A public audience in the United States finally got to see Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" on Thursday night in Hollywood, a couple of weeks after its European release. And just as it did across the pond, the animated action flick strongly divided viewers.
"I've never done animated before, and I've never debuted any of my films … at AFI before, so I just hope for the best," said Spielberg from the screen of the Grauman's Chinese Theater on Thursday night, where "Tintin" served as the closing-night attraction of the AFI Fest 2011.
Spielberg addressed the crowd on film because he couldn't make it to Hollywood for the gala – the reason being, said AFI president Bob Gazzale before the screening began, "most of the ['Tintin'] team behind the camera is in Virginia tonight, shooting 'Lincoln.'"
He paused. "That's an awful way to say it, isn't it? They're filming the movie 'Lincoln.'"
With the director on the other side of the country, it fell to "Tintin" star Jamie Bell to do in-person introductions at the Chinese, where the capacity crowd greeted him warmly and responded well to Spielberg's adaptation of the comics by the Belgian author and artist Herge.
But just as European reviews ranged from rapturous raves to acidic pans, so were L.A. viewers split on the film's merits.
The barrage of tweets that followed Thursday's screening, for instance, ran the gamut from "handily one of the year's best films" (@kristapley) and "very much fun" (@jamesrocchi) to "popcorn punishment" (@wellshwood) and "Weird. Cold. Not my cup of tea" (@AwardsDaily).
My own verdict: "Tintin" has its charms and it's visually inventive, but ultimately the breakneck pace is wearying, bulldozing the film's likeable qualities under a barrage of high-octane action sequences that too often reminded me of the ludicrous Shia-Labeouf-swinging-through-the-trees sequence in Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
In a way, the tone was set at the very beginning of the film, when the title character poses for a portrait by a street artist. While the artist is working, we never see Tintin's face; instead, we follow his scene-stealing dog Snowy, and then see the portrait.
That portrait is the Tintin we know from the comics' simple line drawings (right), and the moment is wonderful and charming. But then we pan from that Tintin to the mo-cap Tintin we'll be seeing onscreen for the rest of the movie, and suddenly the character and the movie aren't quite so charming.
Obviously, Spielberg is freed in some ways by the motion-capture process, which he and producer Peter Jackson's WETA Workshop team use in the service of massive chases and fights and extravagant fancies. The most exciting of these sequences is a lavish chase through a terraced town, which would be even more arresting if it wasn't surrounded by similarly frantic but less stylish scenes.
It's Young Indiana Jones on steroids, which isn't exactly true to the comics, and which in the end I found to be more exhausting than exhilarating.
The use of 3D, meanwhile, is fine, but not as playfully virtuosic as Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" or as essential as Wim Wenders' dance documentary "Pina," the two most remarkable recent uses of the technique.
An Academy spokesperson told TheWrap that "Tintin" has been approved by the Academy's Short Films and Feature Animation branch, which is in the process of ruling on the three motion capture films and two live-action/animation hybrids that were submitted in the Best Animated Feature category.
(Even though last week's press release listed 18 films, a high-placed member of the branch said that not all 18 had been officially qualified when the release was issued.)
For a sense of what the film is like, here's a new spot that includes some previously unseen footage:
"Tintin" is off to a good start at the overseas box office, grossing more than $125 million internationally so far. It opens across the country on December 21, just before Spielberg's other 2011 film, "War Horse."