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While wondering through an outdoor market young journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) buys a model of a three-masted sailing ship called the Unicorn. Soon after he is approached by Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who desperately wants the ship for himself. Tintin refuses, but is intrigued by Sakharine’s interest, and follows him to his home, Marlinspike Hall, where he learns of another Unicorn model. Later Tintin and his dog Snowy are abducted by accomplices of Sakharine, and imprisoned on the SS Karaboudjan. Tintin escapes and meets the ship's captain, Haddock (Andy Serkis), who has been imprisoned himself, and given a constant stream of whisky to keep him in a permanent state of drunkenness. Now friends, Tintin and Haddock escape from the Karaboudjan and take on the adventure of discovering a third, lost Unicorn model before Sakharine and his thugs.

 Adventures of Tintin (2D), The
In 2011 Steven Spielberg somehow managed to quietly have his most productive year since 1991. After not having directed since 2008, when he left everyone and their mother disappointed by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he sat down behind the bullhorn and pumped out not one, but two epic motion pictures – a prestige project about a horse set during WWI, and an audience pleasing motion capture animated, 3D festival of action and adventure based on one of the most popular comic strips of all time. Unrelated to this story, he also acted as producer on massive hits like Super 8, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and Real Steel, along with a not too floppy flop called Cowboys and Aliens, and television shows Terra Nova and Falling Skies. Amongst all this productivity, the fact that family film’s biggest living juggernaut made his first animated film has been overlooked by far too many film fans. Why weren’t more people salivating at the possibility of an animated film directed by Steven Spielberg? Okay, I’ll admit that despite my rhetorical question I missed The Adventures of Tintin in theaters myself, but I assure you all that I felt very bad about it.

The film opens with vibrant 2D animated titles that draw comparisons to Catch Me if You Can, which a fine spot to begin drawing comparisons. Based on my general lack of interest in the source material, something as simply beguiling as Catch Me if You Can is a solid yardstick for my expectations. The behind the scenes news on the film seemed to suggest that Spielberg was treating the film as an exercise in entertainment for entertainment’s sake, similar to his Indiana Jones films, but it’s clear from just about every frame here that he was much more interested in this particular project than he was in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Fears concerning the uncanny-valley aspects of motion capture animation are somewhat founded, but Spielberg and his animators do well to design characters just cartoonishly enough to make up for some of the format’s eerier aspects. Characters tend to move their limbs at a brisk enough pace, avoiding that flowy, creepy look of earlier motion capture films. There’s also plenty of physical weight to everything on screen, and a whole lot of character in the animation. Minus a few odd shots where elements don’t quite connect, this is the closest anyone has come to effectively bridging the gap between traditional animation and live action footage.

 Adventures of Tintin (2D), The
Occasionally the swoop of the virtual camera feels a little too linear, as if the shot was planned out on graphing paper, but in general Spielberg treats the technology with the eye of a man who cut his teeth on real-life camera rigs. The frame rarely stops moving, but Spielberg also allows a lot of action to play out before cutting, or swooping out into an amazing and expansive wide shot, and many of these moves could be achieved using a standard camera rig. The master knows when to hold back, and knows when to make a particularly impossible shot work in his favour. For instance, during Haddock’s hallucinatory recollection of pirate battles he takes advantage of the fantasy and goes mad sweeping the virtual camera through pin-holes and around the over the top action. He also takes advantage of the technology in the way he dissolves between locations/realities here. Interestingly enough, Spielberg tends to shoot stuff that could be achieved (quite expensively) in live action, prepping his audience gently for the massively complex motorcycle chase through Morocco, a sequence which may rank among the director’s most exquisitely choreographed sequences ever.  Again, I very much regret missing the film on its theatrical release because I’m sure Spielberg’s use of 3D was impressive, and generally more effective than the average 3D film, most of which are shot like regular films, making them into headache-inducing travesties.

Like too many American filmgoers I’m largely unaware of the source material, so I feel pretty insecure in reviewing the character dynamics, which for all I know are entirely accurate to the beloved comics. The screenplay, which was based on The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), and Red Rackham's Treasure  (1944) by original Tintin creator Hergé, was written by a cavalcade of Britain’s finest genre and comedy scribes – Steven Moffat ( Dr. Who, Sherlock Holmes), Edgar Wright ( Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim) and Joe Cornish ( Attack the Block). As an outsider I’m a little thrown by the way Tintin talks to himself (I’m positive this is tonally in keeping with the source) and the manner he sort of stumbles into everything, but generally find myself adoring the film’s tone and I think I generally got the hang of who these people are. I’m sure some viewers were put off by the more old fashion cartoon gags and particularly heavy-handed slapstick, but I found the throwback aspects quite charming, and in Spielberg’s hands the tone reminds me of the best comedy bits from the Indiana Jones series. I’m particularly fond of Snowy the dog’s little unexplained background gags, like the time he appears in frame carrying a dinosaur bone. The film ends on a bit of an anti-climax, some of which comes out of the continuing serialized nature of the stories, but the wholesome and amusing tone leaves a bit to be desired in the drama department.

