Steven Spielberg's 'The Adventures of Tintin' is handily one of the year's best films

Posted by · 8:21 pm · November 10th, 2011

Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” closed out AFI Fest this evening, a real coup for the festival and for Paramount Pictures (who are still well over a month away from release stateside). And the film is a dazzling experience, full of Spielberg’s trademark cinematic energy. It’s his best film in nearly a decade (since “Minority Report,” at least).

The film was reviewed in this space by Guy upon its UK release (being one of precious few Hollywood films that manage to hit the marketplace outside the US first), and I agree with his assessment. (I’m also happy he didn’t fall in with some other UK critics who seemed to have their knives out for the film overseas; I expect it to land more comfortably on these shores.)

For me, this film put a smile on my face and kept it there. It’s Spielberg invigorated, the performance-capture and animation process allowing him to do things with the camera that he had only dreamed of, conjuring angles and set-pieces that surely have existed only in his head for decades but now have the freedom to run wild on the screen.

Indeed, there is an action sequence in this film that I’d call the most exciting set-piece Spielberg has ever conceived and accomplished. A one-“take” race through the streets of a stepped Moroccan village, it literally had me rocking in my seat, electrified. And it’s not just the novelty of the single take. There is real creativity in every turn. Fantastic.

With that in mind, I’d like to formally offer up Michael Kahn’s film editing as my strongest “FYC” note of the season. The transitional work here is as creative as many of the “shot” selections, again, the kinds of cinematic strokes one can only imagine have lived in the editor and Spielberg’s head for years, waiting for a technological way in. The film is a tight, brisk zip that is nevertheless packed with intrigue. You’ll get your money’s worth and then some and Kahn’s handling of the pace and the action is a huge reason why.

The performance-capture is quite good and, despite this or that waxy visage, completely involving on an emotional and character level, I’d say. Jamie Bell is a fine front man for the project while Andy Serkis delivers his second fully realized, captivating (and this time completely different) mo-cap performance of the year as the perpetually pie-eyed Captain Haddock. Daniel Craig is deliciously devilish (somehow alliteration has taken hold) as the film’s villain, Ivanovich Sakharine, while Simon Pegg and Nick Frost give great comic relief as inspectors Thompson and Thomson. The performance-capture process really adds a lot to their contribution, too, expanding the performances.

Indeed, I appreciate “Tintin” for the hybrid of mo-cap and animation that it is, because obviously it was the only way Spielberg could do some of the things he wanted to do. The film is just a landmark of visual conception, plain and simple.

And John Williams is back! His frolicking score has a playful, jazzy accent here and there that gives it a flavor unto its own within the Williams canon, but is nevertheless of a piece with his legacy. (And I also loved the subtle “Raiders of the Lost Ark” flavor in the Sahara sequence.)

In so many words, “The Adventures of Tintin” is one of the year’s best films. Handily so, I’d wager. I hope it can find traction in the major Oscar categories. Adapted screenplay consideration wouldn’t be unwarranted, nor, frankly, Best Picture. I can easily see this one clocking in as a top-of-the-list favorite for many this season. Fingers are crossed it does, in any case.

More importantly, I hope the box office for the film is substantial enough to warrant a continuation of the franchise. Peter Jackson serves as producer on this effort and is anxious to take a stab at his own “Tintin” movie, with Spielberg in the producer’s chair.

When “The Secret of the Unicorn” (as this film is subtitled overseas) hits theaters next month, you could do a lot worse than put a little money toward the cause and Jackson’s proposed follow-up, “Prisoners of the Sun.”

You’re up, “War Horse.”

“The Adventures of Tintin” opens nationwide Wednesday, December 21.

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