Archive for Tintin

Tintin ambulation

Posted in Comics, FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 23, 2011 by dcairns

My cinematographer friend Scott Ward (hire him — he’s excellent!) likes to stress the importance of getting The Look right. Once you have decided on The Look of your film, your job gets easier, or at least possible, because you have a Plan to guide you through the multiverse of creative decisions awaiting you. One of the reasons Sidney Lumet’s book Making Movies is so useful is he clarifies and expands on this with examples from his own career, and he shows that The Look is not a static thing imposed flatly over the script, but a dynamic, evolving process. A simple example would be his film THE HILL, which starts on a wide-angle lens, progresses to a very wide-angle lens, and finishes on a very very wide-angle lens. The distortion and confrontational quality created by the actors thrusting their faces out of the screen is progressively amped up. Likewise/contrariwise, TWELVE ANGRY MEN starts wide-ish and moves slowly to longer and longer lenses, flattening perspective so the walls press with the claustrophobia of a Fu Manchu death-trap as the film goes on.

So big, global decisions about The Look are helpful — Lumet would never have to worry about what lens to use after making that call — but they’re also important. It’s  very hard, possibly impossible, for a film to recover after going with the wrong Look. Which brings us to THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (or TAOTTSOTU).

It was obvious to me from the first screen-grabs posted, and progressively more obvious with each trailer released, that the Look of this film was rotten. This is to some extent a subjective opinion, but I’ve noted that those defending the visuals tend to say things like “What’s wrong with making it look like the comic strip?” So I win, because the film doesn’t look anything like the comic strip, as Spielberg is good enough to make clear by opening with a beautifully graphic title sequence which DOES look like the comic strip. It’s so stylised and simple that everyone involved probably thought “There’s no way we could make the whole film look like this.” And yet, as Scott says, “You get rewarded for bravery, always.” If Spielberg and Peter Jackson and WETA had gone with an actual Hergé visual surface, 2D in 3D, it would have been gorgeous, just as the titles are (for another suave Spielberg credits sequence, see CATCH ME IF YOU CAN).

Instead we get these grotesque, over-textured walking waxworks, blinding us with microscopic detail just because they can, brought to us by the horror of mo-cap. Now, the mo-cap characters in LORD OF THE RINGS or RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES need to have pores and individual hairs and so on, because they’re interacting with flesh-and-blood actors and have to match. But if you’re creating your own world entirely in the computer, the most boring, cowardly choice is to make it look exactly like the world outside your window. Plus these porous, shambling, dead-eyed fleshwads are disgusting to the eye, as any cartoon character would be if he sprang from the page and shrugged on a suit of protoplasm.

Mo-cap at its worst (ie Zemeckis) combines all the limitations of live-action (the bodies are constrained by anatomy & physics) with the limitations of animation (the micro-body language and facial language can never be as subtle and expressive as a real person) — whereas in the right hands, it could combine the best of both. But this would require the involvement of talented animators to manipulate the mo-cap info, bringing in cartoon exaggeration as required. Up until the big action set-pieces, TINTIN suffers from horrible animation: when characters fall over, they abruptly transform from weighty, clodhopping corpuses to inertia-less balloon animals, floating to the ground at a constant speed, obeying the laws of neither actual gravity nor its Loony Toon equivalent.

Happily, in the big action set-pieces, actual animation of reasonable quality dominates, and the film starts to work. As always with Spielberg, the visual gags are ingenious and clearly presented, and the form allows him to get away with all sorts of business that would be too silly in an INDIANA JONES (and which indeed were too silly in the last INDIANA JONES). The wild chase through a fictional North African city actually suggests a valid use for mo-cap, and calls to mind the motorbike-and-sidecar antics of Wallace and Gromit and THE ARISTOCATS, as well as 1941 and Spielberg’s admiration for the hairy chases in Miyazaki’s CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO.

Of course, Miyazaki’s master criminal is a much more colourful character than Hergé’s, and TINTIN suffers from a bland lead, leaving Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock (with a non-canonical Scots accent) to bring on the fun. The screenwriters (including the Scottish Steven Moffat) seems far more interested in Haddock than in the film’s nominal hero, which is understandable but problematic: Tintin is relegated to the position of bystander in the action climax, which is really an anti-climax coming so soon after the bigger and wilder bike chase. And this is followed by a ten-minute set-up for the next film, surely something the writers should have fought against given Spielberg’s post-SCHINDLER’S tendency to allow his films to drivel on and on through multiple endings.

TOP MO-CAP FACTS

1) Andy Serkis gets a lot of work in motion capture because his body is covered with evenly-spaced moles, making the technicians’ job easier. These moles are removed by CGI on those few occasions when Serkis acts in a non mo-cap role.

