Home Entertainment Movies "Tintin" ventures far into the uncanny valley 

"Tintin" ventures far into the uncanny valley 


Hey America! You’ve been given what you always wanted — a TINTIN movie directed by Steven Spielberg! Right?

But despite the years of clamor for this entertainment — and the enthusiastic bowler-hatted selling by Spielberg and co-producer Peter Jackson — THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN has been a bit of an underperformer at the crowded Chrsitmas box office, coming in at #5 for the long weekend with a 4-day weekend take of $14.3 million and a cumulative of $22.3 million. This has not been a huge worry to Paramount and Sony, however, because worldwide, it’s already made $240 million.

So why the fail here in the US? Everyone has blamed the low showing on the fact that no one here knows Tintin. But is that the only reason? Frankly, we’d like to gather the deductive reasonings of the other box office contenders this weekend — the IMF gang led by Ethan Hunt, Holmes and Watson, the Swedish Millennium snoopers, and of course, the Chipmunks—to investigate just why or why was it decided that creepy, offputting CGI animation was the best way to bring Tintin to unlife? Daniel D. Snyder at the Atlantic has launched yet another investigationinto CGI’s uncomfortable sojourn in the Uncanny Valley:

Instead of trying to bring to life Herge’s beautiful artwork, Spielberg and co. have opted to bring the movie into the 3D era using trendy motion-capture technique to recreate Tintin and his friends. Tintin’s original face, while barebones, never suffered for a lack of expression. It’s now outfitted with an alien and unfamiliar visage, his plastic skin dotted with pores and subtle wrinkles (one can’t help but recall Homer Simpson’s terror at the vision of a real-world Bart and Lisa). While all the characters sport some kind of cartoonish features—especially their ears and noses—their photorealistic eyes are somehow blank. It’s especially odd considering that it is the goal of animation to exaggerate features into even more outrageous modes of expression. Perfect mimicry in itself pointless. In bringing them to life, Spielberg has made the characters dead.

We’ve gone back and forth over this in the years that TINTIN has been in the works. Sure, Spielberg wanted to make this movie for years, but when he finally got the financing together, instead of trying traditional animation or live action — both of what have already been done in Europe — he went for the new frontier, perhaps egged on by Dr. Frankenstein, aka Robert Zemeckis, whose fascination with near-life is getting pretty uncanny in its own right.

We’ve yet to see TINTIN ourselves because of the holiday — but surely some of you have. What do you think, readers? Does it work?


  1. I was totally creeped out by the whole uncanny valley thing in the TV commercials but in the atual movie everyone looked great. Tintin looked especially weird in the trailers but he’s the best looking one in the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed the final product.

    All around it was more faithful than I thought going in. I guess it all depends on how much you were expecting. Knowing which 3 stories were combined for the movie, my only disappointment was *SPOILER ALERT* their leaving out Prof. Calculus. Maybe all he repetition would have been too annoying? But Bianca Castafiore was in there, surprisingly.

  2. I loved it. It was everything that the last Indiana Jones movie should have been. It makes me hope that the next Indiana Jones movie will be made like this (some will say that the fourth crap fest of a film _was_ made like this)

    Even though I’m a European comic fan, I’ve never been a fan of Tintin. Herge’s attempts at humour are pathetic, and the character itself is mind numbingly dull.

    The film, however, is wonderful. If you loved the old Indy movies, go see this! Treasure, hidden traps, maps with clues, exotic locations, wild actions… this movie has it all.

  3. They look of the movie doesn’t come off as creepy due to the fact that the characters still have “animated” appearance. I’m glad the slow box office doesn’t appear to have the studio in a panic like is usually the case with big budget movies. Tintin can easily make more US dollars in the Blu Ray, DVD, Itunes and rental. Movies don’t do crazy numbers unless their released in the summer ( kind of similar to how Super Bowl Subday has become an unoffical American holiday). The fact that so many other big winter releases opened at the same tine only brings more competition.

  4. Belgian art fan here. I didn’t see it because of the CGI.
    Hergé’s style is so unique you cannot do it justice so don’t do it. Make Tin Tin either animation or normal action. not this monstrosity

  5. It was good. I wanted great, but only one sequence (the chase through the town after the scrolls) reaches the level of adventure and excitement that Herge achieved on the printed page. Very faithful to the tone of the source material, with literally dozens of background easter eggs to please the fans. The voice casting is also excellent.

