Monday, March 5, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin
Grade: D
Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig
Director: Steven Spielberg
Free Admission Granted

In a parallel universe, a young filmmaker considers the long, overpowering tradition of computer-generated animation and – eureka – elides upon a great idea. What if I draw a bunch of pictures on consecutive sheets of paper and run my thumb across the edges?

The ensuing film becomes a major success, launching a revolution in animation. The gripping story of a spirited roadrunner and the driven but hapless coyote Javert who pursues him, critics praise its creativity and existential vision, carving out a stunning new fictional landscape completely shorn from reality. They are also astounded and delighted by the process. Did this young artist really spend hour upon hour creating thousands upon thousands of drawings? What nerve! What dedication!

In this year of critical nostalgia run wild, I’ll play my card here. I find the trend toward more realistic computer generated animation alienating and counterproductive. Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin takes tremendous pains to make its people and places seem only a little past the edge of reality. In a field where the purpose is escapist in nature, I question whether that’s an improvement.

On the other hand, I recognize whe a film is uniquely made, even when I don’t find it riveting, and I dislike it when a critic never admits this. Tintin – a childlike adventure with a French boy detective, a tipsy sea captain, and a pirate treasure – is definitely inventive. At one point, one of the film’s realistic-ish cartoon characters goes to a park, he has an old-fashioned cartoon portrait made of himself, one that makes him look like a teenage Dennis the Menace, suggesting how far computers and animation have wandered from pen and paper and how close they have come in mimicking realism.

The film’s animation isn’t necessarily animation. It’s a motion-capture process that’s translated into animation, generated by filming actors’ movements and then painting over them with pixels. By the time we reach a pirate-ship battle the inspiration clearly isn’t Disney or Miyazaki, but the high-seas CG “live action” of Pirates of the Caribbean. What’s the difference between a cartoon and a “live” CG extravaganza except a few algorithms?

So it’s quite impressive technically, but I feel when we go barreling through an Arab village with an eagle, a motorcycle, and a bursting dam - flashing from angle to angle in one motion - that something is being lost, or missed, or shuffled over.

So while I sit in the corner lamenting the disappearance of the simplicities of yesteryear, allow me to point out the villain of Tintin bears a considerable resemblance to Spielberg friend Stanley Kubrick. Apparently the late director didn’t go to Heaven or Hell, but to a giant HAL 9000 mainframe spouting mindless entertainment in Hollywood, which would probably seem like Hell to Kubrick. While seeing Kubrick as the misanthropic villain isn’t a surprise, I never really expected Stanley to be such a good swordfighter.

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