In many ways The Adventures of Tintin represents the regression of Steven Spielberg from thoughtful, mature artist to juvenile, whiz-bang entertainer. Yet the regression, if that’s what’s happening, is so ecstatic that you hardly care. The movie dazzles you with its callowness.
Directed by Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, this is an adaptation of the Belgian comic-book and newspaper series that has been around in one form or another since 1929. In it, intrepid “boy reporter” Tintin and his loyal dog Snowy investigate various crimes and mysteries that almost always lead to great adventure.
Spielberg and Jackson decided to make Tintin their animated debut, employing computer animation and motion-capture techniques to create something between the inventive artifice of Pixar and the intermittently successful CGI “actors” of Robert Zemeckis (Beowulf, The Polar Express). Certain characters have a startling realism – akin to Gollum of The Lord of the Rings fame – while others will recall the Tom Hanks conductor of your nightmares.
The overall result doesn’t look at all like the clean, cartoonish lines of the original comic by Herge, which is alluded to in a nifty opening-credit sequence and an early visual gag. In place of visual fidelity, Tintin offers an elegant, enchanting lighting scheme, especially in the nighttime sequences. Dark rooms have astonishing depth – they’re like mysteries waiting to be solved – while lamps cast a baleful glow that wouldn’t be out of place in an Edward Hopper painting.
Story-wise, it’s easy to see Spielberg’s attraction to Herge’s creation. Dashing from ocean liners to the Sahara in the blink of an eye, Tintin plays like the Hardy Boys with passports (or young Indiana Jones). Freed by the animation from any physical constraints whatsoever, Spielberg hurtles things along at breakneck speed, especially a breathless chase sequence through a North African village that feels as if we’re racing through a cityscape designed by M.C. Escher.
It’s all very exhilarating, yet in retrospect disappointingly boyish. Gunplay is unquestioned and incessant (especially for something rated PG), while women are nonexistent (aside from one comic instance). It’s nice that Spielberg lent his pure cinematic talent to this animated venture; it would have been nicer if he had also lent his intellect.