    As for the choice to go with 3D animation… Has anyone seen the previous attempts to translate Herge’s drawings to animation? It never worked, falling far short of the elegance of Herge’s drawings or designs. It doesn’t surprise me that Spielberg and Jackson rejected that approach.

    Well worth seeing. The 3D is also surprisingly effective.

  6. The box office doesn’t bother me. There are simply *too many* films being crammed into December that people might want to watch (including the counter-programming). I think Tin-Tin will fare well over the long run once the others level out. Plus, as pointed out it already made plenty overseas so the domestic box office and aftermarket is not in a do-or-die mode.

    I’m just happy that the drunken Captain stayed on the screen and off the editing room floor. In North America political correctness runs rampant– especially with smoking and booze in the movies — and even more so when the film is asking us to root for a drunken hero.

    To that alone I cheer this film, but there’s a lot more to be liked, as well. The pirate fight scenes in particular were very inspired. In all, a fun movie.

  7. Been through the same stupid discussion here in Europe a couple of months ago. First everybody complains based on a few still images and a handful of trailer minutes, throwing around that uncanny valley bullcrap without even knowing where that’s originating from (it’s a theory about robotics, not filmmaking, and its adaptation to the latter is highly problematic).

    Then the movie came out and pretty much everybody who actually went to watch it liked it. (I only found one negative review in Germany, and that was from a comics purist who basically complained the movie isn’t a comic book. Well, who would’ve guessed …)

    Truth is, ten minutes into the movie, you completely forget about the perf-cap (not mo-cap, that was back then) and how uncanny it is supposed to be, because what counts is not the technique but how you use it. And both Spielberg and Jackson are masters of movie storytelling. THAT is what makes a great movie, and that’s what’s at work here.

    It’s a very fun movie, it has one of the best chase sequences ever put to film, and there’s nothing dead about the characters once they begin to tell their story. Go watch it! Then judge it!

    Oh, and btw, whoever says perf-cap is essentially about mimicry has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about (especially when we’re talking about comic book adaptations). So if you’re desperately looking for a clever world connected to perf-cap, try “hyper-real”. There’s actually some theoretical writings that make sense applying it to perf-cap.

    And ” the goal of animation to exaggerate features into even more outrageous modes of expression”? – Dude, animation is much more than Tex Avery cartoons! Jeeeez…

  8. I’ll add to the emerging pattern that all those who’ve actually seen it liked it. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I was giggling along with my (10-year-old) son.

    I’d read a couple of the comics (what 30, 40 years ago?) and thus various details were familiar to me, but overall this was just a fun holiday movie to go watch with my family and I’ll definitely watch the (prominently hinted at) sequel.

    Why anybody would skip this out of some hipster-purism (It’s a movie. It can’t be exactly identical to the comic book.) is unclear to me.

  9. My son, home from College for the holidays, asked me if we should see it as he remembered me reading the albums to him as a kid. He loved it. He exclaimed how awesome it was first thing when it was over. I really had no idea what to expect as he’s pretty picky. He added it was many times better than he expected and surprised at all the killing and drinking jokes for a family film lol. His friend actually had seen it and thought it cool, too. Maybe they actually should have targeted the hipster crowd more?:)

  10. @SGeier – You’re right. Why folks hold to the “it isn’t the comic book” are missing out on a fun film (in my opinion). As Kater said, it’s not the book it’s a movie. And a lot of people seem to forget the two most important words in the credits…

    *based on*

    It’s Spielberg’s movie which is *based on* the books. It’s not verbatim of the books – it can’t be, it’s a different medium. I always find it humorous when people pick and choose how films are adapted from the source material.

    But folks are entitled to their opinion… or as Harlan Ellison has said… of their *informed opinion*.

  11. I dunno, I like Tintin comics a lot, but that animation is *creepy*. There’s no way I’m going to watch that.

  12. Why the hell not do even cartoony CGI? I even watched a review recently (by Movie Bob) that said the more cartoony the characters looked, they better they looked. Captain Haddock and Thompson and Thompson having more cartoony looks and looking better for it.

    Zemeckis has lost his damn mind. These half formed CGI monsters are hideous. I’ll take the clearly CGI of old stuff like Reboot over this crap.

    I’m a casual Herge and TinTin fan, but even I am grossly disappointed at them not even trying to incorporate his fantastic art style into this film save for a lame throwaway joke shown in the trailer. That wasn’t a nice joke. It was an insult.