 Adventures of Tintin (2D), The

Video


I’m assuming no one is surprised by this, but it’s part of my job to announce that this 2D release of this particular digital source animated film looks positively super-duper in 1080p video. Detail levels are astronomically delicate, edges are astronomically sharp, contrast levels are astronomically dynamic, and the colours are astronomically vibrant. The character designs feature surprisingly realistic skin textures, including liver spots, blood vessels, fingerprints, and stray hairs. Perhaps the most extensively detailed are Tintin and Haddock’s skin textures while they suffer through the Sahara desert, caked in sweat-stained sand. The pseudo realistic environments feature neat and tidy textures of their own, along with complex, decorative patterns, and expansive cityscapes. Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (who also hasn’t worked in animation before) take advantage of the impossibly eclectic colour schemes made available through multi-million dollar digital animation. Important colours remain consistent, and most frames are somewhat stoic in terms of number of hues on screen at any given time, but there aren’t many crayons in the box that go unused. The brightest highlights and white levels are a bit blown out at times, but digital noise and sharpening artefacts aren’t an issue.

Audio


The gorgeous HD video is met with a lovely DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack. This is an expectedly aggressive mix, but despite the freewheeling cameras and animated look, the bulk of the audio design is reasonably natural, and not really what I’d consider too bombastic. The high adventure and action sequences standout, including ricocheting bullets, revving car and boat motors, swishing waves, burning fire, and crumbling buildings. I’m generally just as impressed by the non-action scenes, most of which feature all manner of subtle ambiance, mechanical groans, and the basic sounds of life in this lifeless universe. The stereos and surrounds aren’t too loud here, but there are still oodles of soft directional influence. The mix also features crisply edited discussions and arguments where characters speak over each other. Here the stereo channels are accurately involved in a directional manner, and the most important aspects of the conversation stand out without overwhelming the other bits. The dialogue in general is peculiarly realistic, more so than some post-dubbed live action film I’ve seen recently. John Williams is in rare and unusual form here, mixing his classic styles with jazzy momentum, and rarely slowing down. According to the specs Williams’ music runs about 65 minutes of the 107-minute runtime, from brassy cues, to simple, understated underscore. Everything concerning music is rich and warm, with the appropriate LFE support.

 Adventures of Tintin (2D), The

Extras


The extras consist mostly of an 11 part making of documentary (1:36:10, HD), which more matches the extras of a Steven Spielberg release than a more encyclopedic Peter Jackson release. This starts with a toast to the production with the cast and crew, then moves on to a look at the films early preproduction process. Spielberg learned of the original comic via a French review of Raiders of the Lost Ark, while Peter Jackson came to the series at a very early age. Both filmmakers discuss the incredibly theatrical nature of Hergé’s books, and during the shooting of Temple of Doom Spielberg actually contacted Hergé hoping to make a film version of his stories, which began a long road to this films production. The eventual use of motion capture came out of Spielberg’s want to make Snowy a digital character (the test footage is include).

The World of Tintin section covers the narrative history of the character and comics, including interviews with Jackson, Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Tintin expert Michael Farr, actors Jamie Bell, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, and screenwriters Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat and Joe Cornish. This section covers the stories the screenwriters chose to adapt for this first movie.

The Who’s Who of Tintin covers the casting process with the usual suspects, along with actors Cary Elwes, Daniel Craig, Gad Elmaleh, Toby Jones, Daniel Mays, and Mackenzie Cook.

 Adventures of Tintin (2D), The
The next piece covers the conceptual design and pre-vis process, including production art, and interviews with creative folks Eileen Moran, Richard Taylor, Frank Victoria, Chris Guise, Scott E. Anderson, Robert Baldwin, and Rebekah Tisch.

In the Volume covers Spielberg’s work in the motion capture ‘volume’, along with the technical aspects of the mo-cap process, stunts, and editing. It’s quite fun watching the aging director playing with new tools, and generally embracing the technology in his own way, as much as it’s good to verify how much collaboration occurred between him and Jackson. It includes interviews with the cast, and mo-cap team members Jason McGatlin, Dejan Momcilovic, Mat Madden, Scott E. Anderson, Tegan Taylor, Jeramiah Small, Meredith Meyer-Nichols,Connie Kennedy (Kathleen’s twin sister), and editor Michael Khan.

Snowy From Beginning to End focuses on Tintin little white dog, called Milou in French. The usual interview participants discuss the dog’s place in the story, general character, and the manner he was brought to life via prop master/puppeteer Brad Elliot, and the digital effects artists.

Animating Tintin sort of speaks for itself, and covers the process of lighting design, textures, set dressing, props, character and action animation, including crew interviews and effects comparisons. There’s also some discussion of the 3D process here.

Tintin: The Score covers the process of John Williams’ score. Williams and Spielberg discuss the scoring process, which was recorded at a very early time in production. The idea here was to make the animation match the music in some cases, and not the other way around.

Collecting Tintin finishes things off with a strong look at the film’s merchandizing, specifically a set of statuettes. Not exactly the strongest place to leave things off, just before footage from the final wrap toast.

 Adventures of Tintin (2D), The

Overall


The Adventures of Tintin didn’t quite touch the orgasmic levels of awesomeness I was hoping it would, I mean, it’s Steven Spielberg doing a cartoon, but it’s a darn good adventure flick, and a good way to forget about the blah fourth Indiana Jones flick. This 2D Blu-ray release looks spectacular, sounds exquisite, and features a feature length behind the scenes documentary that covers just about every aspect of the filmmaking process.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and DVD releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the Blu-ray screen-caps.


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