Theatrical Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Famous boy reporter Tintin is having his portrait drawn in a town square, when an object from a vendor catches his eye.  The object is a model of a sailing ship from days past.  Tintin is intrigued enough to buy the model when all of a sudden he finds that there are others who are in pursuit of the very same model.  Tintin, of course smells a mystery and soon he and his trusty canine companion Snowy are off on a big adventure to find out the real secret behind this ship model.

The Adventures of Tintin is one of two holiday releases from director Steven Spielberg (the other being War Horse) and it marks the prolific director’s first foray into both computer generated animation and 3D.  For those that don’t know, Tintin is a comic book character created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé back in 1929.  I’ve never read any of the Tintin stories my own self (something that I should rectify) but I do know that this character and his adventures are a pretty big deal abroad and highly influential in the greater appeal of comic storytelling in Europe.  From what I understand, Tintin is to European comics as Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy is to Japanese manga.  His stories have been published worldwide and due to his classic adventure background, one could certainly see the appeal to both director Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson in bringing the character to the big screen.

The Adventures of Tintin takes place in it’s own world and in an undisclosed time period.  Some might have a problem in accepting the fact that he’s this boy who lives on his own, has these jaunts that takes him all over the world (without any parental supervision) and that he uses a gun.  For some in the American audience, I could see this as being a pretty big deal to have get around to accept this story.  It’s not unheard of with a comic book character like this (and to cite an American example, Billy Batson- who says the magic word Shazam to become Captain Marvel- was also a boy reporter who lived on his own and had his own big adventures back in the day), but it’s something that you’ll definitely have to accept going into this.

From what I understand, Tintin himself was more of a device for Hergé to tell stories of other characters.  Tintin is certainly a proactive character, but not necessarily the main focus in each of his adventures.  That’s certainly the way this movie works.

For the most part, I had a pretty terrific time with this, but I do have a few quibbles and it’s mostly with the character of Captain Haddock, who Tintin teams up with to help solve this mystery.  Haddock is the main focus of the film and he’s this boozy sea captain who’s seen better days.  Haddock is the one who has the connection to the model ship and he sees that finding it is a way at some sort of redemption for his family name.  Whenever Haddock starts to go on about his past, it’s not so much about him as it is about his ancestor and these scenes (despite Andy Serkis’ considerable talent in bringing Haddock to life) are pretty laggy and the pace just slows down considerably.

Beyond that though, on a technical level, The Adventures of Tintin is just amazing.  Spielberg and company, in my opinion, go to new heights with this sort of motion capture CGI animated film. The characters look stunning and have a realism to them that fits this world design.  The world itself is bright, colorful and looks like the ideal place for a big adventure.  The action scenes are spectacular, with one chase scene near the end of the film being a huge standout and virtually worth the price of admission.  I thought the 3D was really nicely done, but again, I saw this in a room with great projection.  I don’t think it’s quite to the same level as what Martin Scorsese did with Hugo, and I also don’t think you necessarily have to see it in 3D, but if you’re inclined to it does work (particularly with the action scenes).

As I mentioned above, Andy Serkis plays Haddock and does a great job, though I think that character suffers more in the writing.  Jamie Bell plays Tintin and he’s just terrific, though I could see some seeing Tintin as a bland character (which I tend to think is by design).  Tintin himself is more of an audience gateway to the adventure but when he throws himself into the action, it’s in a way that’s pure Spielberg adventure not unlike Indiana Jones.  As cool as Tintin is himself, his dog Snowy steals the show being even more proactive than his master.

Daniel Craig plays Sakharine, the villain of the piece and in many ways may be the best character brought to life on the screen.  Craig’s performance combined with the animation has some real subtlety and nuance to it.  In some inspired casting, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are cast as Thomson and Thompson, two bumbling detectives who are staples of the series.  Just from their dialogue, you can tell they’re having some real fun with the parts.

But will that fun translate?  That’s hard to say.  I had a good time with this, but not in the same league that I had the previous evening with Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (I realize that may be a bit of an unfair comparison, but actually the two films have more in common than you think- both are big globetrotting adventures with “big” characters and both are directed by directors who are working outside their normal comfort zones).  I had a problem with Haddock, which might have been a different thing if I’d actually read some of Hergé’s original stories, but technically you shouldn’t have to read them in order to get what the character is all about.  To me, that character wasn’t necessarily worth following, at least by what’s shown in the movie.  What did make this fun though was Tintin and Snowy, both being these great wish-fulfillment characters that harken back to a time when this sort of boy’s adventure was more acceptable.  The Adventures of Tintin is certainly set-up in such a way so that more movies could be coming, and for myself, I hope they get the chance to do so.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

25. December 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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