Friday, December 23, 2011

Fuck the Holidays, let's go to the movies (Part 1)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

When you've got Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish collaborating on a film, you should be excited. If you're not, I don't know what you're doing reading this. This is an impressive pedigree of artists. For those that don't know, Moffat has written episodes of Dr. Who and Sherlock and Cornish wrote and directed Attack the Block, one of the best films this year. Together they have delivered one of the most entertaining films released in 2011, evoking feelings of the best childhood memories that never cease to thrill us.

Like "Mission: Impossible---Ghost Protocol," there is not much in the way of complex storytelling. Visiting the town market, Tintin (Jamie Bell) eyes a magnificent model ship, which he immediately purchases, just in time to meet Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who was there to make the same purchase. Because Tintin is a kid and loves models, he refuses to sell the ship, and instead investigates this fellow and the importance of the ship, discovering that there are three Unicorn model ships, all containing clues to the Haddock family fortune. Like all defiant little shits in films, he's kidnapped by Sakharine's men and brought on board a ship belonging to none other than Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), a drunk Scottish captain who has been locked away by our friend Sakharine until Haddock releases some vital information his family's treasure.

"The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" hits the ground running and never stops to breath, which normally would be grating and a sign of a weak screenplay, but under everyone I mentioned before, it's presented with such grace and confidence that it never wears out its welcome and is exciting even in the bridge scenes for the next big action setpiece. Much credit must be given to the actors. Jamie Bell convincingly plays Tintin with such a sense of adolescent bravery and intellect that never once did I question the character. Daniel Craig is having a lot of fun with the menacing Sakharine, a complete 180 from many of his prior roles. But the film belongs to Andy Serkis, one of the greatest actors working today, who adds so many layers to what could have been a one-note bumbling character. If he hadn't been in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" earlier this year, I'd say that he deserves an Oscar nomination for Haddock. He makes it seem so easy. Also showing up in the film are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, playing Thomson and Thompson, their voice talents often so identical I struggled to distinguish between the two.

Because Tintin is a serial, we're thrown into the story and characters without much of an introduction, so if you're not familiar with Herge's series, you might complain about the lack of character development, with the exception of Haddock. When the film ends, all you know about the boy is that he is a journalist who is adventurous. Oh, he also has a dog. Not much there. It's a testament to Spielberg that you never even think about this until after the film is over. This isn't the first time we've seen motion capture action-adventure films, but it's the first time we've been shown the format used to its full potential. A lot of hype has been built around the eight minute chase sequence through a town that's being flooded thanks to a flub by Haddock, and similar to "Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol," the sequence absolutely lives up to the hype. You can almost see Spielberg and Jackson giggling with glee, and as a result, so do we. I feel like Steven Spielberg and Brad Bird got together and decided to show not only the audience but other filmmakers how action should be done. The confluency of the actions sequences is masterfully impeccable.

There are other simple yet effective touches used throughout that really grabbed my attention, such as some of the transitions between scenes, like an rippling ocean that becomes a puddle of water on the side of a street, for example. And, in one of the most memorable moments, Haddock recounts the destruction of the Unicorn by pirates, where his great-grandfather defended the ship against pirates. The mise en scene fluidity of the scene alternates between flashback and Haddock drunkedly acting out the event and is a prime representation of a master of the craft.

"The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" is presented in 3-D, and since there wasn't a 2-D showing at my theatre, it's the one I had to go with. Thankfully, it's subtly employed as opposed to the nerve-grating gimmick we're normally exposed to (looking at YOU, Immortals and Conan). However, it's so subtly used that most of the time it's ineffective, so if you do plan to watch this in theaters (which you should), seek out the 2-D option. There is only one film this year that I can truly say is worth the premium upgrade, and that is "Hugo," a film I believe many people are going to regret now watching in theaters in 3-D. I've discussed "Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol" and "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" as a return to proper action adventure films, but this month has also seen some of the best children's films in a while. Between "Hugo," "The Muppets," and "The Adventures of Tintin," there is no reason why parents should be bringing their children to dreck like "Arthur Christmas" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: RAPE." All three films are absolutely going to become classics, of this I have no doubt.

If there is one criticism I have of the film, it is the score by John Williams. We hear the theme song over the opening credits, but beyond that, it's ultimately forgettable, and oftentimes distracting, as it kept reminding me too much of a rehash of his "Harry Potter" scores. I was really hoping he would have used more of French motifs, which we are only treated to a couple of times. Not even a handful of times, just a couple.

"Tintin" may not be as rich as "Hugo," and I feel like a lot of people will (and already have) criticized the film because of that, which is horribly unfair. Tintin is fluff, but is supremely enjoyable, a film that harkens back to that certain place of sheer adventure in our hearts that was so prominent in childhood. The film ends on the setup for a sequel, which will be directed by Peter Jackson when it eventually happens. I, for one, cannot wait to write about the further adventures of a drunken captain and his innocent teenage companion.

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