In a ripping return to the Saturday morning adventure serials that inspired 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', Steven Spielberg brings a beloved European comic to the silver screen using motion capture performances and 3D CGI animation. As creative partners, Mr. Spielberg collaborates with Peter Jackson, who acts as producer on this film and intends to direct the second part of what they hope will be a trilogy, and screenwriters Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish.
Tintin, as voiced by Jamie Bell, is a young journalist whose inquisitive nature sends him off on countless adventures to recover stolen antiquities…or at least that's what all of the newspaper articles on the walls of Tintin's study tells us. This time around, Tintin purchases a model ship, the Unicorn, from a street vendor moments before the mysterious, and most likely dangerous, Sakharine (Daniel Craig) arrives to buy it. Tintin keeps the Unicorn, which he learns is a model of a ship captained by one Sir Francis Haddock that sank hundreds of years ago with a long, lost treasure. However, legend says only "a true Haddock will be able to uncover the lost treasure of the Unicorn."
Sakharine will stop at nothing to get the model, including murder and kidnapping, but thanks to Tintin's bumbling Interpol agent friends, Thompson and Thomson (the always funny Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), and a local pickpocket, Sakharine snatches Tintin, but doesn't get his hands on the secret scroll hidden within the model ship's mast. Tintin wakes in the cargo hold of a freighter steaming for foreign soil. Sakharine has hijacked the freighter from its captain, the last surviving Haddock (Andy Serkis). Here it becomes clear: there were three Unicorn models, and Sakharine plans to find three scrolls and use Captain Haddock's family knowledge to find the Unicorn's location.
Trouble is Captain Haddock's a drunk, and has forgotten all the old Haddock family stories. It's up to Tintin to pull the truth out of Haddock while racing across oceans and deserts to beat the nefarious and deadly Sakharine to the lost treasure.
As an American, I've had little exposure to the original comic, as written by Hergé, save for a few High School French classes and, while there are numerous in-jokes and references to the comic itself (or at least I think there are, based on the reactions others, who claimed to know the comic, when I saw the film theatrically), this is a really strong adaptation for all audiences, whether or not you're a lifetime fan.
So how does it measure up? Well, personally speaking, my wife and I were split on the film when we saw it the first time. I loved the Indiana Jones feeling of it all, and felt the filmmaking, performances, tone, and adventure worked very well. There are some contrivances, and Tintin's lines are a bit expository, but this is a real return to the Amblin era Spielberg I love. However, my wife was less impressed due to the use of motion capture (aka mo-cap) to build the character performances. Despite the overall improvements in the animation quality, she found it hard to feel empathy for the characters, who to her remained too plastic.
I bring this example up to say there is probably a tipping point for us all, as to whether or not this film works for you, regardless of what you think of its story, set pieces, film score, and camera work. For me, I wouldn't say I actively anticipate every motion capture film, but I certainly enjoy it and I'm able to find a connection with characters. I would argue 'The Adventures of Tintin' is like 'Monster House' or the Zemekis directed 'A Christmas Carol', where characters' facial structures seem exaggerated into that cartoon realm and, therefore, do not hit the creepy uncanny valley. You may disagree, of course, and if so, you may find it harder to connect with this style of animation.
What I will say, however, is that this is truly an impressive, nearly life-like production, one that, as Pixar has been doing with titles like 'Cars 2', runs on the razor's edge between cartoon and live action. 'Tintin' is obviously an animated film and fully embraces the medium, but it's astonishing how the characters have the aforementioned exaggerated "cartoon style" faces with -- at times -- photo realistic hair and clothing. Nighttime exteriors with glassy wet cobble stone streets are stunning and reach-out-and-touch-them real. Sequences at sea feature ocean waves that look as good as, if not better than, any live action film with computer-generated water. This is a damn pretty film and a technological marvel.
'The Adventures of Tintin is also a lot of fun. The action set pieces are clever, funny, and tense. My jaw hit the floor a number of times, especially during the Unicorn vs. the Pirate ship scene, the single shot motorcycle chase sequence, and the battling harbor cranes fight. The camera work is playful in a way that harkens back to Spielberg's '70s and '80s heyday. In fact, the experience is such a throw back I wonder if the film -- which lacks a certain cynicism found in modern blockbusters -- works as well for younger audiences. For me, it hit a sweet spot, though I do have a few quibbles. Tintin as a lead character is a little too pure and bland. And treasure is nice, but I personally could have used some bigger or more personal stakes; it's not really the end of the world if the villain finds the treasure first when there are no personal grievances (for Tintin). In that way, I suppose Captain Haddock is actually the protagonist of the film, since he it's his life that must turn around, but his character is so broad, I wasn't personally invested in his growth. Minor quibbles.
