WHILE THE JAPANESE may be the best at building robots, they're the worst at building robots that aren't terrifying. Scientific types call this effect "the uncanny valley"—wherein artificial life forms look almost real, therefore inspiring revulsion in the viewer. Among Tintin fans, this was the greatest fear for The Adventures of Tintin, in which director Steven Spielberg chose to use ultra-realistic computer animation to bring this much-beloved comic book hero to life.
The film is roughly based on three of Belgian author Hergé's Tintin adventures: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham's Treasure. Teen reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his faithful dog Snowy stumble upon secret pirate parchments that point to a sunken treasure of staggering value. Pairing up with a descendant of the pirate—the perpetually drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis)—the threesome travel the world unraveling the secret while avoiding death at the evil, greedy hands of Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who has a secret of his own.
If you're familiar with the books, you already know they're filled with adventure, crazy syntax, and hilarious broad comedy. And while Spielberg unsurprisingly packs The Adventures of Tintin with adventure, the film's humor falls surprisingly flat—most likely because of Spielberg's quest for visual perfection. While the computer animation is leaps and bounds better than Robert Zemeckis' über-creepy stuff like The Polar Express, Spielberg lovingly focuses nearly every frame on the extreme realism of the characters and surroundings—so much so that I missed hefty chunks of exposition while studying Tintin's pores.
Translating something as universally beloved as Tintin to the screen is certainly a thankless and nearly impossible task—though I can't help but think the film would've been better served if Spielberg and crew had gone with a more non-realistic comic-booky style, like one that was used with great success in Pixar's The Incredibles. After all, the real adventures of Tintin are as far away from reality as one can get—and sometimes that's exactly where we want to go.