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MOVIE REVIEW: 'The Adventures of Tintin' is for you only if already a fan

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, from left, Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, Haddock, voiced by Andy Serkis, and Snowy await rescue in a scene from "The Adventures of Tintin." Directed by Spielberg and produced by Jackson, the film is already is a global blockbuster, approaching $250 million at the worldwide box office as it heads into U.S. theaters Dec. 21, two months after it began rolling out to theaters overseas.(AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

In this image released by Paramount Pictures, from left, Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, Haddock, voiced by Andy Serkis, and Snowy await rescue in a scene from "The Adventures of Tintin." Directed by Spielberg and produced by Jackson, the film is already is a global blockbuster, approaching $250 million at the worldwide box office as it heads into U.S. theaters Dec. 21, two months after it began rolling out to theaters overseas.(AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

The Adventures Of Tintin

(PG)

2 1/2 out of 4 stars

It isn't often that a director as powerful and respected as Stephen Spielberg releases two movies in the same year, much less the same week. In mostly any other year this would be extremely good news and while "The Adventures of Tintin" and "War Horse" aren't Spielberg's worst efforts, each can now be considered to be among his half-dozen or so major disappointments. Considering Spielberg's made nearly 30 movies, that's still a very good average by anyone's standards.

In addition to being Spielberg's first animated feature, "Tintin" is also his first 3-D movie, but unlike his good friend Martin Scorsese who kept his 3-D maiden voyage ("Hugo") in check, Spielberg uses it here as a substitute for a good story. It is for audiences the equivalent of what a bright, shiny lure is to fish. It's flashy and moves at a quick clip, but it offers no substantive value. Half the people who watch it are going to forget the plot before they even leave the theater.

It's easy to see why Spielberg was drawn to the material. The title character (voiced by Jamie Bell) is a fearless, sharp-tongued older teen that lives for danger and the thrill of the hunt. He doesn't wilt in the presence of ominous villains or shy away from long odds. If he were American and in his mid-30s, Tintin would probably be Indiana Jones and that's exactly what Spielberg tries to do with him.

See if this sounds kind of familiar ...

After coming into the possession of an extremely rare and potentially valuable artifact, Tintin finds himself being chased over most of Europe and significant portions of the Middle East by evil genius Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and two other lesser threatening bad guys. Both of Tintin's adversaries want a model ship he's just bought for a song that contains ... something secret that's part of a puzzle.

It's not literally "Raiders of the Lost Ark" but it comes real close in intent and spirit. The too many chase scenes could easily be storyboards for all four "Jones" flicks which would be OK if it wasn't delivered at such a breakneck/whiplash pace. There are also another couple of loud and clanging scenes that would be right at home in the "Transformers" franchise.

One thing "Tintin" is not is close to the source material. Cobbled together from four of the 23 books in the comic series by Belgian writer Georges Prosper Remi, aka Herge, the film not only is but feels like a patchwork. Herge's books have a markedly primitive style called clear line. It's very basic, one that lacks depth, shadows and the "flat 3-D" of most American-based superhero comics. ("Blondie" and "Family Circus" are two familiar American strips that are crafted with the clear line method.) Conversely, the "Tintin" narrative is highly cerebral containing a caustic mixture of black comedy, political satire, hyper realism and a cynical, idiosyncratic European attitude. Many consider the series to be the forbearer of the graphic novel.

What does all of this have to do with the movie? Nothing, unless you're a big Herge fan; you'll be more disappointed than most. Is it suitable for family consumption? If you're child views movies the same way fish contemplate lures and you don't mind trying to figure out what's actually happening -- yes. Is it the safest of the three family-targeted movies of the holiday weekend? Well, sorry to say, the answer to that is again yes. (Paramount)