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The Adventures of Tintin, and Hugo. Two Reviews
Two new films that are safe family viewing
The Adventures of Tintin: (3.5 Stars out of 5)
Take a beloved 80 year old comic series and combine it with a roster of genuine creative talents, add some state-of-the-art motion-capture effects and how can you miss? Directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings), written by Steven Moffat (Head writer of Dr. Who), with music by legendary composer John Williams, and with the voice talents of Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg and Toby Jones, the Adventures of Tintin has an impressive pedigree. Fortunately, it lives up to its resume.
Tintin began as a Belgium comic strip, created by Herge (AKA Georges Remi) in 1929. Twenty three Tintin stories were completed by Herge and the character has become a beloved icon all over Europe, although the character has never made the leap across the pond, Tintin is barely known in America.
Tintin is a young reporter (possibly a teenager but his age is never made clear) who works as a freelance investigator, using his knack for stumbling upon big stories to get the scoop before other, more experienced reporters. He always runs into danger but he gets through it by outwitting his enemies through resourcefulness, courage, cunning and virtue. Tintin is always assisted by his fox terrier Snowy, a dog so remarkably intelligent he’d make Lassie envious.
The comic strip is brought to life using 3-D motion-capture effects. While the 3-D really isn’t necessary, it works in this case, being less grainy than many other 3-d films. The motion-capture FX are top-notch and Tintin’s face is amazingly realistic and expressive.
The story begins when Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell) lucks into another big story after he buys a model of a boat called the Unicorn and finds out that several other people want it badly, and some of them do not play nice about procuring it. The boat turns out to be the key to a sunken treasure and Tintin races evil villain Sakharine (Voice of Daniel Craig) to the goods.
Along the way, Tintin joins forces with inebriate sailor Captain Haddock. Haddock is voiced by Andy Serkis, who retains his title as the Lawrence Olivier of Motion-Capture, after having done Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, the eponymous gorilla in King Kong and Caser in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He’s the screen’s foremost specialist in Motion-Capture acting. His Captain Haddock is rarely sober and often more of a hindrance than a help.
The chase takes Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy around the world, from France to Morocco, using boats, planes, cars and motor cycles; and Spielberg seems to be channeling memories of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as the globe-trotting heroes escape from one peril after another. The final segment of the film is filled with enough kinetic action that younger fans will be entertained and older fans will recall the vintage years of Spielberg.
Simon Peg and his frequent comic collaborator Nick Frost play a pair of well-intentioned but utterly clueless detectives named Thompson and Thompson. Toby Jones voices one of Sakharin’'s henchmen Silk.
The Adventures of Tintin is a lot of fun, safe for kids but an enjoyable day at the movies for adults. You don’t need to be familiar with the long history of the Tintin comic books to appreciate this film. This is old-school Spielberg and it’s his best work in years.
HUGO (3.5 stars out of five.)
The cleverest aspect of the film Hugo is the way it pays homage to a pioneering filmmaker of the silent movie era while incorporating the tribute into the story seamlessly. If you know about the life and work of French silent film director/writer/actor George Melies than there’s an extra level of enjoyment here for you, but even if you’ve never heard of Melies, it won’t ruin your enjoyment of the film.
Martin Scorsese seems like an odd choice of director for this type of film until you realize that this movie is only a drama about an orphan on the surface. Beneath that, this film is a homage to the birth of the film industry and one of its original superstar directors. This is perfect fodder for a film preservationist like Scorsese.
George Melies was the inventor of movie special effects, a ground breaker in the genre of science fiction and the first director to ever open his own independent movie studio. His early films like A Trip to the Moon may seem ridiculously crude today but in the beginning of the silent era, they were considered remarkable.
The focus of the film is not on Melies, though, but rather on a child named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield). Hugo is the orphaned son of a watchmaker (Jude Law) who is temporarily taken in by his uncaring, drunken uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) who works in the massive Paris train station, tending to the oversized gears and springs of the station’s many clocks. When Uncle Claude deserts him, young Hugo is afraid that he’ll be sent to an orphanage so he prefers to be self-sufficient and live in the station, tending to the clocks. Hugo lurks unseen in the catwalks, air-vents, basement, rafters and other hidden regions of the huge station, like a pre-teen Phantom of the Opera. He covertly observes the lives of the people who pass through the station, steals food from station eateries and keeps the clocks running.
Hugo has to constantly avoid the unnamed, inept station security inspector (Played with an annoying Inspector Clouseau-style accent by Sacha Baron Cohen, who is achingly unfunny here) and his energetic Doberman. The dog is smarter than the Inspector.
Hugo has another obsession; a mechanical clockwork man who his father once found and failed to repair. Hugo steals parts and tools from the station toyshop, hoping to fix it, until he is caught by the toyshop’s owner who is at first furious until he learns about the mechanical man and then he makes Hugo work off his debt in the shop. Hugo later learns that this bitter, old down-and-out toymaker is George Melies; (Played with sad authority by Ben Kingsley) who was once the biggest thing in the French film industry before a post-World War One slump caused him to declare bankruptcy and lose his studio. Melies found himself forgotten, forced to open a toy shop to sustain himself. Melies seems to know something about the mechanical man that Hugo is so consumed with but he won’t talk about it. Hugo investigates Melies’ past, with the help of Melies’ young goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who takes a liking to Hugo. Together they unravel a mystery that connects Hugo with Melies.
Hugo is two films in one. On one hand, it’s a homage to Melies and his pioneering work, and on the other hand, it’s the story of an orphan trying to survive and find a purpose in the world. The mechanical devices that fill the movie are used as a metaphor. Hugo compares the world to one, huge machine. As Hugo tells us, “Machines have no spare parts. Every part has a purpose, just like every person has a purpose in the world. You just have to figure out what it is.” Hugo and Melies feel like spare parts and need to find a purpose in a world that has forgotten them.
The bizarre, giant gears and wheels of the station’s clocks are done with CGI effects. The 3-D is meant to highlight the size of the huge pieces of machinery which dwarf Hugo but it isn’t really necessary, except in a few scenes, like when Scorsese does a recreation of the early short film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat.
The biggest weakness of the film is young Butterfield as Hugo, because he is not very expressive and lacks any real on-screen star energy. Also Sasha Baron Cohen gives an out-of-place cartoonish performance in an otherwise mature and serious film. However, Ben Kingsley makes up for their short comings with a graceful performance as a cinema legend brought low, and trapped by his inability to move on from the past.
Scorsese does a nice job honoring the early days of cinema using modern 3-D technology, and by mixing a very young star with an established show business legend like Kingsley. Visually it’s brilliant and even though some of the performances are weak; the message that everyone is a useful part in the machine of humankind is a wise and timely message.