The Silence Of The Lambs – 20th Anniversary

The Silence Of The Lamb (1991)

(30th Anniversary Review)

Dir: Jonathan Demme With: Jodie FosterAnthony HopkinsScott Glenn

Yes, it has been 30 years since Antony Hopkins appeared for the first time as Dr Hannibal Lecter on Valentine’s day (not your typical date movie, is it?).

Back in 1991 it defied expectations by winning the “Big 5” Oscars (and a year after its release too!!), best film, director, screenplay, leading actor and actress: it was only the third film in movie history to do so (after it happened one night and One flew over the cuckoos’nest) and even more groundbreaking, it was the first horror/thriller to win for best film. 

30 years later, “The Silence of the Lambs” is still a preposterous film, camp as hell, absurdly over the top in its premise and its execution and yet it holds a place in American Movie History as a ‘modern classic’.

With Hannibal (incidentally a character that appears for only 16 minutes in the film) Hopkins became a star (yes, I know…  he was “good” well before this, but oly few really knew him from Elephant Man for example) and created an icon, which lived on throughout (or despite) its three sequels: Hannibal, Red Dragon (which in fact this is both a prequel and a remake of Micheal Mann’s Manhunter) and the very forgettable Hannibal Rising (another prequel, Hopkins-free). And that’s without mentioning the recent TV Series (dark as hell… and probably too weird to survive past 3 season… though I quite liked it). 

All of a sudden, we all started to love the bad guy, or at least we loved hating him: we loved the fact that he ate the despicable Dr Chilton at the end film (“I have an old friend for dinner”, is probably one of the most classic final lines of any film, up there with “Nobody’s perfect” in Some Like It Hot), we loved those over the top lines of dialogue, those chilling looks, his refined taste, his Southern English accent… And somehow we (or at least I) just wanted him to get away, despite the fact that we know he’s not just bad… but he likes to eat his victims. 

This is certainly nothing new, Hitchcock had done it  30 years earlier in Psycho, but arguably this is the film that started off the whole trend of “serial killers” with whom we identify, the whole puzzle solving murder mysteries and the mixture of dark horror and funny one liners. Surely without Silence of the lambs and its Hannibal the Cannibal character, there would have been no Se7en by David Fincher, possibly no Dexter on TV and probably not even Jigsaw from the Saw franchise…  And God knows how many others.

However what keeps this film anchored to the ground, despite the absurd (but obviously very effective) performance by Anthony Hopkins, is a combination of a very controlled and calculated direction by Jonathan Demme and the presence of Jodie Forster, who somehow counterbalances the campness of her screen partner.

Jonathan Demme, uses every little (subtle and non-subtle) trick in the book to suck in his viewers and bring them as close possible to the screen. He films the most intimate dialogue sequences between Hannibal and Clarice in extreme close ups, and has them delivering their lines straight to camera, as if they were confessing their inner secrets directly to us. As he does so, he drops the level of any other sound away from the central conversation, he kills the music and as as he slowly zooms in closer and closer into their faces, he very subtly pushes the bars of the prison cells that separate them away from each other until they actually disappear at the edge of frames, thus bringing the two characters even closer to each other.

It’s very effective trick and it works wonderfully!

He even uses the powerful the editing in order to deceive us to believe one thing instead of another. That famous sequence where we are lead to believe that the police is about to break into killer’s house and save the day, only to reveal that in fact they’re all in the wrong place: a trick have been copied over and over again in countless movies and TV CSI-like shows (and even the great 24) ever since, but never worked as well as they did here: it is an incredibly manipulative but just as accomplished moment.

Watching it tonight, I find so many clichés of the genre in it, but  only because most films that came after copied so many of its elements. If the film has aged a bit it’s just because everything that came afterwards drew something from it. It may not be a perfect film and it’s very debatable whether it did merit all those Oscars, but it definitely deserves its cult status and its place in history for paving the way for a new genre of thrillers and many brainer and more stylish horrors film. 

