Here comes the good news first: "The Adventures of Tintin" (aka "Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn") is overall entertaining as all get out. Steven Spielberg acts like a kid with a brand new giant bin of LEGOs in this movie, taking full advantage of the whole concept of a virtual camera and virtual settings. There's a stunning flashback to a pirate battle at sea where the camera spins and swoops and careens through space as the characters fly through the air and clamber over every inch of the two ships. Near the climax, that scene is topped by a chase through a city seen mostly from the point of view of a flying character. These scenes are hard as hell to describe adequately but, listen, they're well worth watching the movie for. The script is often fun as well and the story is a good old-fashioned wikkid fun hellzapoppin' globe-trotting adventure we just don't see anymore.
Visually, the film looks terrific. The cities, the vehicles, the effects, glowing treasure chests, sinking pirate ships, and fluttery pieces of parchment. All of them look varying degrees of fantastic.
The human and animal characters look good too, as long as they are not facing the screen and are sitting perfectly still.
Right. So let's talk about the motion capture.
Because this is what comes damn close to killing any good will I have for the film. Remember when the very first trailers for "Tintin" came out and they looked suspiciously reluctant to show the characters' faces? Well, surprise surprise, there's a reason for that. Now, to be perfectly fair, the characters look more appealing here than in most other mo-cap movies. But the filmmakers made the exceedingly odd choice of making the characters as utterly photorealistic as possible - while retaining their distinctive caricaturish features from the comics.
The result is, to say the least, jarring as f***. I have heard that there is no real evidence to support the theory of the Uncanny Valley, and yet I can confirm that there is a part of my brain that wigs out when confronted with the sight of a Creature That Looks Like A Man But Is NOT A Man, because it was going haywire every time a new character was introduced.
The weird thing is, this time it wasn't just the human characters who set this off. Snowy the dog (and best character in the movie) looks fine for the most part, probably since after decades of watching animation I am used to odd-looking dogs (what up, Pluto?) And yet it's unnerving when you start to notice his fluttery little tongue going in his mouth ALMOST -but not quite- like a real terrier. There's also a "falcon" that is, frankly, the worst-looking character in the entire movie. It looks, acts, and flies like no winged creature on God's green Earth. In twenty-one years, we went from Marahute to this thing. Yeah.
With all this in mind, and with the fact that Spielberg directed the ultimate (if I may repeat myself) good old-fashioned wikkid fun hellzapoppin' globe-trotting adventures we just don't see anymore as live-action films in the 1980's, I wonder what was even the point of making the "Tintin" films in motion-capture? I mean, if you're film is going to be essentially a live-action film with extensive animated effects populated with wrong-looking people, why are you even motion-capturing it? And notice I didn't say "why didn't you animate it", because this film very definitely has put me on Team "Motion Capture Is Not Animation" (Team MCINA? Team MoCapINAni? Whatever.) Now, Motion Capture is a very powerful effects tool. I rather liked "Avatar" (but mostly because of the world-building), and "Rise of the... Apes" made the water come out my eyes, enough said. But I guess if your entire movie is motion-captured, it just feels so... *pointless*.
I'd love to hear (well, read) other people's thoughts on this. But until then, "Tintin" is worth a look, though I don't know if I'll be on board with the next in the series.
Sketch of the Day
While I was in the Uncanny Valley, I was asked by these friendly... people... to paint their portraits. (Seriously, I apologize for these.)