2) Robert Zemeckis’s fascination with the mo-cap process is explained by the fact that he experienced his first sexual awakening while gazing upon the animatronic Lincoln at Disneyland. Since then he has contrived to fill his films with marble-eyed, plastic-faced mannequins, and when Michael Douglas and Tom Hanks couldn’t give him what he wanted, he turned to CG.

3) A special feature on Peter Jackson’s KING KONG allows you to “turn off” the mo-cap and see Andy Serkis in a leotard for the whole movie. It also turns Jack Black into a sock puppet. Some scenes actually play better that way.

4) Cheapjack exploiteer Charles Band pioneered an extreme-low budget version of motion capture by smashing some old computer monitors and gluing the spilled pixels onto Brad Dourif. It still looked better than THE POLAR EXPRESS.

“Uh-oh, the reviews are out!” 

BACK TO TINTIN

So the news isn’t all bad. Some of the writing is deft and funny (although I was surprised Tintin had to be told that Marlinspike Hall belonged to the Haddock family, then discovered this fact in the library, then went there and noticed a coat of arms and realized in amazement that (gasp!) Marlinspike Hall belonged to the Haddock family. Exactly the kind of thing that can but shouldn’t happen when you have three writers.

Asides from the ever-mo-cap-ready Mr. Serkis, none of the actors really make an impression through their layers of digital wadding, and the intriguing Daniel Craig is particularly dull as the sinister Sakharine, with a sub-Dick Dastardly reading that’s a stock villain devoid of any individuality. I did realize how well thought-out the character is in graphic terms, though. Consider:

Older-than-adult as contrasted to Tintin’s younger-than.

Where Tintin has a pure white dog, Sakharine has a shit-brown hawk.

There Tintin has a peak of hair on the crown of his head, Sakharine has one on his chin. He’s nitniT, the inverse Tintin.

The film’s Look is very slightly redeemed by nice colour co-ordination, with a frequent recourse to cerulean blue which recalls the strip. The lightness of tone gets John Williams working in a less bombastic mode than usual, which is nice just as a change, and Spielberg creates some beautiful scene changes exploiting the particular nature of the animated image, it fluidity and flexibility, in a way I haven’t seen much of since the terrific overture of Disney’s THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

Maybe best of all is the 3D, which isn’t vulgar or needlessly intrusive, allowing itself to barely register at times, but popping out at moments of drama or for little dramatic flourishes — one shot, where a torch beam sweeps into the audience and illuminates a cloud of silvery dust motes, drew appreciative gasps from Fiona and I. Maybe this is just like the Victorian audiences who stared in autistic fascination at the blowing foliage in the background of Lumiere home movies, a novelty which will pass and which has comparatively little to do with cinema’s real power or charm. But it seemed powerful and charming to us.

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Mayhem and Probs

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on May 21, 2011 by dcairns

I enjoyed Joe Cornish’s ATTACK THE BLOCK. which I saw with friends Marvelous Mary, David and Ali, and young Louis. I don’t have a lot to add to the general impression of approval emanating from the print media — it’s great to see a film which takes representation of British experience seriously while still delivering an entertainment. I remember Mike Leigh expressing satisfaction that ALL OR NOTHING was getting a wider distribution than usual so that his film about life in sink estates could be seen by people IN sink estates, and thinking, “Yeah, but be honest, why would they go see it? They know what it’s like.” Cornish has actually given the real-life equivalents of the heroes of his film something to enjoy, something that they can’t get at home: alien invasion.

It’s the alien invasion I want to dwell on, because that’s in some ways the film’s weakest part. Although the movie has a few scattered pop-culture allusions (the setting is Wyndham Tower, a nod to the author of numerous British sci-fi classics, and repeated mentions of Ballard Street tip the hat in the direction of another master of apocalypse, but where is the H.G. Wells tribute?), it doesn’t seem to have bothered much with imaging a coherent alien race. An eleventh-hour plot twist involving pheremones is the only real idea offered, and otherwise we’re asked to believe in a race of interstellar travelers too dumb to figure out how to open a wheelie bin. One bit of narrative development is surely not enough — ALIEN gave us the egg, the face-hugger, the chest-burster and the full-grown man-sized Geiger biker dude, after all. If it’s not going to be transformations in size and appearance, it should be a transformation in our understanding of the creatures’ purpose and behaviour, which is only grudgingly offered here, and doesn’t ultimately make much sense (if this is a mating ritual, why are the pheremone-doused humans KILLED?). A promising idea, that the film’s nominal hero, Moses, may be responsible for all the carnage due to his thoughtless, vicious killing of the first visitor, is largely abandoned — Cornish’s strength as writer, his affection for his flawed characters, may also be his weakness, as he’s too easy on them.

