Netflix Instant can’t wash your car. An IMAX sound system can’t pilot an aircraft carrier. And motion-capture animation can’t make non-creepy-looking human characters. All that may change one day, but the technology hasn’t yet caught up.
And if there were any doubt that mo-cap hasn’t leapt the chasm past the “uncanny valley” that makes human forms look weird and off-putting, “The Adventures of Tintin” would seem to indicate that neither Steven Spielberg nor Peter Jackson has figured it out. And if these guys still aren't all able to pull it off, we should all just agree that it can’t be done, period.
Motion-capture has had its triumphs, from the stunning Na’vi of “Avatar” to Andy Serkis’s moving, award-worthy performance as Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” And while the faces of Tintin and his friends represent a quantum leap past earlier efforts like “The Polar Express” and “Mars Needs Moms,” they’re still spooky and not quite expressive enough.
It certainly doesn’t help that boy adventurer Tintin has existed until now as a two-dimensional figure on the printed page and on TV: Belgian artist Hergé’s crisp line drawings are legendary, and director Spielberg and producer Jackson certainly could have made a stunning 2-D animated film based on the original character designs.
Instead, sadly, they’ve mucked about with an it-ain’t-broke original, compounding their folly by entrusting the characters to this still-imperfect technology. In the final wash, only Snowy the Dog comes off with any kind of visual appeal.
Something of an origin story, “The Adventures of Tintin” follows the titular teen journalist (Jamie Bell) as he gets caught up in a globe-spanning adventure involving ships in bottles, secret passageways, and hidden scrolls. He is helped along the way by the hard-drinking Captain Haddock (Serkis) — he and Tintin meet for the first time here — and bumbling detectives Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost).
Spielberg takes advantage of the freedoms of animation, sending his camera on cannonball trajectories and zooming up the masts of pirate ships, but the action sequences blur together while lacking any sense of rhythm or pacing. If you were expecting a bracing, thrilling “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” what we get here is more like a muddled, busy “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” By the time two characters attack each other with giant dockside cranes, it feels like the entire film has descended into a series of loud metallic clangs.
For all the millions of dollars that were no doubt shoveled into this A-list effort, there was a funnier and more exciting action film made this year at just a fraction of the cost: “Attack the Block,” from “Tintin” co-writers Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright. Good on them for getting a high-paying gig on a Spielberg project, but this is one of those cases where the up-and-coming employees could apparently teach the big boss a thing or two.