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I don’t know if a critic can be said to be trolling if he’s published by a major newspaper, but Jim Schembri is surely coming close with this piece on why Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is a better piece of animation than Tintin.
My problem is not with the central thesis. I love championing of so-called “low” movies, and I love it when critics find things in a movie they think others have overlooked. I haven’t subjected myself to Alvin 3, and am not about to simply to see if Schembri is right. But just taking the Tintin side of the equation here, the article is full of comments that don’t add up.
The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
I don’t need to re-cap the level of anticipation to which I ascended in the lead-up to Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Hergé’s classic comic strip series The Adventures of Tintin; my salivating is all preserved on-line. Getting worked up ahead of the fact is part of the fun with modern blockbusters, but it means that actually seeing the film can often be a let-down. Amongst the recent mega-franchises we probably have to go back to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy to find one that truly lived up the hype; at the other end of the spectrum, and far more common of late, are wretched let downs like Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Tintin arrives heralded to the screen by both Jackson (as producer) and Spielberg (as director), so the form line for this was mixed. The good news is that their adaptation does justice to the source material and lives up to the expectations. I loved The Adventures of Tintin.
One of the key things that fuelled expectations was the talented triumvirate of geek favourites that Spielberg and Jackson had snared for screenwriting duties: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. The trio have done well in forging a largely seamless hybrid of Hergé’s The Crab with the Golden Claws and The Secret of the Unicorn, with a few small details from other books thrown in for good measure. The start of the film recalls the tone of Hergé’s earlier Tintin stories, with Tintin entering into an adventure accompanied only by his brave and faithful dog Snowy; in the latter portions, Tintin meets and then teams up with the irascible drunkard Captain Haddock. Their quest is to locate a series of parchments which, together, will provide a clue to the location of a hidden treasure; racing them to the target is the murderous Sakharine. The adventure takes Tintin from Europe to north Africa and back again.
And now, further to my post earlier today, here’s the Tintin teaser trailer, giving us (a little) more sense of what the animation will look like. There are some nice shots here, but it’s still hard to tell. The overall look is beautiful from what we can see, but they’re holding back on character animation, which will be the big test.
I’ve written about my misgivings about a CG Tintin before, but my fandom keeps overtaking my rational reservations. The thought of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson collaborating on this material, working from a script by Steven Moffat (writer of some seriously good TV) and Edgar Wright, is pretty exciting. And now we have this pair of handsome posters. If only the last movie that had me this excited at poster stage wasn’t Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Avatar (James Cameron, 2009)
James Cameron’s long-awaited Avatar is at once a state-of-the-art journey through imagined interstellar landscapes, and a rather more prosaic expedition through familiar story-telling terrain. “Great effects, so-so story” is perhaps the classic form of review for post-1977 Hollywood movies, and it’s a little sheepishly that critics have arrived once again at this basic conclusion. Yet, they have, in droves, because at the fundamental level that’s the key conclusion to be drawn about Avatar. The more interesting points to make about the film, then, aren’t those most important but most obvious observations. The sub-plots here – like the progress of James Cameron’s once-imposing directorial career, or whether the film is a giant leap in the evolution of film technology – are rather more interesting.
Robert Zemeckis’ new computer-animated epic Beowulf is modelled as the future of cinema. Designed for high-definition digital 3-D projection, it is Hollywood’s latest attempt to create a unique theatrical experience that can’t be downloaded. Yet the film is something of an oddity. Despite Zemeckis having paid tribute to the classic cartoonists with his 1988 feature Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, his new film is deeply at odds with the traditional practice of animation.
Beowulf advances “performance-capture” techniques Zemeckis had previously used on his 2004 film The Polar Express, in which the movements of actors are mapped directly onto digital characters. Peter Jackson did a similar thing to use performances by Andy Serkis as the basis for Gollum in his Lord of the Rings trilogy and Kong in King Kong, with celebrated results. Yet Jackson was working to achieve characters that couldn’t be achieved by traditional means, and the motion-captured performance was considerably reworked by a team of animators.
Beowulf (Robert Zemeckis, 2007)
Beowulf is a test-bed for a combination of technologies that might be the future of the movies. It utilises “performance capture” animation, which some think will revolutionise computer animation. In many theatres it is being exhibited in 3-D, and that technology is acting as something of a trojan horse for the accelerated roll-out of digital cinemas. And its regular theatrical release is paired with showings in IMAX. It’s all very reminiscent of the 1950s, when extreme widescreen processes and early 3-D were used to try to give theatrical exhibition a competitive advantage against the threat of television. Today, the threats are DVD and illegal downloads, but the impetus is much the same. And Robert Zemeckis, in particular, has devoted much of the last decade to this technology: he hasn’t made a live-action film since 2000’s Cast Away, and won’t for some years (with his next picture locked in as the computer-animated A Christmas Tale, due in 2009).
A new trailer / preview reel for Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf has hit the net.
I’ll skip my standard spiel on the uncanny valley (see here for some of my earlier comments). What this Beowulf trailer made me think about is how conflicted I am about the potential of these sort of highly digitised movies. By that I mean movies where most or all of the environments are either computer generated sets, or highly manipulated with computers, whether these use human actors (as in Sin City) or live-action-like motion-capped animation (a la Polar Express or Beowulf). The divide between the animated and non-animated films in this genre seems to be largely trivial now: because these projects use animation that is motion-capped off real performers, and which aspires to photorealism, in an aesthetic sense they are essentially the same thing. (True animated films, like those made by Pixar, are a different beast again.)
If you’ve been anywhere near the film geek webpages during the week you’ll have seen this news: Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are making movies of Herge’s comic book series The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg in particular has been mentioned in relation to this property before, but it really seems to be moving forward now. Courtesy of Variety:
Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are teaming to direct and produce three back-to-back features based on Georges Remi’s beloved Belgian comic-strip hero Tintin for DreamWorks. Pics will be produced in full digital 3-D using performance capture technology.
The two filmmakers will each direct at least one of the movies; studio wouldn’t say which director would helm the third… The Spielberg-Jackson project isn’t likely to languish in development for long. Spielberg could become available this fall after wrapping “Indiana Jones 4.” Jackson will wrap “Bones” by the end of the year.
I have mixed feelings about this whole thing, but I’m certainly very interested. Tintin was a staple of my childhood; as I got a bit older, I cast them aside, deciding that the other big comic book series, Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo’s Asterix was a bit hipper. Yet I came full circle when I revisited the Tintin books as an adult. They might superficially be pitched a little younger than the jokey Asterix books, but Herge was clearly the superior artist. His beautifully simple graphical style and grasp of the comic book form really sets the Tintin books apart. He also showed remarkable facility at different genres: the Tintin books range from the full-blown adventure of sending Tintin to the moon (in Explorers on the Moon) to the minimalist house-bound mystery of The Castafiore Emerald, a comic drama where the ultimate joke is that Herge generates a whole book around nothing of consequence.
Happy Feet (George Miller, 2006)
Happy Feet is a computer animated film about a free-spirited penguin, Mumble, who dances when all around him only sing. Watching it, I felt a sense of disconnection from my fellow filmgoers that matched that of its protagonist. This was a feel good dancing penguin movie, right? One which has been met by widespread audience and critical acclaim. One which, the ads insist, has “audiences floating out of the cinema on feel good clouds.” So what was the Happy Feet I saw? The film I saw was obviously well-intentioned, but it was poorly made, lamentably unmusical, and, well… depressing.