In terms of the aliens’ design, there are issues… Cornish has decried the over-detailed look of most modern CGI monsters, and he’s right (how ironic that he’s involved ins cripting Spielberg’s forthcoming TINTIN, which looks from previews like a reckless plunge into the Uncanny Valley of hideously-over-textured motion capture ugliness…) and so the idea of “monsters you could actually draw” sounds refreshing. Blacker-than-black outline beasts with glow-in-the-dark fangs sounds fine, but I wish the beasties’ ability to blend with the shadows had been exploited more. And the thick, matted fur may be making things too easy for the prospective fan-artist: even I could draw these things, since the jagged-edge outline robs them of even a clear silhouette. Basically they’re a bit like the star of ROBOT MONSTER but with a dog’s head. In fact, basically they’re exactly like the dog Gnasher in Britain’s Dennis the Menace cartoon strip.

A fuzzy outline filled with menace — that encapsulates why the scifi side of the film, both visually and conceptually, feels underdeveloped compared to the compelling and compassionate view of life in Britain today, which is more switched-on than most of the supposed social-realism of the last several decades. Still, I’m quibbling — this movie is a hell of a lot of fun, confident without being brash, exciting, funny and likable. Since Cornish comes from a similar background to Chris Morris (FOUR LIONS) and Richard Ayoade (SUBMARINE) , we may be seeing something almost unprecedented in British cinema: a reinvigoration of commercial movie-making by TV comedy talent, spearheaded by ATTACK THE BLOCK exec Edgar Wright. There have been some notable failures too (MAGICIANS, BUNNY AND THE BULL), but nobody since Monty Python seems to have managed that transition, so it’s worthy of note.

Silly Putty

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2011 by dcairns

I guess, in the great scheme of appalling Luc Besson films, LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRES D’ADELE BLANC-SEC is pretty inoffensive — great swathes of it are even good fun. Any movie turning a pterodactyl and an Egyptian mummy loose in Belle Epoque Paris had better be fun, if it’s going to be anything.

Adding to the pleasures are exquisite design and photography, mostly excellent special effects (but that din-riding scene — oh dear), and Louise Bougoin, who can talk as fast as Lee Tracy and look prettier doing it. The story, such as it is, cobbles together several comic strips by the great Jacques Tardi, including the one about the pterodactyl, which seems to have been inspired by this Max Klinger print —

It’s even the same aspect ratio as Besson’s film.

In turn probably inspired by the ending of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s THE LOST  WORLD, a coda transformed out of all proportion in such movie versions as bother to nod to it at all…

Tardi’s titles, as well as his stories, are shorter.

Why, given all that’s in the movie’s favour, do I still find it intensely annoying? Maybe because Besson is so lazy — anyone can fold together a bunch of bande dessinees, if he doesn’t care about logic or structure. Everybody else has worked extremely hard to make this film as handsome as it is, but Besson’s contribution to the script feels like it probably took him a week. Furthermore, he still has that dreadful habit of encouraging his actors to do comedy double-takes at the end of scenes, which would be fine if he’d actually bothered to insert anything comedic for them to react to. Still, it beats the comedy double-take enacted in THE MESSENGER, where two English soldiers exchange a comedy glance when invited to participate in the violation of Joan of Arc’s sister’s corpse. That may be the precise moment Besson condemned his immortal soul to Hell, without possibility of reprieve.

There IS a lot of comedy in the film, some of it funny (genuinely terrific joke about the Louvre), some of it laborious or grotesque. An endless sequence of the heroine trying to bust a mad scientist out of jail fizzles out, having occupied our protagonist for much of the film’s “second act” — the time would have been more entertainingly spent watching her shop for her disguises at the boutique of M. Hubert Balls. I’ve just been looking at Andre Hunebelle’s deplorable sixties FANTOMAS films, and they make the same mistake of making the detective a moron, to show off how hip and cool they are — despite the fact that this makes his role in the story useless, a tiresome drag on the narrative progress which would be immeasurably faster and more entertaining with a smart man pushing it ahead. But Besson doesn’t do smart.

As some kind of substitute for wit, he serves up the expected accelerated-motion vooshes through CG fotoscapes, and bullet-time slomo when, with plodding literality, a bullet is fired. Well, “cliché” is a French word.

It’s not clear to me why, with the whole world to play with, Besson had Adele traipse to Egypt, thus reprising chunks of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and his own THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but I will admit to being charmed by his mummies, authentically skinny, leathery specimens taking good advantage of the possibilities of CGI. The Spielberg connection is deepened by his habit of plastering his male actors in prosthetics to turn them into grotesquely veined and liver-spotted, over-detailed versions of Tardi caricatures. This is what Spielberg’s TINTIN is going to look like, only burped out of a computer instead of a latex mould, complete with the four endings, each worse than the one before.

There’s enough going on here, some of it amusing, for you to get some pleasure if you’re habitually less irritated by Besson than I am — for instance, if you like the capering in THE FIFTH ELEMENT and don’t mind it stealing the ending of MOONRAKER (FFS), you’ll probably have a ball. Something about the anti-Bresson just gets on my wick, is all.