Does The Adventures of Tintin Conquer the Uncanny Valley?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Jan. 3 2012 3:54 PM

Does The Adventures of Tintin Conquer the Uncanny Valley?

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

WETA Digital Ltd.

Steven Spielberg’s animated film The Adventures of Tintin has not clicked with stateside moviegoers: While it’s brought in almost $240 million abroad, it has made a relatively disappointing $54 million in the United States.

Despite that disappointment, Spielberg has something to be very proud of. Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired and author of What Technology Wants, says on his blog the Technium that that Tintin does not fall prey to the Uncanny Valley, the idea that as digitally rendered humans become increasingly realistic, they also become very creepy. The prime example of this is the Tom Hanks character in the film version of Polar Express. But Kelly says:

In the first few minutes of the Tin Tin, there is a momentary hesitation when you first see the face of the characters; a feeling they are just a bit shy of something. But that moment passes quickly and thereafter the humans (and animals) seem totally real. Their movements, skin texture, hair, expressions, eyes, everything says they are real—even though they are only simulations.
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In her review, Slate’s Dana Stevens largely agrees, but she finds the character of Tintin himself “teeter[s] on the brink of that dreaded valley, while the other characters clear the bar of acceptability,” perhaps because “conventionally ‘attractive’ characters tend to come off worse in digital animation than their more exaggerated comic sidekicks.”

So what comes next? Kelly supposes that once hyperreal digitalization becomes common place—say, in the next decade—we’ll see a new trend in which filmmakers and film lovers embrace lower-tech, grittier cinema.

Read more on the Technium.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies.