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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.
I was lucky enough to see Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin tonight, at its first Melbourne screening. However, they did ask for reviews to be held until 1 December. I’m so ridiculously, insanely grateful to have gotten into that screening that I will of course honour that request. I’ll be overseas then, but will endeavour to have my review ready and log in to press “post” on, or close to, the fateful day. So for anyone interested in my thoughts, check back around then. (Edit, 17/11: I have now twigged that WordPress lets me schedule the post. So it should appear first thing in the morning on 1 December.)
I can understand their reasoning on this to a point: they don’t want the buzz peaking too early (but why, then, hold our release so far back after everyone else’s?) It will be interesting to see how well the dam holds, though, especially since the movie is already out in Europe, and they were actively encouraging tweeting about the film (and tweets from tonight’s screening are already flying about).
Call it a hunch though: I don’t think Paramount will be blacklisting me for saying it’s fabulous.
Until then, here’s the trailer.
Super 8 (J.J. Abrams, 2011)
With Super 8, J.J. Abrams pays tribute to a body of work that some feel Hollywood has been methodically aping for thirty years: Steven Spielberg’s work of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Yet even if you accept the Peter Biskind “Hollywood drank Spielberg’s Kool Aid and was forever changed” school of thought – about which I said a bit more here – you’d have to acknowledge that it was a particular aspect of Spielberg’s filmmaking that Hollywood latched on to. The lesson everybody seemed to learn from Jaws, Close Encounters, and E.T. (plus George Lucas’ Star Wars) was that people were after escapist, wonder-inducing science fiction and fantasy. What almost all of the imitators didn’t understand, or couldn’t replicate, was Spielberg’s knack for depicting the real world setting and the domestic backdrop against which the adventure took place. That, of course, was what made the transition to the extraordinary and other-worldly in Spielberg’s work so effective. What makes Super 8 really interesting, albeit not completely successful, is the care Abrams devotes to replicating that more mundane side of the Spielberg formula.
Update:Ain’t it Cool have now posted the full Spielberg interview referred to in this post: it’s here and well worth a read for Jaws fans.
Ain’t it Cool have released some snippets of a forthcoming interview with Steven Spielberg that are at once infuriating and gratifying.
Gratifying, in that Spielberg confirms that the Blu-Ray of Jaws (forthcoming at an undisclosed date) will have no Star Wars Special Edition-style alterations. Spielberg, it should be remembered, practically invented the modern craze for re-cutting movies with his “Special Edition” of Close Encounters in 1980. That movies’ muddied history shows both the best and worst of this kind of thing. The cut he eventually came up with the second time he revisited the film, in 1998, is in my view the best version of the film. Yet between 1980 and 1998 he managed to keep the original version out of circulation, prompting Pauline Kael’s memorable complaint that “…when you remember something in a movie with pleasure and its gone, you feel as if your memories had been mugged.” George Lucas’ butchering of Star Wars has become the key example of this kind of chicanery, although Spielberg’s recut E.T. is very nearly as bad.
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.
While I was on holiday a couple of big names passed away. One was Cyd Charise, but I’d never try to pass myself off as qualified to write about her: I did enjoy Jaime Weinman’s commentary though, with some great YouTube clips, here.
Special effects artist Stan Winston, however, has his fingerprints all over the post-seventies Hollywood that I find so interesting. The market for special effects is so big now that nobody can really stamp their name on it the way old-school artists like Willis O’Brien or Ray Harryhausen did, but Winston was as close as we had to that kind of iconic effects artist in the past few decades. He was also the last of a breed, in that he was a master of physical creature effects – achieved through make-up, puppetry, robotics, and the like – in an age where such creatures are increasingly being done by computer. His career paralleled another great effects artist, Rick Baker, but where Baker was probably best known for make-up effects (as with his work on all those films where Eddie Murphy plays multiple characters) and had a sideline in creature work, Winston’s emphasis was the other way round.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 2008)
Man, this is some bad movie.
And keep in mind; this is from someone who managed to enjoy some of the Star Wars prequels.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg, 1984)
In the lead-up to the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a longstanding argument was revived. Which is the second best Indiana Jones film: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? The two films split fans of the series down the middle; they are so different, and the qualities people value in each are so different, that there is no room for agreement. (It’s one of those arguments where both sides are surprised that the other could even pose such a question.) About the only thing that unites everyone is the unstated assumption that, of course, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the untouchable, streets-ahead best of the series. I, too, love that film: I can’t fault so much as a single shot, line-reading, or camera angle. It’s funny and exciting. Harrison Ford is awesome as Indiana Jones, and the supporting cast are all fantastic. A number of sequences – the flying wing fight, in particular – are amongst the most skilfully mounted in Spielberg’s extraordinary oeuvre. But here’s my dirty little secret… as time has gone by, I think I have come to love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom even more than Raiders.