8.5/10

Check out the review of another modern Classic:

Back to the Future (1985)

The Sandlot

The Sandlot ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: David Mickey Evans. Cast: Art LaFleurTom GuiryMike Vitar Patrick Renna, Chauncey Leopardi.

1993 was a pretty good year in movies, with things like “Jurassic Park”, “Schindler’s List”, “The Fugitive”, “Groundhog Day”, “In the Name of the Father”, “In the Line of Fire”, Falling down, Philadelphia, “True Romance”, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and who knows how many others… So you will forgive me if “The Sandlot” had completely escaped me. So much so that I don’t think I even remember it being released. Possibly the idea about kids playing baseball would not have appealed much to me at that time anyway (and on paper it still doesn’t today).But I’m happy I finally got around to see it and even happier I was able to do it with Giovanni, because this is actually the perfect kids movie.The 60s summery settings gives it that ‘Stand by Me’ vibe, which I adore so much (obviously not as profound and emotional as that one, but hardly anything is in my book) and the group of kids feels straight out of stories like “It” or even “The Goonies”, just as nerdy and likeable (Incidentally, the cast here is spot on!).”The Sandlot” might not break any barriers for originality and it’s certainly miles away from being a perfect film, but it’s immensely enjoyable in a superficial sort of way, completely harmless and throughoully charming.

Cinderfella

Cinderfella (1960) ⭐️⭐️

Director: Frank Tashlin. Cast: Jerry LewisEd WynnJudith Anderson.

I have a strange and deep connection to Jerry Lewis: He was probably one of my earliest way into films at a time (a long long time ago… ) when Italian TV would play his films in prime time (I know.. weird.. bey it was the 70s after all). When I was 5 or 6 I used to love him, despite my mom complaining about his screechy voice… (yes even in his dubbed version he sounded screechy) and even though the singing bits bored me to death, I couldn’t get enough of him. Today my son and I ventured into this one, which I don’t think I had ever seen (He chose it among the full collection we have).

I recognise Jerry Lewis has a bit of a marmite effect on people, but beyond the over-the-top acting (or reacting), that high pitch voice and some pretty dodgy films, there’s no denying that when he’s at the top of his game, he’s up there among the best comedians who ever lived. This film contains just a couple of “golden moments”: a scene where he plays along to some music from a radio with invisible drums and various other instruments (which he did better in one-off his TV sketches) and his dance entrance to the Ball.Cinderfella has actually a rather lavish production design, but unfortunately the large sets and the sumptuous exterior locations can’t make up for the paper-thin story (Cinderella with reverse-sexes) , some over-indulgent jokes (most of which go on for way too long) and the extended time-fillers of people walking in wide shots from one side of the screen to the other.

The film does’t feel like it has enough in it to fill its mere 90 minutes and crowbars in some pretty lousy musical bits. One thing is sure: Jerry Lewis is no Dean Martin when it comes to singing and he should have probably sticked to crazy dancing.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Harold Ramis Writers: Harold RamisDanny Rubin. Cast: Bill MurrayAndie MacDowellChris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

“I would give my left arm to have written that fucking script” said Tarantino about “Groundhog Day”. And for once I agree with him!

I don’t know what makes this film so wonderful, whether the brilliant idea behind it or Murray’s superb performance which is both deadpan and heartfelt as he desperately looks for a way out of the loop in which his life seems to be stuck. Watching again tonight I was reminded of Harold Raimi’s perfectly orchestrated direction, gentle, sweet, warm and polished. He came up with the idea together with first-time screenwriter Danny Rubin, one of those rare comedies which is smart, funny with a profound message too. It’s easy to underestimate how original this idea was, especially since today it has become almost a genre of its own, from Run Lola Run, to Triangle, Source Code, Tom Cruise’s edge of Tomorrow, the TV series Russian doll and the most recent Palm Springs… and this is just to mention a few. It may have lost some of its originality because of all its surrogates (most of which are actually rather good), but it’s still one of the best American comedies.