Overall, I think fans of Steven Spielberg or the Tintin comic books will enjoy this comedic, romping adventure. Tintin fans will no doubt get more of the in-jokes. As for casual viewers, while the film isn't perfect, there's a lot of fun to have for the entire family, unless you have a hard time connecting to motion capture performances.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Adventures of Tintin' arrives on Blu-ray, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment, in one of two editions. We are reviewing the 2-disc edition here, which features 1 BD50 (no sign of region encoding, but haven't tested it) and 1 DVD housed in a blue eco-case. There is a paper insert with instructions on how to activate and stream your Ultraviolet Digital Copy and special features are all housed on the Blu-ray. Thankfully, there are no forced trailers. There is also a 3-disc edition, with its extra disc being a 3D Blu-ray version of the feature film.
'The Adventures of Tintin' arrives on Blu-ray with a shiny, sparkling AVC-MPEG 4 encode, framed in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, that is just shy of perfect. Seriously, if "4.95 stars" existed at HDD as a rating, that's what it deserves.
So what's the minor flaw? Every once in a rare while, there's a hint of aliasing. As one example, check out the scene on the freighter where Tintin steals keys from the men sleeping on the bunk beds; there's a touch of flicker on the light coming in the porthole. There's also a couple moments in Haddock's beard and in the Unicorn flashbacks.
Beyond a teeny imperfection most will never see, 'The Adventures of Tintin' is sure to be in some readers' demo rotation. This is a beautiful, colorful film. Daytime exteriors -- ranging from Marollen Market in Brussels to planes taking off over green oceans to infinite sand dunes to seaside villages -- look exquisite. Colors and textures pop, with the imagery constantly flirting between highly detailed computer animation and photo-realism. Nighttime sequences are equally strong, held tight by rich, exemplary black levels and glistening reflections. Overall, this is a stunning Blu-ray and the reason many of us have large HDTVs.
7.1 is the only way to experience a modern action movie. The 7.1 English DTS-HD MA track on 'The Adventures of Tintin' is a winner in every way.
Dynamic and clear and bold and refined all at once. Dialog is crisp and well mixed, whether it be a dialog heavy scene or a run and gun set piece with thundering explosions. Speaking of explosions and thunder, LFE is refined, but growls when it needs to. Highlights include the Unicorn's destruction and the lightning strikes surrounding the plane crash. In terms of the surround experience, this dynamic track handles effects and music subtly at times, with the extreme highs of the Opera singer's performance, to the entire swirling orchestra of John William's energetic score. As a 7.1 experience, bullets ping and swirl in all channels, and the sound design really pulls you forward into the world by placing a number of nice effects, such as the airplane propeller, directly behind your ears.
Overall, there's too much to praise in a wonderful, demo-worthy surround track.
While Steven Spielberg's record of not doing an audio commentary remains intact, Paramount has done a really nice job with behind-the-scenes material, loading over 96 minutes of high definition featurettes that can be viewed as one long documentary, or in 11 separate parts. My hats off to the producers here, who really bring you an in depth look into the making of this film. For fans, these are a must watch.
'The Adventures of Tintin' is a fun, energetic adventure film that harkens back to the Saturday morning serials which inspired Spielberg's 'Raiders of the Lost Arc' (even though Tintin wasn't actually one of those inspirations). While not perfect, the film is a return to form for the director and features stunning, jaw-dropping filmmaking. However, because motion capture was used to animate the characters, some viewers may have trouble emotionally connecting with the material. As a Blu-ray, 'The Adventures of Tintin' boasts demo-worthy picture and audio ratings (though the video is every so slightly shy of perfect) and a terrific set of behind-the-scenes featurettes. If you don’t care about 3D, this 2-disc edition is for you; if you want to experience 'Tintin' in three dimensions, look for the 3-disc / 3D Blu-ray release.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.