For a holiday movie family outing, you could do much worse than The Adventures of Tintin
Tintin is a beloved comic book character in Europe, but the titular reporter’s serialized adventures have never had the same impact here in the United States – even though the comics have been available for decades and a Tintin animated series ran on HBO for several seasons back in the early ’90s.
With The Adventures of Tintin, filmmaking titans Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson combine forces to bring Georges Prosper Remi’s (a.k.a. Hergé) iconic creation into the modern day mainstream as a blockbuster 3D adventure. The film was directed by Spielberg, with Jackson serving as producer and his WETA Workshop visual artists taking on the daunting task of transforming live-action actors into photo-realistic CGI versions of Hergé’s cartoon characters.
The film combines several of the Tintin comics into one tale – specifically “The Crab With the Golden Claws” and the two-part adventure “Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure.” In this amalgamated storyline, we find young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his fateful dog Snowy out on a casual stroll through the market, where he happens upon a gorgeous model ship for sale. No sooner does Tintin have the ship in hand than a variety of shady characters come looking to steal it. Through happenstance, the inquisitive reporter discovers a coded message hidden in the mast of the model ship – a discovery that quickly lands him in the clutches of the sinister Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), as a captive aboard a hijacked sea vessel. It’s aboard that ship that Tintin meets Captain Haddock (motion-capture guru Andy Serkis), a volatile drunk whose men betrayed him in favor of serving Sakharine.
Upon escaping, Tintin and Haddock join forces to piece together the mystery of the model ship and the secret message – a mystery that has direct ties to Haddock’s ancestry and a long-lost treasure. As Tintin, Haddock and Snowy uncover each new clue in the race for the treasure, they must also contend with Sakharine and his evil henchman. Only one side will win the prize, thereby settling an age-old feud generations in the making.
The Adventures of Tintin is light whimsical fun that feels like a cartoon version of an Indiana Jones adventure. There are plenty of chuckle-worthy jokes, some well-designed action sequences that make good use of the film’s 3D format, and the effects works by WETA (which also worked wonders with Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is second to none. After an impressive Saul Bass-style opening sequence, the film cleverly offers a quick shot of Hergé’s classic artwork, before transitioning into the polished modern visuals; the goal for this film was to turn flesh and blood actors into living cartoons, and that was certainly accomplished. Visually, the film looks great and that “valley of the uncanny” effect that comes from watching CGI humanoids is only a minor distraction here, having been much improved by the combination of better technology and talented live actors providing the “soul” of the characters.
Unfortunately, beyond some impressive visuals and mild thrills, The Adventures of Tintin is not that enjoyable. I said the film feels like a cartoon version of Indiana Jones – and that’s true in terms of style and tone – but where they differ is that Indiana Jones is a captivating main character, whereas Tintin simply is not. To sum it up thusly: Tintin’s dog Snowy is about three times as entertaining as Tintin himself, and is arguably the best character in the film. Not to take away from the considerable talent of actor Jaime Bell – it’s just that a sweet, baby-faced reporter doesn’t hold much interest in this world of wise-cracking, tough guy leading men you typically find in action/adventure films.
Andy Serkis is undeniably the master of motion-capture performance (he played Cesear in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Gollum in Lord of the Rings, etc.), but Captain Haddock is pretty much a nonstop comic relief device – one that admittedly gets a bit tiring over the run of the film. More effective are the comic hijinks of Shaun of the Dead duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who play bumbling twin inspectors Thompson and Thompson; their screen time is more tapered, keeping their humor fresher and funnier than the Haddock schtick. As for the villain, Ivanovich Sakharine: he’s largely forgettable, and you probably wouldn’t recognize Daniel Craig’s uninspired voice work if you didn’t see his name in the credits.
The script writing dream-team of Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) have an obvious fondness for the character and the material, and they do a good job streamlining the various source stories into one coherent, lighthearted tale. Spielberg is similarly having fun, alternating between homage to classic scenes from the comics, and over-the-top 3D action sequences designed to thrill a modern audience. There is much adoration and enjoyment crafted into each and every moment of this movie, but somehow, someway, much of that love and fun never reaches the audience, and the film ends up being a slightly hollow experience, overall.
In the end, The Adventures of Tintin is a movie that should’ve been enjoyable for people of all ages, but will more than likely be thrilling for young boys first discovering the world of old-school action/adventure serials (i.e., those too young to have seen the original Indiana Jones movies). Still, for a holiday movie family outing, you could do much worse than The Adventures of Tintin.
The Adventures of Tintin has already been out in overseas markets for some time; the film is now officially playing in U.S. theaters everywhere.