In 2009, I imagine Steven Spielberg sat down in his overstuffed chair with E.T. on it, and while chugging a Coke he accepted from his Haley Joel Osment robot, says to himself, "Stevie, Christmas of 2011 is gonna be yours, all yours." And as he giggles maniacally, the rest of his family in the house sighs and shrugs, knowing that if anyone could do it, it's him. The Adventures of Tintin is Spielberg's second feature in theaters this Christmas alongside the war-and-animal-fest War Horse. While Tintin is definitely the safer choice for children, with more thrills and action than almost all of the other holiday films combined, it's missing a lot of the charm and intelligence of the original comic books. But, if you're not a fan of the Belgian artist Hergé's work, like most Americans reading this review (and writing it), that won't really matter. It will just manifest itself in a sense that something isn't quite right, which is echoed by looking into the animated character's empty eyes.
Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) wrote this screenplay, and as some of the most interesting writers working today, they did a bang-up job of creating a nonstop assault of spectacular adventure. The whole plot, in fact, sounds like a whopper of a tale tiny Tintin might have related when his mother asked why he was late coming home from school. "No ma, I swear, first, I bought this model boat at the market, then some guys came after it, and I ended up on a real boat, and my dog Snowy saved me, and we used champagne bottles to trick the thugs, and I shot a guy, and then there was an airplane and a famous singer, and we chased them through the town, and then we all got into trouble at the docks!" I'm exhausted just having written that. All of that madness combined with blazing bright colors and 3D will have you hypnotized for the entire 107 minutes.
Past that, the movie doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Apparently, just like the books, Tintin is probably the least charismatic lead in a film since Keanu Reeves in A Walk in the Clouds. Although I am not a big enough fan of the series to know how old Tintin actually is, he's old enough to have a job as a reporter, have his own apartment, and use a gun. He stands as a great lesson to children that just because you know how to use firearms, it doesn't automatically make you awesome like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2. Sure, Tintin is smart and makes enormous leaps of logic based on practically invisible clues that he remembers from reading some dusty book in a library, but he still has less pizzazz than his dog Snowy. That made everything feel a little more empty, since he isn't really supported by anyone that interesting either. Even when the talented and innovative Andy Serkis shows up as Captain Haddock, I felt like his character was just borrowed from Robert Shaw in Jaws and made more family-friendly. Also watered down almost to the point of non-existence was the original comic's sense of satire.
On top of this, for as much as it has going on motion-wise, it appears kind of vacant. I wish that the movie business wasn't such a bottomless machine that needs feeding. If it weren't, this movie might have just used Hergé's original style of drawing, which is leagues more beautiful than what ended up on screen. Of course computer technology, which improves by leaps and bounds every day, allowed Spielberg to create action with enormous momentum, but I couldn't get past how it felt mildly unsettling. Given that it's the holidays, and most things I watch leave me both excited and unsettled (like my great uncle doing the Macarena in a Santa hat and boxers), it fits right in, but I am skeptical about the next two installments of the trilogy.