Hope you got the joke 😉

Evil Dead

Evil Dead (1981) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Sam Raimi. Bruce CampbellEllen SandweissRichard DeManincor 

I’m in classic horror mood this week. I haven’t seen this film in at least 20 years, but I remember when I was a teenager it was in a constant loop both at home (for some reason I used to show it to my then 5 years old sister… hahaha… she can testify that!) and with my friends from school (we discovered it in on VHS in our favourite video-store where we used to spend pretty much half of our lives).

At the time there was really nothing like it. We had never seen so much gore and graphic violence (nowadays intricate parts of modern horror) and it felt a complete revolution! To a teenager like me, lover of splatter and grown up with a passion for scary movies, this was pretty much heaven!

Aside from the stupidity and simplicity of the plot itself and the paper-thin characters (though that’s possibly also part of its charm), this is one a hell of a directorial debut for Sam Raimi. At the time I was probably too young to realise and appreciate the sheer inventiveness of the film-making behind it. The way it builds tension, how it makes us shiver and squirm (pen stabbing ankles, chopped body parts, zombie-like mosters), the way the action is staged and how the camera masterfully frames it all: dutch angles, 360 degrees pans, upside-down moves, super-tight close ups, those famous sweeps across the forest, handheld point of view shots down in the cellar… I mean, I could go on for ever. And that’s without even mentioning the sharp editing, the fantastic use of creepy sound effects (voices, rumbles, screams, whooshes, creaks, winds and so on) and the overall soundtrack with its eerie violins. Watching it tonight I was surprised by how tense and scary it still is, especially in its first part. It does become a bit repetitive half way through, before exploding (literally) into a “wonderful” gore-fest in its final act.

Today the film has a reputation of mixing horror with black humour, but I think it’s the sequel which actually embraced its madness and added a comedic twist to it. If you asked me I am not sure this was never really intend to make people laugh… and in fact the laughter is possibly unintentionally directed at the film for its terrible dialogue and not-so-great acting. However small the budget was, most of the special effects are still incredibly effective making Evil Dead one one of the goriest horror films of all times.

Clearly this is not everybody’s cup of tea (or blood), but within its genre (one which was probably invented by this film), Evil Dead is as close to a masterpiece as it gets.

Men In Black 3 – Review

Men In Black III (AKA: MIB3) (2012) 

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring Will SmithTommy Lee JonesJosh BrolinJemaine ClementEmma Thompson.

10 years after the disappointing Man in Black 2, and 15 years after the first original one (which, needless to say,was the best by a very long stretch), raise your hands if you really felt the need for yet another sequel… Anyone? … Please, anyone? ANYONE?!

These days Hollywood’s willingness for getting new ideas out there, or at least ones which are not based on comics, or at least are not sequels or remakes, is becoming increasingly rare! But then again, this a whole other subject which I’ve tackled again and again (you can check my post about it here) and I bore even myself talking about it. So granted that nobody really wanted this film, I am happy to be on record saying that MIB3 is actually rather watchable (yet fairly forgettable).

The film starts off looking pretty tired as if trying to resuscitate from that previously dead sequel. It is permeated by a sense of Déjà vu and only relies on that already-proven chemistry between the two original leads and especially Will Smith whose charm and likeability doesn’t seem to have faded in the last 13 years (in fact he looks exactly the same: God, what’s his secret?!). Even his co-star Tommy Lee Jones once said in an interview “All I need to do to be funny is stand as close as possible to Will”. So true.

The film finally gets into the right gear and stops limping once we travel back in the 60s. The reason for the time travel is very reminiscent of the plot from the underrated Back to the Future – part 2: Will Smith has to travel back in time to prevent the baddie from the future to meet his own self from the past and thus change erm… the future. It all sounds very complicated but, unlike the mind-screwing BTTF2, this is all pretty straight forward (and it fact with plot holes all over the places) and at the end of the day it’s just a device so that we they can probably avoid paying Tommy Lee Jones a full-fee, but also it allows Josh Brolin to have the time of his life, acting as the young K (Tommy Lee Jones‘s character).And for once the sense of fun that the makers must have felt behind the scenes manages to transpire onto our screens too. The similarity between the two is indeed uncanny and amazingly the joke sustains itself for pretty much the entire length of the film. I’m sure in years to come, Josh Brolin aping Tommy Lee Jones will be the only thing people will remember from this otherwise forgettable MIB3.

