The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Director Steven Spielberg and Producer Peter Jackson collaborate for their marvelous adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin.  As a welcome Christmas gift to fans of the classic long-lived European comics as well as the uninitiated, this is the first motion-capture animated film I can fully praise with an abundance of exclamation points.  Spielberg has directed a sprawling action-adventure film for families that springs with life and leaps with wit.

In the 1940s, young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a model collector’s ship, the Unicorn, that immediately thrusts him into danger.  The model contains a riddle and secret code, but what does it mean and where does it lead?  Accompanied by his trustworthy pup, Snowy, Tintin must elude several dangerous characters seeking to steal his rare artifact.  This leads the young adventurer to Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a notorious drunk who may be the key to solving the secret of the Unicorn.

With Tintin, the infamous Steven Spielberg finally returns to light up cinemas following a 3-year absence.  Ironically, this film may have more in common with Raiders of the Lost Ark than his last disappointing outing with the famed archeologist. Tintin is full of exciting mystery and grandiose action sequences, brilliant animation, shades of inviting humor, and a gorgeous 3D presentation.  This is easily the best animated film I’ve seen all year, and contains one of the year’s most entertaining action sequences, live-action or animation.

As for the motion-capture technique, Spielberg and Jackson know what they’re doing here.  I’ve found the work done by Robert Zemeckis (who’s recently been obsessed with the technology) over the last seven years to be a total snooze.  The Polar Express, Beowulf, and Christmas Carol never got it quite right despite painstaking efforts to be sure.  Tintin, however, is a visual marvel.  The animation is spot-on, and the performances behind the characters onscreen, chief among them Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, and Andy Serkis, are uniformly excellent.

The film ends with the setup for another adventure, and I hope American audiences seek out The Adventures of Tintin, as it is not a well-known property here.  Forget about needing to know anything.  Walk in blind and let the film dazzle you from beginning to end.


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Rise of the Planet of the Apes

All too often it seems Hollywood has a penchant for releasing a ‘Huh? They’re really making that??’ movie.  In fact, my response to the news of a prequel to Planet of the Apes was just that.  I didn’t see the need to revisit a franchise that had laid dormant for a decade.  Of all the summer blockbusters released over the last three months, this one interested me the least.  Go figure that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is one of the best movies of this summer or any summer.

James Franco plays Will Rodman, a geneticist on the verge of a medical breakthrough.  He has designed a serum that has the potential to cure Alzheimer’s disease.  This venture has impassioned him as he watches his father (John Lithgow) fall victim to the illness.  After testing on apes, the research proves that the cure is functional and ready for human trials.  Unfortunately, a laboratory accident prevents potential investors of the drug from approving it.  Will’s project faces termination, as do the apes.  Unable to kill a newborn chimp, Will takes in little Caesar only to see that the drug has been genetically passed on from the chimp’s mother.  Will documents Caesar’s increased brain activity and motor functions over the course of several years.

Caesar has extraordinary capabilities.  He can write, read, use sign language, reason, and protect.  It doesn’t take long for him to realize that outside of Will’s home, the rest of society sees him as a dangerous pet—unequal to that of a human.  He feels the isolation of being an outcast and is ultimately taken by the state to a facility for apes after a violent accident.  Caesar is abused and mistreated, as are the other apes in confinement.  He sees only one solution to free his companions and stop the maltreatment of his kind.

If you thought Rise would be a noisy spectacle without a brain in its head, let me surprise you—this could be the thinking man’s movie of the season.  Directed by Rupert Wyatt, the film restores this franchise and provides an ample amount of emotion and heart to the blockbuster.  Forget about the humans onscreen—this movie is all about Caesar, an impressive digital creation of motion capture technology played by Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame.  Serkis gives Caesar a real performance, providing the apes a reason to become angry, impassioned, willed, and ultimately the dominant species of the planet.  Wyatt succeeds in combining a rock solid story with heartfelt drama and impressive special effects that will likely contend as the year’s best.

The film also draws up important questions about the limits of science and where we draw the line in the quest to advance medicine.  Tim Burton’s 2001 Planet of the Apes only flirted with the idea of one species being a slave to another as a matter of moral significance.  Rise dives in head-first and has the audience weigh out the pros and the cons.  Of course the film leads up to a massive ape revolution that has been showcased in the advertisements, but the writers and Wyatt make more out of this golden opportunity than a stage of destruction—they’ve given us a story of an ape fighting for his place in this world.  This left me wondering if there could be a more human film this season than Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

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