Over 80 years after the Belgian artist Herge first conceived him Tintin the plucky journalist-adventurer whose stories have sold over 350 million books worldwide has finally got his own big-budget Hollywood movie. The Adventures of Tintin is already a runaway hit in Europe where it opened in late October (some eight weeks ahead of its U.S. release) and where the character enjoys the bulk of his popularity. But while most Americans have never heard of Tintin they’re undoubtedly familiar with the name of Steven Spielberg who after directing 24 live-action features makes his 3D-animation debut with the rollicking action-adventure.
The film is set in the early-middle 20th century in an unnamed European town. Though his spiked widow’s peak and baby-faced visage peg him at no older than 16 the titular Tintin (Jamie Bell) is already a respected newspaper reporter and something of a neighborhood celebrity. (He also lives alone and owns a handgun -- quite an accomplished young lad indeed.) The chance purchase of a model boat leads him to a mystery involving a treasure-laden ship that was lost at sea over three centuries prior. Together with his trusty dog Snowy and a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis) he embarks on a globe-trotting adventure that pits him against a nefarious figure named Sakharine (Daniel Craig).
Like the Indiana Jones blockbusters it’s so clearly crafted to evoke The Adventures of Tintin is cutting-edge filmmaking with an old-fashioned ethos. Spielberg’s gift for spectacle hasn’t diminished one iota with his transition to animation. The inexorable march of technology and the constant bar-raising of the 3D-animated genre has schooled us to expect dazzling color and detail and Tintin dutifully delivers on that front but what impressed me most about the film is the cinematography which is nothing short of astounding. Liberated from the physical constraints of the live-action realm Spielberg and his longtime director of photography Janusz Kaminski deliver shot after shot of breathtaking scope and complexity.
Such freedom of imagination has its drawbacks of course. I grew tired of the filmmakers’ fondness for reflected images. They’re found everywhere in the film -- on mirrors windows eyeglasses bottles and anything else translucent or shiny. Moreover story is reduced to a secondary role in service of the film’s elaborate set pieces. And Tintin himself for all his exploits is an unremarkable protagonist his only distinguishing features a determined optimism and a MacGuyer-like ingenuity.
The Adventures of Tintin was made using a “performance-capture” approach of the type pioneered by Robert Zemeckis which might bring alarm to those who recall the infamously dead-eyed characters of Polar Express with disdain. The technology has come quite a long way since those rueful early days. The characters in Spielberg’s film possess a vitality and expressiveness that signal the much-maligned “uncanny valley” could soon be a thing of the past.
Inspired by a Russian folktale Corpse Bride begins with the promise of a wedding. The snobby Everglots (voiced by Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney) are pushing their daughter Victoria (voiced by Emily Watson) into marrying Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) the bachelor son of the social-climbing Van Dorts (voiced by Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse). Neither Victor nor Victoria wants this arrangement--that is until they meet each other on the eve of their wedding and sparks fly. But when Victor screws up his vows during the rehearsal he is humiliated and rushes off. Once in the fresh cool air he is suddenly able to recite his vows perfectly down to even putting the ring on what looks like a gnarled tree root. Ah but that's not what it is at all. It's the very dead hand of the Corpse Bride (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) a lovely but rotting young lady who rises out of the ground to claim her groom and drag him down into the Land of the Dead which is actually a pretty festive place. Even though Victor doesn't want to break the heart of the Corpse Bride who has her own sad tale to tell he just can't see how the marriage is going to work--being that's he's alive and in love with someone else. What's a decaying bride looking for her lost love to do?
Corpse Bride has amassed a nice eclectic group of British voices except for Depp of course (although at this point he should be considered an honorary Brit since he's played so many). It's easy to see Depp as Victor--gangly floppy hair sunken cheeks. And Watson as Victoria--big eyes round face petite femininity. But that's because they are the most normal of the Bride's bunch. The rest of cast don't look anything like their vocal counterparts either as highly exaggerated human caricatures (check out Lady Everglot's hair) or as one of the dearly departed. Bonham Carter probably has the most fun as the moldering newlywed who is just in the wrong place and the wrong time. Same goes for her friend Maggot voiced by Enn Reitel and sounding very much like Peter Lorre who has one of the better lines when he tells the Bride "I'm sure if I weren't just sitting in it I'd think you'd lost your mind."
All I can say is Tim Burton must have been a very different child who nonetheless watched a lot of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. But then again Burton's version of stop motion animation is a far cry from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. After producing The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach he has finally taken the reins and perfected what looks like a very cumbersome but amazing way of doing animation. "What I love about stop motion animation is that it's so tactile " Burton explains. "There's something wonderful about being able to physically touch and move the characters and to see their world actually exist." He isn't kidding. Corpse Bride is real eye candy from start to finish with an interesting twist on themes: the living world is washed out dull with little color--and little life actually--while the Land of the Dead is effervescent and jazzy where the denizens drink and party all night. I'm sure Burton truly believes this is what the hereafter is really like. So must Burton's longtime composer Danny Elfman the former lead singer of the '80s band Oingo Bongo whose hit "Dead Man's Party" aptly validates this feeling. However Elfman's songs in Corpse Bride--yes it's a musical too--are pretty tame and frankly pointless. If the film could have shaved off the musical numbers it would have zinged.