Don’t take me wrong, there’s a lot to enjoy here: some of the action set-pieces, Emma Thompson‘s (sadly too) brief appearance, the deliciously nasty, and rather gross turn by Jemaine Clement as Boris the Animal, the villain of the piece, and the usual special effects extravaganza, which is now almost taken for granted in this types of movies. There is nothing really as cringe-inducing as in the previous sequel, but sadly most of that spark of fresh humour from the original seems have been replaced by an unexpected sentimentality, which is sweet enough and I suppose it’s probably befitting a Steven Spielberg production, but it’s not really what we want from a Man in Black film.

They got away with it this time, but they should really put this trilogy to bed and start something new.

6.0/10

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial – 30th anniversary Review

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 

Director: Steven Spielberg. Cast: Dee WallaceHenry ThomasPeter CoyoteRobert MacNaughtonDrew BarrymoreThomas C. Howell

(OUT ON BLURAY on the 12 NOVEMBER 2012)

(CONTAINS SPOILERS… (though, if you have not seen this film yet, you should really stop wasting time on this silly blog and go and watch it right now!)

As I am writing this, ET is 30 years old (You probably thought it would be more, judging by those wrinkles on his face…). Exactly 30 years ago (on the 26th of May 1982) ET: The Extra Terrestrial was being premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in front of audiences and critics. Little did anyone know that this tiny little film, with a relatively low budget and a cast of unknown was going to become the most successful film in history.It stayed on the top of the chart for 16 weeks in a row and remained among the top 10 films for an astonishing 44 weeks, grossing around $800 millions (and if you adjust it for inflation it well above both Titanic and Avatar).

ET-mania was about to start and take over the world. Never before (and since) an image from a film like the one with a bicycle flying over the moon has been more instantly recognisable (Marilyn’s skirt blowing in the wind might be  just as iconic, but not many people will be able to tell which movie it is from). It eventually became Spielberg’s trade-mark and the logo of his Amblin Entertainment. But before the myth, before the merchandising, and the hundreds of “phone home” spin off commercials, ET is simply a great story and the perfect family film, a rare breed which today seems to apply to Pixar films only. It is a masterfully crafted modern tale which has all those trademarks that today are recognised as Spielberg’s: broken family, kids on bikes, sweeping music, beautiful visual, big emotions, laughs and tears within minutes from each other, flares on a lens, and course great action. This is quintessential Spielberg!

We all know the central plot about an alien left alone on Earth and befriending a child. But it so much more than that. It is obviously a rite of passage, it’s about growing up, and responsibilities. It is a story about the divorce of two parents and a child left alone dealing with it. It’s about family and friends, and what it is we call home. This is Spielberg’s most accomplished film, maybe just because it is his most honest and personal: the director is talking from his own experience as a child of divorced parents, looking for his own voice among his siblings and searching for somebody to talk to and to help him growing up.

The film is sometimes accused (by sniffy narrow-minded people, mainly) of being too sentimental, but the sentimentality in ET comes from being truthful to the kids and to their emotions. It’s never cheap and it’s not as obvious as might think or remember. ET for example is not the classic cute teddy bear, in fact it’s quite the opposite: it’s gross, slimy, really quite disgusting if you think about… and yet the film manages to make us all fall in love with him.

Spielberg gives an honest and authentic depiction of children both in normal and extraordinary situations. This is a man who not only seems to understand children perfectly , but at his heart is a big child himself. And so, when Elliott sees the alien for the first time, after the first moment of terror, what does Spielberg makes him do? He makes him go to his own room to show him his toys. When the older brother Michael steals a car to run away from the police he realises he doesn’t really know the way because “mom always drives me there”.  

These are beautifully observed moments where the kids feel real, from the way they talk, play and generally behave. The film is like a time-capsule of kids in the 80s and yet it works on kids today just as well. These are no actors, these are how kids would really react if an alien came to stay with them!

Spielberg not only directs his children actors like very few directors can (getting some truly astonishing performances from both Henry Thomas and the precocious Drew Barrymore), but he also uses all the tricks in the book to make us feel even closer to them.  And so he decides to shoot three quarter of the film by keeping the camera at ET’s level (which is also the children’s height) thus never showing us a grown-up person right till the final act, when ET’s (apparent) death forces Elliott to grow up.  The mother is the only one “allowed” inside this children’s world and consequently she’s the only one whose face we are allowed to see right from the start. Everybody else, just like in a Tom & Jerry cartoon is filmed from below the waist. And yet the way this device is carried on is never showy, never intrusive, never feels forced on us, nor it’s comic in any way. In fact, never for a single moment we stop wondering “Why can’t I see their faces?”. Each character has his own sound, or his own trademark: a sleeve rolled up along the arm, some key dangling off a belt, a flashlight, a scalp. We know exactly who everybody is, even if we never see their faces, but our attention is so completely focused on the kids and ET that we just don’t even pay notice the others.

It is a true masterpiece in film-making, technically perfect, beautifully staged, designed and edited. And every single element of film-making,  from the cinematography, to the special effects, from the directing to the acting, all come together to, let’s put it blandly, manipulate our emotions so well that it’s impossible to resist. And so, 30 years later , we still fall prey of its spell and there we all are, laughing with it, as ET and Elliott get drunk, or as Gertie shouts when she sees the alien for the first time, or even as ET hides in the cupboard among the stuffed animals and pretends to be one of them to the unsuspecting mother. And then a moment later, we find ourselves crying our eyes out as ET’s conditions slowly deteriorate, or as the kids give him the last goodbye by the spaceship…

I have rarely witnessed such a waterfall of tears in a movie theatre like I did all the times I have seen this is a packed cinema. I must have seen ET more than 10 times at least in a theatre… And yet, it doesn’t matter how many times I have seen it, it still gets me every time: I still cry at Elliott screaming to his lungs “He came to me” while the inert body of the alien lays on that cold medical table as the doctors try to revive him and the tears helplessly roll down little Gertie‘s cheeks. Just looking at the picture here on the left still gives me goose-bumps. My heart still leaps up during that final chase sequence as those bicycles take off into the sunset . And was there ever a more powerful final close-up  as the on the one on Elliott as the spaceship flies back home to the soaring music of John Williams? Ahhh… I was almost forgetting the music.

The score by John Williams is perfectly in tuned with Spielberg’s visuals and it hits all the right notes to make us feel completely helpless at their complete mercy. And there we are, going through every single emotion in the book: excitement, fear, horror, desperation, happiness. Just like in Star Wars it’s hard to imagine how this film could have been so successful without John Williams‘s contribution. Just think about the first 10 minutes of the film, which do not have a single line of dialogue but just rely uniquely on the music. It would be inconceivable for any family blockbuster today (Only Pixar’s Wall-E, which owes a great debt to ET, attempted it).

It is a film made to be experienced together with your kids, your brothers, your sisters, your parents, your loved ones, your friends. It is a film that must experienced, however cheesy this may sound (I’m ready to take the hit!), with your heart more than your brain. Leave your cynicism outside the door and try to learn again how to be a kid.. and if you really can’t, well I’m sorry about you, but then at least just marvel at the film-making skills on display here.

Spielberg has never been so perfect.

10/10

Check out other related reviews: Super 8, Raiders of the Lost ArkWar Horse  and the Adventures of Tintin

ET The Extra Terrerstrial is out on the 12 November on AMAZON UK

The Adventures of Tintin – Review

The Adventures of Tintin – the Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Director: Steven Spielberg. Writers: Steven MoffatEdgar WrightJoe Cornish. Stars: Jamie BellDaniel CraigAndy SerkisNick FrostSimon Pegg 

4.0_MOVIEGEEKBLOG

I should probably tell you straight away that I have been waiting for this film for about 3 decades! Yes I know, quite a bold statement which may give away my age, but it will also tell you about my level of expectations for this film. If then you add the fact that I’ve grown up watching Spielberg movies back in his golden years (obviously I’m talking about the 80s) and that I’ve also been an avid fan of all Tintin comics ever since I was a little boy, you can probably get an idea of the kind of palpitations I had when I sat into the theatre and wore my 3D glasses. Having said all that I will still try to give an unbiased and honest review as much I possibly can, praising the (many) merits of the film but also highlighting some of the faults which in my option prevented ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ from being the masterpiece I really wanted it to be.

For a start I was very  pleased to see how respectful Spielberg was with the handling of the original material. After all, this is the man who wanted to turn Harry Potter into an American, combining several books into one (A bad, bad, bad idea Steven!). The story of this film does actually combine several of the Tintin books: ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’ (in which Tintin befriends Haddock and saves him from smugglers) and the two-parter ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’ (which is the core of the film, so all the bits about the search for the lost treasure). There are also some very small elements and secondary characters from other stories too, but as far as taking liberties that’s where Spielberg stopped. Everything else is precisely how the Belgian creator, Hergé had imagined it: with that same sense of adventure, mystery, intrigue, action and fun. In other words the same mood and atmosphere that made the comics so successful  (at least in Europe) and incidentally, the same elements also at the centre of one of Spielberg’s classic, Raiders of the lost ark.  It’s not surprising that Hergé himself, after seeing that film back in 1981 thought Spielberg was the only person who could ever do Tintin justice.

Spielberg pays homage to Tintin’s creator right from the start, not just in the beautifully design title sequence (reminiscent of the one from ‘Catch Me If You Can’), where he show us so many elements from all Tintin stories, not just in the colour palette he chooses for the cinematography of the film or in the way each characters’ faces look, but he even goes as far as having Hergé himself appearing as a street artist drawing a portrait of Tintin the way we are used to see him in the comics: pure genius!

On the whole I must say that I wasn’t as bothered as I thought I was going to be by the motion capture animation. In fact you stop worrying about it about 5 minutes into the film. The characters look more cartoony than realistic and that helps getting away with the fact that their eyes (especially Tintin’s) are slightly dead. This is first and foremost still an animated film (Though bizarrely it was snubbed at the Oscars in 2012). Yes, probably they should have though about going for proper animation, ditching the motion capture, but then it would have lost something from the pure visual point of view. Becaus one thing is for sure: it does look magnificent! From the moody dark shadows, reminiscent of those film noir from the 40s, to the great vistas straight out of a David Lean classic (which Spielberg love so much) and the impeccable cinematography (Spielberg himself is even credited as Lighting Consultant) which is not just beautiful but impressive and atmospheric too.

Spielberg as a director, in his first animated venture (and his first use of 3D too!), looks like a little boy who’s just been told he can do what he wants for his birthday: he appears to be liberated from any restriction he may have had on a normal feature film and seems to have a lot of fun in finding new beautifully inventive ways to transition from one scene to the next  in a way you could only do in animation (or with a lot of very expensive CGI): Spielberg’s camera floats, glides, flies, moves through glass, shoots straight into mirrors and gives us views which would otherwise been practically impossible and yet, most of the times it’s never showy, it’s never forced or indulgent.

It’s like watching a master at work who knows exactly where the camera should be at which time. It all culminated with one of the most impressive and perfectly executed chase sequence ever portrayed on screen. Impressive not just because of its pace and its edge-of-your-seat thrills, but also for its meticulous choreography: in fact it takes place in just one impossibly-long shot, which adds to the tension and to the sense of fun. Watching it again with my son, he was on the edge of the seat watching this… and so was I. If you ever wondered why didn’t they just film the whole thing for real, this sequence alone (which by itself is worth the price of the entire ticket) should give you the answer.

