The Adventures of Tintin

Belgian artist Hergé’s series of classic European comics is given the big budget movie treatment from none other than Steven Spielberg. It’s also produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) and written by Steven Moffat (UK sitcom Coupling) Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). That’s an impressive array of talent. Needless to say my expectations were incredibly (or should I say unreasonably) high. Rousing adventure is entertaining enough and it’s got some nice spectacles, but the whole affair left me wanting more. The story is actually based on three of the original comic books: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Perhaps they should have just focused on just ONE of those classic publications. The saga is a bit chaotic at times and there are an inordinate amount of chase sequences at the expense of character development.

Steven Spielberg uses performance capture to animate the feature. Personally I tend to favor Disney or Pixar to motion capture, but to each his own. This is so close to the real thing, it begs the question, might this have been more effective as a live action movie? The cast is comprised of real actors whose motions were snatched and used to give life to the rendition. Let’s start with the bad guy. After all, what good is a comic without a villain? Daniel Craig voices the main antagonist Mr. Sakharine, a wealthy collector of model ships, and descendant of pirate Red Rackham. None of the actors resemble their parts physically but Sakharine strangely appears to be a dead ringer for director Spielberg. Jaime Bell is engaging as the titular hero. Apparently he’s a reporter, but he seems more of an explorer than a journalist as I didn’t see him do any reporting. With his trusty dog Snowy by his side, Tintin is a resourceful and intelligent fellow. He’s reliable with nary a flaw or imperfection. In direct contrast is Captain Haddock, a seafaring Merchant Marine played with gusto by Andy Serkis. They become fast friends and he accompanies Tintin unceasingly after they meet aboard Haddock’s boat. Unfortunately I found this most important role of Captain Haddock rather annoying. A complete drunk, Haddock is about as useless as Tintin is proficient. Time and again Haddock’s drunkenness is so debilitating that it makes him act like a complete idiot doing more damage than good.

The narrative is a succession of rousing action set pieces. They’re enjoyable enough but the picture often favors chaos over characterization. After an enchanting start with expository detail, we get one impressive extravaganza after another, each one more far fetched than the last. Case in point, After the drunk captain blows up their lifeboat by starting a fire to keep warm, they’re left adrift in the ocean. A seaplane starts shooting at them and Tintin, with only 1 bullet, shoots the plane down while stranded in the water. He then swims underwater to the downed plane, gets the pilots to surrender by threatening them with his empty gun. He then studies the pilot manual and escapes by flying the plane with the captain in tow. Seriously?! I’ve heard of suspension of disbelief but that’s kind of ridiculous.

I know. That’s the point. It’s a fantasy, but it kind feels stuck between animated fabrication and authentic adventure. Given the realistic look of the drama, a little more depth might have pushed this chronicle to the next level. It’s just too content to be a simplistic tale without much substance. Given the pedigree of people involved I guess I was just expecting so much more. It’s not a bad film. As it stands, it’s an enjoyable flight of fancy with some well choreographed chase sequences.  The first animated film Spielberg has directed works best if you view it as a theme park ride. It’s fun to experience but not much more.

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9 Responses to “The Adventures of Tintin”

  1. Agree with your review, Mark! Watched this last week but I haven’t had time to write a review. It’s fun but unfulfilling, one chase sequence after the other. I thought the same thing you did with TinTin: he’s supposed to be this great reporter but I never saw him take a note or something (although I loved Jamie Bell’s work). Andy Serkis is also great as Haddock but the character is a complete idiot.

    • Haddock’s drunkenness made him seem developmentally disabled. Tintin climbs through the porthole of the drunken captain’s cabin. Haddock laments that he’s been locked in his cabin for days by the men who‘ve taken over his ship. Tintin tires the door and it opens easily. “Well I assumed it was locked” Haddock says. lol

  2. It was a good movie. Anything can happen in a fantasy, I got that, but it should be more believable. Also, Johnson and Johnson were idiots.

  3. I liked your review, but I was surprised. You seem to really like Spielberg, so three stars shocked me. I guess I would have a better bet seeing War Horse, then?

    • I think Steven Spielberg is on the short list for greatest living director still making movies. War Horse is the better Spielberg film this year, so yeah. Go see War Horse.

  4. I grew up reading these books as a kid in French..so I was already walking into this slightly aggrieved at having to hear Haddock’s insults in English! Ultimately I was won over, this had the spirit and energy of the film that Indiana Jones 4 SHOULD have been. Agreed though – simple, light hearted and well executed family fun!

    • One of the reasons I love your podcast is the perspective you bring from your part of the world. I really appreciate that. Tintin doesn’t have much popularity or recognition in the U.S. Not having grown up with these stories, I approached the film as a newbie without any pre-conceived notions about what to expect. It was enjoyable fun and YES I agree, much better than Indiana Jones 4.

  5. I actually liked this better then War Horse. Maybe I’m biased because I love the series. Here’s my review:

    http://themoviefreakblog.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/review-the-adventures-of-tintin/

  6. martin250 Says:

    Hi Mark, agreed with this one. your last two sentences sum up the the right approach to this movie. i did however enjoy the first half much more than the second. More detective work and dialogue.About a quarter into the movie, I actually thought that it was going to be a great movie. But when the action took over in the end, it just got tedious , especially that motorcycle chase where the side cart gets disconnected. I remember owning several issues of the comic(had the unicorn), and it wasn’t because of the action, but rather i liked the size of the comic, the art, detective work, and his constant travelling. i don’t even remember the character as an action type. The one in the movie knew how to fight and use a gun. i don’t remember that in the comics. anyway, maybe i didn’t collect enough issues.

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