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In 'Tintin,' the eyes don't have it

IF THE EYES are the window to the soul, then motion-capture movie technology could still use a little Windex, in my opinion.

IF THE EYES are the window to the soul, then motion-capture movie technology could still use a little Windex, in my opinion.

All of the big brains in Hollywood say it's the next big thing, that it will liberate actors from their corporeal chains, from the constraints of reality, and also enable budget-conscious studios to replace every actor with Andy Serkis.

And I'm sure this will one day be true, but for the time being, motion capture has a nagging problem: Most of the characters in the format still look like they suffer from Zombie Eye, like that creepy vampire baby at the end of "Breaking Dawn."

At least the baby was meant to be supernatural. The characters at the center of "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" are meant to be lovable and dynamic. There is, alas, something flat and vacant about them - despite the additional layer of 3D. I can't help feeling it has to do with that glassy-eyed look they acquire when a human eye is replaced by an animated facsimile (the short-hand description of motion capture is that real actors are photographed wearing sensor-laden suits, and the captured images are then transformed by technicians into animation).

The movie is be no means bad, but it felt like a disappointment, given the stupendous level of talent involved - producer Peter Jackson, director Steven Spielberg, a screenplay by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, who made "Attack the Block," the year's most underrated movie.

They've adapted two of Belgian illustrator George "Herge" Remi's beloved childrens stories and shaped them into an action-adventure, one that's meant to recall Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Amateur sleuth and journalist Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell) wants to find the secret to hidden treasure by lining up clues contained in model ships - a scavenger hunt that has him globe-hopping to exotic locations.

He has a competitor in the wicked Sakharine (voice of Daniel Craig), whom the animators have impishly designed to look like Spielberg. Tintin acquires an ally in a drunken ship's captain (Serkis).

"Tintin" is fast-moving and competent, but it is not the magical entertainment its pedigree has us jacked up to expect.

And, while I don't want to pick a philosophical movie fight with a genius like Spielberg or Jackson, I wonder about their headlong pursuit of of this new-ish technology.

The further characters (even animated ones) are removed from the laws of physics and the boundaries of reality, the more we lose the natural drama, the tension, between the possible and impossible.

In "The Secret of the Unicorn," Tintin grabs a motorcycle wheel and uses it as a zip-line conduit. Maybe there was no way to do this in live-action form, and that's too bad, because it would have been a helluva stunt.

What I remember about "Raiders" was Harrison Ford laddering along the under-carriage of a speeding truck, popping up the rear and shooting a couple Nazis. It's amazing/amusing/dramatic because somebody actually did it. Somebody who was not an animator. Somebody with eyes.