Film Review – The Adventures of Tintin
Now this is what I’m talking about. The beautiful thing about seeing Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (2011) is realizing all the shortcomings that made up his lackluster film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Sure, both films have similarities: both are over the top adventure films, both have absurd plots that stretch the limits of believability, and both see our heroes in the middle of thrilling action sequences. But the difference here is that Tintin has much more life, energy, and enthusiasm, while Crystal Skull felt like an uninspired attempt at recapturing the once-great magic of a franchise. While the characters of Herge’s comic book series have been around for quite some time, this feels as though it is something new, something to be discovered and perhaps inviting us to revisit those stories, told in a way that can only come from the partnership of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.
The first thing to notice is the look of the film. I’ve read around the internet that some people may be resistant to the film being made with photo-realistic computer generated imagery. They have a point, as the cartoon-like style of the comic series has become so well known in pop culture. I can only say that I personally didn’t have an issue with this, and that the animation here is rendered exceptionally well. Details from the backgrounds to the character designs are flawlessly made. The camera is restless in the way it moves around the environment, taking in the intricacy of just about every object on screen. Colors seem to pop out and have a kind of vibrancy that lends much to the style and tone of the movie. The animation is realistic enough to create a beautiful and tangible place, but cartoony enough that we can understand and believe in the way the characters work in it. Yes, there’s still that kind of “dead eye” soullessness that we’ve seen before, but not nearly as noticeable or bothersome. The film has not converted me to 3D, but this along with Hugo (2011) would give the best arguments for its existence.
I absolutely adore adventure films. I love seeing characters globe-trotting around the world, finding buried treasure whilst trying to outsmart the bad guys. This film is no different, as we find Tintin (Jamie Bell) on a quest to find three model ships of the infamous Unicorn, the very boat that was once commanded by the legendary Sir Francis Haddock. The model ships may contain clues that could lead our young journalist toward a lost treasure that went down with the ship when opposing pirates attacked it. However, he must race against time when he learns that the sinister Mr. Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) desires the models himself, has shadowy personal ties to the treasure, and is willing to kill anyone that dares stand in his way. With his trusty sidekick dog Snowy, and with the help of hilariously drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis)—a descendent of Sir Francis—Tintin takes an adventure of a lifetime that moves from the foggy streets of England to a daring escape aboard a steamship and the sands of the Moroccan desert, all in the hope of stopping Sakharine and getting that front page story.
If what I described to you doesn’t get your heart rate pumping even just a little bit, there’s really no helping you. Right from the start, Spielberg (along with writers Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish) throws us in headfirst into a plot full of intrigue, mystery, and discovery. Action scene is followed by action scene with breathless exuberance, each one a highlight unique from one another. There’s not much in terms of character development for our protagonist; we aren’t exactly sure why he’s so gung ho about stepping into danger or going on this most daring of escapades, but that doesn’t really matter. If anything, Tintin works as a catalyst for us go on this extremely entertaining ride; his enthusiasm and spark for adventure is really all we need to know about him. In terms of character background, that void is filled with Captain Haddock, with yet another fantastic motion capture performance by Serkis. His continuous drunken stupor provides much of the film’s comedic relief, but also works to help with understanding him. We learn about his ties with Sir Francis, and how his obsession with alcohol prevents him (or helps him) from being every bit the captain he could possibly be.
And those are only two of the memorable names that inhabit this film. Not only are Tintin and Haddock wonderful characters, but so are just about all the supporting players that are introduced. Sakharine is the classic bad guy, with squinty eyes behind thin-rimmed glasses and a devilish goatee that can only be a sign of trouble. Daniel Craig does a great job at voicing him—I hadn’t even noticed his voice until I looked him up. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost team up once again as the bumbling inspectors Thompson and Thomson. Their ineptitude is a part of their charm—they can help Tintin out with his mission without even realizing it. A side story involves Thompson and Thomson hunting down an elusive pickpocket that has been terrorizing their neighborhood. Their naïveté and lackluster detective skills are turned up to full capacity, especially when they find themselves in the home of the very man they were looking for. And then there is Snowy. In a year full of cute dog performances, Snowy may just as well take the cake. He helps out just as much as anyone else and follows our hero step by step.
There’s a moment in Tintin that stands out as the main highlight, perhaps the one scene that people will most remember. It involves a chase sequence between Tintin, Haddock and Sakharine. In one completely unbroken shot, we follow them as they make their way up and down and through the middle of a Moroccan town in jeep and on motorcycle. It’s an incredible scene, really, one that should be mentioned as one of the best moments in all animated films. With John Williams’s score pumping relentlessly, it’s hard to watch this scene and not think of those classic chase sequences in the first three Indy films. The camera zooms in and out of buildings, over and under our characters, really showing off the possibilities of camera placement in animated filmmaking. 3D is obviously a key contributor here, attempting to put the viewer into full immersion during the scene, but I think if it were in 2D it would be just as effective and exciting. Yes, there are times of exaggeration where you can say to yourself “there’s no way a building like that could slide down a hill that way,” but I completely bought in to it. I was fully aware that Spielberg had no intention of making a movie the resembled real life physics, but rather a cartoon that tried to make the most of animated possibilities.
I found myself smiling throughout the course of The Adventures of Tintin. It provided me with all the excitement that an adventure film is supposed to. Is it on the same level as, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)? Absolutely not, but it was without a doubt a fun time. At the screening I attended I overheard both children and adults reacting in a positive manner. In a time where too many films try to be too cynical or too clever for their own good, it’s refreshing to see something retain a sense of earnestness, and offer an experience that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.
Final Grade: A-