    I am sad that Speilberg was sold on this tripe by Zemeckis. Because I understand the action sequences are fantastic. Yet doing it with this half animation half live action mo-cap semi-real CGI just kills it for me. If you’re going to do CGI animation, even using the mo-cap cheat, at least render the damn thing in a decent style. Don’t render it as real as possible, but still fall short of the other side of the valley.

    And I don’t know if that’s a valley we should cross anyway. At least not in films fully animated. Aren’t enough effects artists working on using realistic CGI in live action films? Why completely decimate the animation industry so there aren’t people who actually animate cartoons anymore, just 3D modelers and mo-cap actors?

  13. Snyder sounds like your average “YOU RAPED MY CHILDHOOD” comics fanboy. And I can understand that. If you grew up with a favorite character done in a particular style, you want other interpretations to be true to the original.

    I haven’t seen it yet (will probably wait for DVD or bargain theaters), but not because of the uncanny valley issues. From the trailers it looks like Spielberg has done everything that Zemeckis wasn’t: bring some life an personality into this kind of animation.

    Remember, it wasn’t THAT long ago that computer animation in general was relegated to engineers and hobbyists. But then Pixar and Toy Story revolutionized the medium. I think this movie is just another step for motion capture and photo-realistic animation into respectability.

  14. My wife and I were looking for a movie to take our children to. We watched the trailer, and she had no interest in the movie. Needless to say, we actually didn’t find any movie we couldn’t wait for video for. So we didn’t go despite wanting to.

  15. To all complainers: Watch the friggin’ movie! The trailers don’t do justice to the quality of the animation!

    Tintin is my favorite comics character and I’ve read the comics, lots of reference books, written and pretty much obsessed about the series – and I’ve NO COMPLAINTS about the aimation style!

    I do have some with the story, with its overlong chases, plot holes absent on the original albums and general US blockbuster-style shortcomings, but that’s because I’m very demanding on my Tintin adaptations.

    But the animation? It’s great!

  16. TINTIN was great, and good god, some people will scan anything to find something to bitch about. The story was solid, the characters were entertaining, the movie did not dumb down or sanitize the material, and the animation was expressive.

    I’m a big Tintin fan, and I loved it. My girlfriend and her 7 year old son were not already big Tintin fans but are now–they also loved it. And even the 3D looked excellent. Can’t wait to see more.

  17. I was really reticent to go because the trailers do not give a good impression of the animation, but the movie really blew me away. It runs like a freight truck and the much-praised chase/tidal wave sequence has to be seen on the big screen.

  18. It is rather the politics of the issue. Some people will fall on one side. Some will fall on the other. Some will be in between, giving in to one side or the other.

    My personal politics on the issue of CGI and in particular realistic CGI, is that it simply isn’t over the valley yet. And, again, I don’t know if we really should venture over the valley. And even if you do get there, I don’t think it or even stuff in the valley should be considered animation.

    CGI Animation, realistic or not, that is done with mo-cap should be considered on different level from traditional animation. Not just cel animation vs CGI. Pixar maintains they still animate their CGI by hand, not by mo-cap. And while I don’t quite want to slight mo-cap as inferior, I definitely think it should be considered at least simply different.

    It’s not traditional animation done by animators. It’s more a performance done by actors. And, yes, animators always did do a form of acting through their drawing and 3D modeling. Yet this is a whole other level. This is computers reading a real actor’s performance and delivering it directly to CGI models. There is no animator in between the actor giving the performance and the character on screen. The CGI character is giving that actor’s performance. Maybe even multiple actor performances if you have someone doing the voice and maybe face and then someone with dots all over them doing the full body motion.

    That is very different from not only traditional cel animation, but also earlier CGI animation and the stuff studios like Pixar still do with ‘hand crafted’ CGI. It’s less cartoony in movement and more realistic because it’s the actual real movements of real actors. And it’s not to slight the performance of mo-cap masters like Serkis. If anything, it is maybe an insult to call their performance animation. Then again, maybe it’s an insult to animators all these years to think that animation is less than an actor’s performance.

    If anything, we should judge it on how well the animation’s cartoony performance is and judge the mo-cap on how well that more realistically fluid performance is. Just because something is cartoony doesn’t make it bad. Just because something is more realistic doesn’t make it bad.

    Though, as critics and even proponents of CGI keep saying, you do have the uncanny valley to deal with when you go from cartoony to more realistic CGI. And it seems more and more people insist on realism and don’t see the value of cartoony CGI. Again, I think that would have served Tin Tin and Herge’s art much better anyway.

