The Adventures of Tintin in the Uncanny Valley

We finally got our first look at a teaser trailer for the epic Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson “The Adventures of Tintin” this morning, but I find myself moved to write a few more words about this one than my usual trailer updates.

I anticipate this winter’s blockbuster Tintin adaptation with equal parts apprehension and boyish enthusiasm. Reading my brother’s description of his early-adolescent obsession with James Bond over at his exceptional Bond-of-the-Month blog, I recognized a few of the symptoms, and not just from my own fascination with the super-spy (which was perhaps a little more hesitant in its development; you need the hormones to kick in before you can really appreciate the Bond series). Growing up, I would rarely leave the local public library without at least one of Tintin’s books in tow; when I finally made my way through all 21 available adventures (often having to make requests out to other libraries, some halfway across the state), I simply started over again. I must’ve read my way through the entire series (ignoring “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” and “Tintin in the Congo,” both of which have been somewhat reasonably suppressed) 6 or 7 times within a couple years. The sour-faced librarians behind the circulation desk always gave me funny looks when I trotted up with Tintin clutched in my hands for the umpteenth time, but I simply ignored them. After all, how could they ever understand the appeal of Hergé’s boisterous young journalist-hero?

See, Tintin is a bit like James Bond for the pre-pubescent male crowd. You’ve got all the danger, the diabolical villains and crazy schemes, the glamorous globe-trotting, the gadgets and the action, just with all that romantic crap cut out. Tintin himself was little more than a overgrown child (albeit one that could pack a punch): perpetually energetic, optimistic, stubborn, curious, clever. Add in a thoroughly entertaining mixture of physical comedy and witty, character-driven humor (i.e. the always dependable combination of Thomson and Thompson), and what more could a 9-year old boy want? The more appropriate comparison, in fact, is probably to Indiana Jones – Hergé added the same kind of supernatural/fantastic elements to the mix, having his heroes combat ancient curses and search for buried treasure in between thwarting political coups and oil wars.

So who better to finally tackle a film adaptation than Steven Spielberg? The director’s undying love for the Saturday morning serials of his childhood unquestionably yielded positive results with the Indiana Jones franchise (whatever your opinion of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” may be; for the record, I actually enjoy the fourth installment more than “Temple of Doom,” but that’s a whole other debate); so he should be able to knock similar material out of the ballpark, right? Particularly when he has legendary fanboys like Peter Jackson and Edgar Wright working by his side.

Of course, I’m really getting ahead of myself here, as we won’t be able to pass any kind of judgment until the film is released in 7 months or so. But this teaser suddenly provoked a lot of mixed emotions:

Now, at first glance, the motion-capture animation technique Weta Digital is using is at least not Robert Zemeckis-level creepy. But, for me anyway, it’s also not hitting the same level of seamlessly integrated photo-realism that Jackson and his studio achieved a decade ago with Gollum in “Lord of the Rings” (yeah, that’s right, the first “Lord of the Rings” came out a decade ago, guys; deal with it). Considering the immediate thrill of the action set-pieces hinted at in this teaser (the plane crash in particular is an exhilarating moment), one wonders, as we did with all of Zemeckis’ works, why the movie couldn’t just be completely CGI-animated, and left at that. Pixar and Dreamworks have proven that CGI films can be extraordinarily profitable; isn’t it about time someone tried to test the medium beyond the all-too-safe realm of family comedies? Filmmakers like Spielberg, Jackson and James Cameron are so concerned with pushing new technological boundaries, but I don’t think we’ve even found the full potential yet of what we’ve already got.

But I will try and emulate the intrepid Tintin and remain stubbornly optimistic. The acting ensemble that’s been assembled is still first-rate, and what little we hear of Jamie Bell’s voicing of the eponymous hero sounds spot on (but god, those CGI eyes…). It’s great to have John Williams back in a raucous, rousing composing mood. And I remain confident that Edgar Wright and his writing team will give us a screenplay that goes above and beyond similar fare like, say, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels. Combined, these elements can certainly make up for some technical missteps; if nothing else, I think we’re looking at this year’s “TRON: Legacy,” an entertaining but flawed genre flick. We could do worse.

Oh, and we’re not even going to discuss the 3-D.

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