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AP Photo/Paramount Pictures
In this image from left, Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, Haddock, voiced by Andy Serkis, and Snowy await rescue in a scene from “The Adventures of Tintin.” The film was nominated Dec., for a Golden Globe award for best animated feature.

3D aside, 'Tintin' is a fun adventure

Posted: December 29, 2011 - 9:55am

"The Adventure of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn"
Columbia Pictures
1 hour, 47 minutes

OK -- briefly, there I was on the 3D bandwagon. "Hugo" was a good experience for me, and I guess I thought maybe that because the next movie I was to see was a.) Animated, and b.) directed by Steven Spielberg, the 3D would be a plus rather than a minus.

"Tintin," a high concept, high adventure animated motion capture spectacle from one of the most beloved comic characters of all time (in Europe, anyway) directed by one of the most respected directors of all time -- how can you go wrong? By watching it in 3D, apparently.

I don't know if the problem I had with the 3D in this film was one with the movie itself or with the particular screening I saw, but the picture was fairly dark and actually kind of blurry at times. This has been a problem with 3D across the board and is what is causing major studios to rethink the entire format. Unfortunately, there is a lag between the time Hollywood comes to its collective senses and what we see on the actual screen. There are a bunch of 3D movies on the way, mostly because they were finished before 3D started to get a bad reputation. For a good explanation as to why 3D presentation is so problematic, look up the excellent Roger Ebert article entitled "The Dying of the Light." It really opened my eyes on the major technological stumbling blocks between a director's vision and its arrival before an audience.

That aside, "Tintin" is a pretty exciting, action-packed thrill ride with plenty of laughs and surprises along the way. The titular Tintin is a young journalist whose investigative skills have cracked case after intrigue-filled case. When he chances upon a model of a beautiful old ship in a street market, he decides to buy it, much to the chagrin of at least two other interested parties. The more dangerous of the two turns out to be an upper crust villain by the name of Sakharine who immediately butts heads with Tintin over the model, which is based on a real ship, the Unicorn.

Luckily, our hero has another friend up he sleeve: Captain Haddock, descendant of the original captain of the Unicorn. The alliance of these two, plus the ever helpful assistance of Tintin's dog Snowy leads us on a world wide chase full of exploration and adventure.

I know the 3D is what caused most of my problems with this movie, but I do have to admit that beyond that, the characters are a little flat. The acting is pretty good and the action is top-notch, but I just had difficulty remaining engaged in their little foibles and characteristics. Also, the plot moves forward at a break-neck speed. Not necessarily a negative, but I remember getting left behind at times, trying to keep up with characters I didn't really care about.

The look, the feel, the sound, everything seems like it would be top-notch. John Williams' score is great and I loved the special effects (that I could see). To be honest, at first my wife and I had a hard time putting our finger on what was wrong with the film, which is reminiscent of nothing so much as "Raiders of the Lost Ark." That's a good pedigree to have, but I just couldn't bring myself to love this latest adventure the way I did the older one. On the surface there's nothing wrong with this film, so I have to think I may have just been frustrated with the 3D, but there's another layer of technology between the audience and the story as well -- Motion Capture.

I was really scared about this aspect because, aside from when an actor is playing an alien, Gollum, or some kind of ape, the track record of motion capture has been spotty at best. The effect involves placing the actor in a suit with hundreds of tiny relays on it that record the performer's movements, and even facial expressions. The special effect is then able to actually have an actor that is creating a performance, as opposed to a giant robot, smashing the city. Thankfully, things have progressed mightily since Robert Zemeckis created the horrible "Polar Express," and "Beowulf." The characters in "Tintin" don't look weird. They look pretty good, actually, but still, the effect is just one more level of remove. I honestly don't know why this movie had to be animated in the first place. Couldn't they have done a better job, and created less a niche product if they had done it live action from the beginning?

Though the story picks up some, I left somewhat disappointed in the "Tintin" experience. I even have to admit that I dozed off for a few minutes there. My wife says 15 minutes total, but what does she know? The point is, though, why wasn't I more engaged? Was it the 3D? Probably.

Was it that incredible amounts of time and effort were spent making things look real, when to make them actually real would have been more effective? Certainly.

Let's hope that things pick up in the next installment, scheduled to be directed by Peter Jackson. I wait with baited breath.
Grade: B-

"The Adventure of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn" is rated PG for action and thrills.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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