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
Paramount Home Entertainment releases 'The Adventures of Tintin' as a three-disc combo pack. Inside the normal blue keepcase, the first two are Region Free, BD50 discs while the third is a DVD-9 copy of the film. It appears the 3D disc also plays just fine on standard 2D Blu-ray players. The package includes a code for an UltraViolet digital copy and a glossy slipcover with embossed lettering and picture of Tintin. At startup, the disc goes straight to a 3D main menu with full-motion clips and music.
Tintin tackles the 3D world with a subtle but magnificent looking 1080p/MVC encode that will dazzle and amaze most viewers. Its 2D counterpart is already fantastic enough as it is, and the 3D merely enhances the CG video by placing emphasis on quality and depth rather than the usual pop-out gimmicks. Granted, a couple scenes do have random items protrude from the screen, mostly for amusement or as a comical device, like when Rackham points his cane at the camera, but by and large, the presentation is on immersing viewers into the third-dimension with a great deal of natural depth, which it does in spades.
Buildings on the European streets and long hallways seem elongated and distant, genuinely feeling as if far removed from the foreground. Other objects appear to move independently of each other, such as when Tintin and Captain Haddock meet for the first time inside his cramped quarters. In fact, several of the best moments come while the two run around the Karaboudjan and try to make their escape. Later on, during a wild chase on the confined streets of Bagghar down to the harbor, the rapid camera movements and non-stop action is the film's coolest sequence, arguably making it one of the best uses of the 3D technology yet. On a large enough screen, it quite literally feels like being on a roller coaster ride, weaving and zigzagging between buildings and people. The movie comes with several dark scenes, and never does delineation within the deep, murky shadows come into question.
The rest of the presentation is equally outstanding with pitch-perfect contrast and superb, crystal-clear clarity, allowing viewers to see far into the distance. Black levels are inky and penetrating with extraordinary gradational steps in the grayscale, adding to the layers of dimensionality already present in the video. Although the photography comes with a slightly antiquated appeal to it, colors are vivid and richly-saturated, leaping off the screen with an energetic pop. The transfer is beautifully detailed from beginning to end, revealing the smallest imperfections on clothing, architecture and the walls of the ship. One can really appreciate the artwork and effort that went into the film's making as the faces of characters have a lifelike texture that almost makes them seem real. Captain Haddock's nose and cheeks are probably the most impressive, sure to leave viewers astonished of this high-def presentation.
Audio is the same as its 2D counterpart and makes a wonderful addition to the video's immersive effect. The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack makes excellent use of the system as it comes natively in a 7.1 soundscape. Directionality and panning is absolutely flawless as bullets and vehicles zoom all around the room, and the debris from explosions flies overhead as well as to the sides. There's not much to speak of in terms of ambience, but a few atmospherics quietly sneak into the rears, generating a decently pleasant soundfield. John Williams' animated score also enjoys a strong presence in the surrounds, filling the air with excitement and adventure.
Much of the runtime is spent on the front soundstage since a great deal of the narrative is dialogue-driven. Conversations are very well-prioritized and perfectly audible during the movie's several high points. Dynamic range is expansive with room-penetrating clarity, allowing listeners to revel in a variety of sounds and noises which make the action sequences come alive. Again, Williams' music benefits most with clear instrumentation and terrific acoustical detail. Low-frequency effects are a plenty with powerful, full-bodied explosions and punchy gunshots. 'Tintin' makes an awesome debut on lossless audio.
Arriving day-and-date as its 2D counterpart, the Blu-ray shares a couple of supplements with the DVD release, along with a code for accessing an UltraViolet Copy or downloading a Digital Copy.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, 'The Adventures of Tintin' is a fun and thrilling big-screen adaptation of Hergé's beloved classic comic books. The CG animated action-adventure flick is reminiscent of Spielberg's 'Indiana Jones' movies, but stands on its own as an entertaining and rousing motion picture for the whole family. This 3D Blu-ray edition of the film arrives with a first-rate audio and video presentation that's sure to satisfy everyone. Bonus material is fairly extensive, and most of it is exclusive to Blu-ray, making this wild thrill-ride worth the price.
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.