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Ten Word or Less Review: CGIndiana Jones.

After Indiana Jones and the Debacle of the Crystal Skull, as well as a couple of prolonged bouts of inaction, the world has been left to wonder if Steven Spielberg has anything left up his creative sleeve.  Is there another Jaws or E.T. in his future or just more time passing mediocrity?  Coming into the holiday season the bearded one had not one, but two new features released within days of each other.  On one hand is the award baiting War Horse which this viewer still hasn’t seen, but will.  In the other hand is the Indiana Jones-esque, CGI escapade The Adventures of Tin Tin, the first in what is supposed to be a new series of adventures for a very old character.

Tin Tin (Jamie Bell), a character little known in the U.S., is an intrepid reporter always looking for a story and finding high adventure with his trusty white terrier Snowy, a dog smarter than most people.  Out at the flea market one morning Tin Tin purchases an opulent model ship, The Unicorn, and no sooner has he bought it than trouble comes tapping on his shoulder.  A shady character by the name of Rackham (Daniel Craig) makes to steal the model ship and before Tin Tin, or the audience, is up to speed we’re on a treasure hunt.  Tin Tin buddies up with a drunkard ship captain by the name of Haddock (Andy Serkis), and the cast is complete for the kind of swift adventure Spielberg can knock about for good times when his wits are about him.

Tin Tin is Spielberg’s first 3D, all CGI feature and he shows a real love of the freedom and visual creativity the medium allows.  Tin Tin is alive at every second, swooshing around characters and action, providing an unending steam of insane hijinxs only motion capture CGI can create.  Spielberg’s team of visual artists have created a gorgeous template of rich textured landscapes, though they just barely avoid the pox of CGI character soullessness which handicaps too many creations of this type.  Tin Tins’ characters look very detailed and well rendered, but don’t quite emote so much as grimace a lot.  There’s a lushness to the cinematography which is impossible not to appreciate and Spielberg builds up dizzying action sequences by the gross that put his younger, sloppy contemporaries to shame.  A prolonged, unending chase through a Middle Eastern market that last one entire shot defines the term showstopper.  But….

As well executed and exhilarating as Tin Tin is in places, that’s all it ever is.  Tin Tin is a torrent of plot and narrative charging ahead at full speed at all times, stopping to breathe be damned.  Indiana Jones cleaned up, discussed what happened and kissed the girl, Tin Tin has no time.  And no girl either, just that precocious dog.  The movie plows ahead like a raging, CGI locomotive, the idea of tapping on the break even slightly a sacrilegious thought.  If Tin Tin let itself breathe just a little, and made its boy reporter a bit less forcefully earnest, the entire movie would elevate greatly.

Fast paced, 3D features seem like something Spielberg is ideally suited for, but his first run through with the tools and the talent needed to make a feature like this one is a mixed blessing.  He shows without doubt that he still has what it takes to exhilarate an audience.  Where Crystal Clunker was off kilter, cumbersome and poorly thought out, Tin Tin is crisply designed and breathless.  But while Skull ruined just about everything it touched, it had the benefit of allowing the audience to spend time with a character it cared about, even if the adventure he was on was retarded.  The Adventures of Tin Tin is a fine piece of adventure filmmaking, but someone should point out to Sir Steve that our hero needs to be more than a plucky protagonist who runs around with only a vague idea of what he’s after.  When your hero is constantly out charmed by his dog you’ve got a problem.

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