  19. I find it so bizarre to hear purist complain about the use of 3D, and how disrespectful it is of the source material. There was a animated TV series that ran from the early 90’s that did adhere quite well to the original graphic novels. The purists have that to go back to if they want to see TinTin animated well in Herge’s style. Because of this, it would be redundant to have done the movie as well in 2D by copying every exact detail of the books.

    Allow others to add to the vision, through whatever works. It’ll benefit the comic in the long run if it’s done in a way that’s respectful to the source material. And from what I’m hearing, that seems to be the case. It’s exposing new people to the character, and that’s what matters in the long run.

  20. The film is “underperforming” in America because Americans don’t care about Tintin. They don’t know who the character is, so they don’t care, and no one’s really convinced them why they should. Toss in some nationalist prejudice (actual message board comment: “Is Tintin some elitist European thing?”) and people just aren’t interested.

  21. I’m no fan of this sort of animation nor Speilberg nor movie adaptations of comics – by contrast I am a huge Tintin lover. So I am shocked to find myself saying that I loved the movie, thought the CGI was gorgeous, and honestly think it’s one of the best comics movies I’ve seen … So poo on naysayers.

  22. My six year old son and I both really, really liked it. I wish they had allowed for a little more expressionism and a little less realism in the design of the characters bodies. Tintin aside, sometimes the characters looked like humans wearing booble heads. But that’s a minor quibble. In general the animation was spectacular.

  23. Saw it. LOVED it. And I’ve been reading TinTin albums since 1973 when you could buy them in hardcover for $3.50. Was nervous about the CGI deadness that seemed to drag down all the visuals in every trailer but maybe they pulled a LOT of all-nighters because it now looks fantastic. A really grand adventures with ALL of the characters bacting just the way they should be. Congrats again to Andy Serkis.

  24. The studio gambled with a Christmas release. Will the gamble pay off? We’ll know January 24th.

    The news is reporting that this year is awful for Hollywood. B.O. is off $500 Million, with actual attendance down 4.5%. So it looks like higher prices are affecting sales? Hmm… that’s a surprise… And teens are spending their limited budgets on videogames.

    18 films are in contention for the Oscar.


    “An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of more than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.” (So no Smurfs or Chipmunks?)

    Nominees are screened by the committee, then rated. Given the 18 films eligible, there might be five nominees this year.

    Nomination ballots for other categories are mailed today. Due back Friday, January 13th.

    Everyone gets to vote on the final BAF nominees, just like Best Picture.

  25. Jason A Quest wrote:

    > The film is “underperforming” in America
    > because Americans don’t care about Tintin.
    > They don’t know who the character is, so
    > they don’t care, and no one’s really
    > convinced them why they should. Toss in
    > some nationalist prejudice (actual message
    > board comment: “Is Tintin some elitist
    > European thing?”) and people just aren’t
    > interested.

    This is so true. I’ve heard several similar statements from Americans. Gene Simmons tweeted: “Am I the only one who has no interest in Tin Tin? I don’t get it. it’s a French comic book. Yawn”

    This was retweeted hundreds of times, and several people tweeted answers about what an elitist crappy thing Tintin must be.

    Oh well, they can always go and see crap like Indy IV or Transformers. Or Phantom Menace in 3D…

  26. I went and saw this tonight based on the positive reviews here. I’ll say that yes, it’s a good movie. If you don’t see it in the theatre then rent or buy the DVD when it comes out.

  27. I won’t watch it because:
    1) I’ve always hated Spielberg, with the exception of Jaws. I don’t like any of his movies.
    2) I’m too in love with the original graphic novels to watch this. I have yet to see a movie based on the graphic novels I like that was actually good, and I don’t want to waste my money AGAIN.
    3) Hollywood films don’t appeal to me anymore, and are too expensive. The cheesy, predictable plot lines and big name, over hyped actors are boring.
    4) I can’t stand 100% CGI movies. Someone will hate me for this, but anime has been blending 3D animation and 2D for over a decade and it looks gorgeous. Watching these computer puppets dance around on screen is alright for a video game, but it’s like watching a cut scene from a video game for 2 hours. The Beowulf movie is a perfect example.

  28. Just saw it today. Frankly, I can’t fathom why anyone dislikes the animation. There has literally never been anything like it on screen before. Quite amazing and I never got that ‘uncanny valley’ feeling like I did with the Polar Express. Much better than most Indy movies. It turned my nephews and niece into fans (and earned them a trip to the omic book store). It’s a crime that it hasn’t done better.

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