery and the adventure as Tintin picks up a model ship called "The Unicorn" just before two mysterious enough figures. His interest is piqued, and he doesn't seem to be doing anything else, so why not do some investigating? The film is unconsciously hilarious at times, with lines "I know the one place that MIGHT give us the answer" being answered by the site of the library less as an event and more as a slight in joke. If we can trust the writers for anything, it's for packing jokes in there at every turn. They're never more than just jokes, but that doesn't take much away from the fun they have in hand anyway either.
And the adventure mushrooms from there to include Captain Haddock, who has the key to solving the mystery of the unicorn. And there we have our duo, plus Tintin's loyal rascal Snowy. We go out on a ship, lost at sea, in the middle of the dessert, and to Bagghar on a stream of consciousness that doesn't quite hold up. Things move along not at a clip, but as a blur. You can keep hold of what's going on at any given point, but at the risk of not caring. There's not this palpable need to stop the villain of this installment, Saccharine, as much as there is a general idea of what's happening here and there. It's a film of knowledge and sporadic movements, but not emotion.
Andy Serkis outdoes what is relatively unmotivating work in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", but don't start twisting my words into saying that he should get a nomination for this. It's still nowhere near that level of complexity. In fact, most actors can handle their work more than competently. But lets face it. This movie exists and works because of the fun it inspires in its action sequences. There's enough excitement to go around throughout its entirety, but most especially in that chase sequence in Morocco. Is it as outstanding as they're making out to be? Not quite, and I personally prefer the tight-edge Dubai sequence in another film out this week, "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol". Still, it's a good competitor for the thrown, and an exciting one to boot.
The rest of the film supports the action going on, but never reaches it or transcends it. Janusz Kaminski's "image consultation" usually only results in zip-bang visuals that are very reminiscent of a comic book. You want us to buy your little cartoon as more than just that? You have to make us believe it, and I don't quite. But I suppose the style works for what they're doing. But it doesn't help to have John Williams' heavily "Indiana Jones" inflected score blasting through all the way. Williams is a man past his prime when his music was worth it. Now, he's merely a tribute to himself. The film is a massive distraction, but more than occasionally, what is distracting you is something more interesting.