I just wished that same tension and sense of fun on that sequence had been present throughout the rest of the film. Don’t get me wrong, this first adventures of Tintin is a roller coaster ride like few others. Essentially it’s one action set piece after another, and yet somehow I felt there was a strange tendency to resolve problems much too quickly. It’s almost as if Spielberg was so preoccupied to get us to the next action sequence that he almost forgot how to makes us like the one we were watching. I give you a few examples:  a chase sequence at the front of the film, ends much too soon before it has time to climax. Later on there’s a scene where Tintin has to steal a key from a bunch of sleeping goons. A lot of time is spent setting up the dangers and then just when the sequence is about to get fun, Tintin gets the key. There’s another scene where Tintin faints close to the propellers of a plane and once again he gets saved much too quickly.

Whatever happened to those classic Spielberg long action sequences that were so tense despite being so simple? I’m thinking of Indy trying to get the antidote to the poison he’s just drunk as the little bottle gets kicked around a room full of screaming people in the Temple of Doom, or fight sequence by the plane in Raiders (and the truck chase in the same film), or even the glass breaking sequence in the otherwise weak Lost World? (In fact they are too many to even mention).

The pace of ‘Tintin’ is strange and a bit uneven too. It has moments of long exposition (this is a fault that comes with the source material to be completely fair, but I must say the script doesn’t really help) and I found the story is needlessly convoluted for the type of thing it was and a lot of the plot point were spoken out more than shown. And then in between those more ploy bits, a whole lots of little short action scenes (as I said, slightly too short to feel important). I would have rather had fewer set pieces but longer in their execution. Ands then at time they even felt somehow anticlimactic (I’m thinking of the last 10 minutes of the film for example: the ending did feel very much like a letdown).

I  am probably picking needles here mainly because, as I said before, I love these stories (and the story-teller) way too much and I really wanted this to be perfect.

The comedy aspect of the film is a bit of a hit and miss too: the Inspector Thompson and Thomson are obviously aimed at the younger crowd, but they’re also the weakest characters (we had a glimpse of that in the trailer itself, as one of them falls off the stairs: a scene which in the theatre where I was, full of kids, was received with dead silence), on the other hand Captain Haddock is perfect. I don’t know whether it’s the script, or Andy Serkis’s performance or both, but most of the jokes around him seem to work perfectly. Same goes for the little dog Snowy who is in almost every scene of the film (even if just in the background licking a massive bone in the desert) but steals the show almost every time.

And finally Tintin himself which in this whole 3D world is probably the most two-dimensional character. Aside from the fact that he seems to get a kick out of solving puzzles and getting into adventures, we know very little about him. I’m not really blaming Spielberg for that, this exactly how Tintin was in the comics, but I do wonder if some character development would have been really seen as sacrilegious by the hard-code fans, or it actually would have helped a bit.

Finally I feel I should say a few words about John Williams score, the first one in years. There’s a very quirky and weird jazzy title music (which never really seem to play out throughout the rest of the film) which is the most un-Wiliamesque theme in a while. It certainly was not bad, but it feels slightly detached from the rest of the film. The Star Wars title music was never repeated throughout the movies either, and yet it felt part of the score. This title music here felt like it belonged to can other film (in fact it felt like a recycled cue from “catch me if you can”). It’s hard to review the score, because for most of the film I felt it never really had the time to breathe as much as it should have. The comic cues suffered more than others (the ones for the Inspectors for example), as they were covered by the dialogue and the rest of the sound effects to the point where I even wondered whether any music was needed at all (probably they felt they did need it, to help make it slightly funnier).

Funny how, on one hand there was definitely way too much music in the film (in fact there was hardly a moment without) and yet on the other it had very little time to shine. Having said that, I was still able to hum some of the Tintin action tunes after watching it… and that’s always a good sign.

To recap, this is a solid action-packed fun-ride for the whole family which is not as loud, dumb and insulting as some of those Pirates of the Caribbean films were. It’s proper film-making, even if in animation form, with its heart in the right place, arching back to the original source and to the Indiana Jones-like adventure we all love so much.

4/5

Check out my other reviews of movies by Spielberg: Raiders of the lost art, ET The Extra-Terrestrial, War Horse

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