It takes Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin about five seconds to connect with an audience.  Between that bouncy, noir-themed credits sequence and John Williams’ jazzy score, we’re hooked immediately, and the film keeps on giving; working alongside the skilled digital technicians at ILM (Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds) and Weta (The Lord of the Rings, Avatar), Spielberg plunges into a stylized, hyper-pulp saga that shifts continents every couple of minutes and fades out—like the best serials—just at the start of next week’s adventure.

I’d say they don’t make them like this anymore (if they ever did—the lush motion-capture animation affords the proceedings an elasticity that live-action cannot achieve), and I fear they won’t make them like this again; despite the visual wonders and Spielberg’s presence, Tintin limped along to an anemic $76.5 million domestic gross, which speaks to a homegrown unfamiliarity with author Hergé’s world famous boy reporter.

Thankfully, the rest of Planet Earth isn’t as culturally xenophobic as we are, and they gave the movie a robust $278.8 million gross.  You reading that, America?  This is why we can’t have nice things.

The plot?  Incidental framework for Spielberg’s action gags, really, though at least it’s slightly more artful framework than the frenzied incoherence of any given Michael Bay blockbuster.  Screenwriters Steven Moffat (“Dr. Who,” “Sherlock”), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) have seamlessly stitched together three Hergé stories—The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure—to concoct this first Tintin adventure; after buying a model ship at a flea market, Tintin (Jamie Bell) finds himself thrown into a life-or-death search for missing pirate treasure.  Allied with drunken sea captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, in his second mo-cap triumph of 2011) and the bumbling international detectives Thompson and Thomson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg), Tintin squares off against Daniel Craig’s silkily menacing aristocrat (think vintage George Sanders).

It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s delightful nonsense, bolstered by spirited performances and a relentless pace.  The film hustles by in under two hours, and more than any other Spielberg adventure film, The Adventures of Tintin feels particularly weightless.

The real world doesn’t factor into this CGI playground; the filmmakers are more interested in Tintin and Haddock breathlessly turning an escape by boat into an escape by seaplane, or a heist sequence that hinges on an opera diva’s glass-shattering voice, or—in my pick for the greatest action sequence of 2011—a four-minute-long motorcycle chase through a crumbling Moroccan city that Spielberg stages as one virtuoso camera take.

The action moves like Indiana Jones meets Buster Keaton, and if Tintin has a flaw, it’s that we’re a little worn-out by the time we reach the climax, a massively destructive sword fight between two shipyard crane arms.  Still, that’s the joy of home video, isn’t it?  Even if the movie won’t let you catch your breath, the pause serves that function nicely.

It’s spectacle for spectacle’s sake, and while I yearn for the thematic and moral ambiguity Spielberg evinced in 2005’s Munich—my guess is that film’s (relative) critical and commercial drubbing scared The Beard away from further emotional maturation—I confess I found Tintin a consistent delight.  Spielberg’s mastery for staging action is in full bloom here; if nothing else, this is his mea culpa for the lethargic thrills of Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.

The Adventures of Tintin may be as sprightly and fizzy as a can of soda, but what a can it is!  Hours later, you’re still feeling the buzz.

Paramount’s Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack is a marvel.  I saw the film in 3D at theaters and was slightly underwhelmed with the fuzziness of the image, but the 2D Blu-ray has no such problems.  It is frighteningly sharp and well textured; the CGI animation effects often looks like vivid live-action.  With its equally powerful 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, the 2D Tintin disc is an early candidate for best HD A/V quality of the year.

The disc only has one real supplement (and because this is Spielberg, it isn’t a commentary track), but it’s a doozy: a 96-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that delves into every aspect of the picture’s production history: how producer Peter Jackson and Spielberg first discovered Hergé’s comics; the pros and cons of shooting motion-capture animation; even the creation of the tie-in merchandise gets a short segment.  The documentary is viewable as one-long feature or as eleven separate featurettes (Toasting Tintin, The Journey of Tintin, The World of Tintin, The Who’s Who of Tintin, Conceptual Design, In the Volume, Snowy: From Beginning to End, Animating Tintin, The Score, Collecting Tintin, and Toasting Tintin: Part 2).  This feature is thorough-yet-brisk, and a model for how behind-the-scenes materials should look.

The Adventures of Tintin reaffirms something vital for movie fans: despite the evidence to the contrary suggested by his abysmal Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Steven Spielberg is still the great pulp cinema visionary.  The Blu-ray sports reference quality A/V, and the extensive bonus documentary is a thing of beauty.

The Adventures of Tintin streets on March 13th.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.

Culture Movie Review: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN Works Like Gangbusters, Even If America...