Plot: Globe-trotting journalistic wonder-kid Tintin teams up with drunkard Captain Haddock to track down the secrets of a lost ship with ties to a treasure trove. Things become complicated however when the evil Sakharine sets his own sights on the ship and the quest soon becomes a race.
Thoughts: Belgian penman Hergé first created The Adventures of Tintin in the late 1920’s as a vehicle for him to twin slapstick humour with contemporary political commentary, eventually forming a masterclass of classic comic strips each with a rich and fulfilling backdrop. Fast-forward 80-or-so years and the now beloved and well-distinguished series finds itself receiving the Hollywood treatment, with movie-master Steven Spielberg partnering with SFX-guru Peter Jackson to finally bring Hergé’s original vision to life in the most fulfilling and aesthetically pleasing way possible: motion capture animation.
Shooting began in early 2009 with WETA Digital, Jackson’s own five-time Academy Award winning super-unit (and veteran effects team behind the likes of ‘AVATAR’ and ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’) at the helm. Filming rapped within months and then began the arduous post-production stage of graphical rendering, a process which has now, after 2 years of painstakingly detailed processing, finally drawn to a close, springing forth the product of over 3 years of production and Spielberg’s first fully-animated feature film: ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’.
To begin, Hergé’s own distinct character designs appear to be in tact, as does his playful spirit and detective-driven story-telling. At the heart of the tale still lies its titular character, who still maintains a healthy desire for knowledge and comes complete with ginger quiff to boot. Sadly, this is where Tintin’s appeal ends; with the Hollywood translation comes rather irrational reasoning and a personality as dull as a rotting carcass, sending the young Belgian boy’s likability straight out the window along with his incredibly irritating internal dialogue. The picture is plagued by his constant narration as to every activity, it’s almost as if Spielberg didn’t trust the audience to piece anything together themselves, and this eventually leads to a fierce resentment towards the main character of the movie. Which is never a good sign.
Upcoming British actor Jamie Bell does a decent enough job finding the correct tone and mannerisms to ably portray Hergé’s boy-wonder but it’s ultimately the motion-capture approach that limits the realism, as obvious as that may sound. Much of Tintin’s scenes of discovery (especially early on) are all carried out alone, aside from his faithful companion Snowy, meaning much of Bell’s reactions are simply directed at nothing, and it really shows. His amazement is so blatantly false it’s at times almost too painful to endure and will surely leave you wincing with worry every time the flash-light flicks on.
A large portion of the original comic-strip’s unique appeal was its clever and often satirical use of comedy, a segment of Hergé’s world which mostly remains intact. The bumbling police pansies Thomson and Thompson are projected with childish glee by the talented likes of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and to a certain extent, give great moments of laughter amongst the fast-paced plotting. However, much of their laughs are too jovial for many of the adults present and their lack of any sense of sophistication may limit their appeal. It’s lucky then that Andy Serkis (in his second notable turn of the year) steps forward as the dangerously dim alcoholic Captain Haddock to revive some of the classic caper comedy. Serkis’ ballsy-but-respectful approach creates great contrast with Tintin’s annoyingly ambitious lead, essentially creating a half-assed odd couple dynamic that leans heavily to one side.
Despite its flaws, Spielberg’s motion-capture approach is pretty much the finest element of the movie and stands as its clear selling point. The unique filming style allows gorgeous scenery to be rendered around some comically-placed character designs (respectfully drawn in) whilst also allowing Spielberg complete free-reign over camera angles and aspects. This essentially means that large scale action sequences, which would surely be impossible to shoot live-action, are folded into the film with ease and flair; one in particular through the bustling streets of an unnamed North-African town providing one of the best chase scenes of the year. Most importantly, technically ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ is a cinematic landmark. It provides a glistening example of a fully-animated and fully-functioning mystery piece, but with humanistic performances and some truly jaw-dropping skirmishes, whilst still maintaining a terrifically individual artistic look.
Overall, ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ is a fun and [mostly] family-friendly thrill-ride which is both beautifully rendered and flawlessly directed. The issues arise however with much of the aimless comedy and the seriously convoluted plotting. The story often finds itself lost several times throughout the picture, not helped by a seriously strange basic narrative that is both puzzling and incredibly hard to grasp which, in turn, makes the sadly anti-climactic finale all the more disappointing. All the complex paper-chasing antics finally conclude in the cheesiest and most childishly orientated way possible, questioning the real menace of Daniel Craig’s rather deflated villain and scribe Steven Moffat’s original vision. At times it becomes clear that it was just the idea of a motion-capture Tintin movie that sounded so right. Everyone involved wanted it to work so badly that they threw at it every idea they had, but never bothered to think about what they were doing with them.
To conclude, Spielberg and Jackson have created the most respectful and plausible cinematic transition fans of Hergé’s beloved Tintin could hope for, but due to a mass overload of ideas and the uncertainty of what to do with them all, what we’re eventually left with is a moderately entertaining, visually perfect clump of Tintin-related fandom. If you’re not familiar with the character, you’ll certainly take longer to latch on and will ultimately find it less enjoyable.