Sherlock Holmes vs. Tintin

Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law on their way to the prom.

I just got back from a 9:15am showing of The Adventures of Tintin in 3D.  The last time I was at a theater this early was to wait in line.  I don’t understand why they make these new 3D movies.  It was cool and all, but the images seem dark and a little muddy through the glasses.  And while the picture seemed to have a some nice depth, I was never moving my head to dodge things and any kind of frenetic movement seemed a little distorted.  How about handing out a pair of glasses that help me see the plot a little better?

I also recently saw Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  Now, I don’t have a masters degree in literature but I think I have the capacity to follow a story pretty well and these last two movies seemed kind of hard to get a firm grip on what exactly was going on.  Is that the deal with modern action movies?  Why do so many plot points have to be introduced? If I understand the end of Tintin correctly I don’t understand what happened during the preceding 2 hours or so.

Speaking of wild goose chases the whole way Tintin and Haddock trash North African homes, small businesses, and infrastructure during a well orchestrated 3D chase can’t help but remind me of the U.S.’s recent foreign policy debacles.  There’s even a bit where Haddock attempts to blow away an enemy with a bazooka but fires it backwards and blows up a damn.  Isn’t that what happens when we send our armed forces traipsing onto foreign soil?  Do stories like this reinforce that its OK to go to far away places in a personal pursuit and make a mess as long as we find the coordinates to some buried treasure?  Don’t get me wrong, it was a great scene, it just made me think how the stories we tell illustrate who we are.

Which is probably why I liked Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  Despite not really getting all that was going on, having Sherlock Holmes fight a war profiteer was pretty cool.  And the connections to today’s security state, War on Whoever, and military industrial conspiracies seemed to agree with my own anti-war crackpottery.  Does a movie have to have a taste of my politics in order for me to enjoy it? It seems having an action film with a dash of something to think about does make it more engaging.

Or did I enjoy following Holmes across Europe more than Tintin flopping about the Atlantic because I had low expectations for Sherlie and heard great things about Belgium’s Best Boy Reporter, excuse me Britain’s Best Boy Reporter (Is he still Belgian in the movie?  I couldn’t tell.  And isn’t the dog supposed to talk?). Or maybe I just felt awkward sitting alone in a theater at 9:15am watching a cartoon.  I saw this at an Arclight theater, where a person comes into the theater and welcomes you.  In this case the woman welcomed just me, a 34 year old unshowered man.  To a cartoon.  She asked me if I had any questions.  I wanted to ask if she was judging me.  Soon after a man with a son and daughter came in. I felt even more alone and kind of like Lee Harvey Oswald.

And I think I counted one female character in the whole two hours. Whoops, make that two.

I don’t mean to pick on Tintin, the movie looks beautiful.  The motion capture and computer animation are successful at creating a new world (albeit one that would also be easy to create with carpentry, costumes, and paid extras) and daring stunts (I don’t think these could be made without computers). I think one of the reasons most of today’s action movies fall flat is the blending of live action and CGI manufactured stunts (for example Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls and Captain America).  I think Tintin comes out on top compared to previous efforts.  And the voice actors and animators work well together. The movement of the characters is impressive.  But at the end of the movie which cues the audience to anticipate the sequel, I felt like I didn’t gain anything.  And with good movies I usually leave with something, whether its simple appreciation, a new nugget of thought in my head, or a sigh of relief that our heroes have made it out alive.  My first thought when Tintin was over was whether or not I could keep the glasses.  I had to return them.

But I liked Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  I’ve heard a lot of criticism that the portrayal of Holmes is a modern take on the character. I’m no Holmes expert, but I recently read a couple of his short adventures and Robert Downey, Jr.’s Holmes seems pretty well done.  The character in the stories seems a little more playful than the cold calculating detective I expected, and Downey seems capture this aspect of Holmes really well.  It’s Watson, played by Jude Law, that seems to be a little skewed.  He comes across as a bit of a grouch in the movie compared to the enthusiastic cheerleader/jovial skeptic in the stories.  I think I just can’t stop picturing Watson as Martin Freeman, who does an entertaining job in the British series Sherlock.  Without rubbing it in the audience’s face, A Game of Shadows plays with the idea of a repressed homosexual relationship between our heroes, which is played sweetly and unrequited by Holmes.  But after reading a couple stories I might have directed Watson to be a little more smitten, in literature he’s the one always saying how great Sherlock is and writing about him in his diary. One glaring deviation from the books is the way the film dances around Holme’s fondness of a 7% solution of cocaine taken intravenously. Early in the film, Holmes is mentioned to have been eating some coca leaves.  That’s a modern, yet slightly backward, revision of the character.  I guess a hero in a mainstream action movie who shot up coke would be less concerned with Professor Moriarty and more concerned with parent groups.  But overall the swashbuckling and fast talking Holmes charmed me over.

Sherlock Holmes vs. Tintin: Sherlock wins!

Whoever it is, I bet it's not a woman!

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