Should I Watch..? The Adventures Of Tintin
What's the big deal?
The Adventures Of Tintin (also known as The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn) is a CG animated family adventure movie released in 2011 and is based on the eponymous character created by Belgian artist Hergé. Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, the film stars Jamie Bell as Tintin and Andy Serkis as his companion Captain Haddock with both of them on the trail of a treasure hunter interested in Haddock's ancestors. Spielberg intended to make a live-action version but after consulting with Peter Jackson's WETA Digital company, the decision was made to make the entire film in CG. Despite a hefty budget of around $135 million, the film was a critical and commercial success with worldwide takings over $374 million. Despite enthusiasm for a sequel, no definitive plans exist at the moment.
What's it about?
Tintin, a renowned boy journalist, and his dog Snowy are browsing in a marketplace and come across an exquisite model of an old naval vessel, the Unicorn. Ignoring the desperate warnings from an American stranger not to buy it, Tintin buys the model ship and immediately has to fend off the offers from another stranger, Ivan Sakharine, to buy the ship. Intrigued as to why so many people want it, Tintin accidentally discovers a parchment concealed within the model ship's mast after it is stolen from his house.
While British detectives Thompson and Thomson are busy searching for a pickpocket who steals Tintin's wallet (with the parchment inside), Tintin is abducted by associates of Sakharine and placed on board the SS Karaboudjan. The ship's captain, Archibald Haddock, has suffered a mutiny and kept permanently drunk to prevent him from getting into mischief. But Tintin and Snowy are masters of mischief and realising that Haddock is key to solving the mystery of the Unicorn, Tintin comes up with a typically daring escape plan...
Captain Haddock / Sir Francis Haddock
Ivan Sakharine / Red Rackham
Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish *
Release Date (UK)
26th October, 2011
Animation, Adventure, Family, Mystery
Academy Award Nomination
Best Original Score
What's to like?
As a fond reader of Tintin adventures as a child, I'm delighted to say that the big screen adaptation is a welcome reminder of a more innocent kind of hero - one that doesn't rely on firearms, explosions and cheesy one-liners to defeat the bad guys. The same is kinda true in this film as Tintin relies on his wits, intelligence and occasionally supernatural reflexes and athleticism. Whatever, the resulting adventure is a globe-trotting expedition in the spirit of the original and is thoroughly enjoyable. The plot, a blend of themes and ideas from a few of Hergé's tales, provides a decent mystery for the audience to enjoy as well as much daring-do from the characters.
The animation, seemingly evolved from the 3D motion-capture process involved in The Polar Express, is a revelation - uncannily lifelike but brilliantly vibrant and bursting with colour, like the comics were. The animations are all brought to life by the cast - Bell is perfect as Tintin, retaining the character's boyish charm and enthusiasm while Serkis is unrecognisable as Captain Haddock beneath a very convincing Scottish accent. I must also mention Pegg & Frost as the Thompson twins who actually contribute a good deal of goofy humour to the film. Craig, in a rare baddie role, struggles against type but provides a suitable foil for the clean-cut Tintin. And as for Snowy, I'm reminded of why I still want to own a West Highland Terrier of my own - charming, warm, playful and occasionally mischievous.
- The painter seen in the beginning finishing Tintin's portrait bears a striking resemble to Tintin's creator Hergé. He also completes the picture in Hergé's style.
- The film is a realisation of a long-held dream for Steven Spielberg - he first acquired the rights back in 1983 in the week Hergé died. Spielberg originally planned for Jack Nicholson to play the part of Captain Haddock.
- The movie is the first animated film and the first comic book adaptation in Spielberg's long career. It's also his first PG-rated film since Hook in 1991.
What's not to like?
While it may sound like somewhere Tintin might have found himself lost in, the film inhabits the so-called Uncanny Valley of animation - the characters are just too lifelike to be accepted as "real". It's most noticeable when the opera singer Bianca Castafiore makes her cameo - the character looks like a human under extreme amounts of makeup and prosthetics and her excessively pointy nose makes the character look quite grotesque. With the comics, this was never a problem but in the film, it is slightly distracting and sometimes ever unnerving.
There are one or two liberties taken with the source material as one might expect - I cannot find any mention of Haddock's Scottish ancestry (although it does suits the part), the film has no mention of Tintin's other faithful companion Professor Calculus and the role of Sakharine was never a villainous one. And while the action sequences are definitely exciting, they don't really seem to fit the characters that well - something as ridiculous as duelling docking cranes would never have appeared in the comics. Tintin's extraordinary ability to survive traumas and incidents that would kill a normal man also removes the crucial element of tensions because you don't ever fear for Tintin's life.
Should I watch it?
It would be easy to dismiss The Adventures Of Tintin as another Spielberg-directed family adventure movie but the fact is that this is still a great movie for everyone to watch. The plot may be a little tiresome for younger viewers but the film's numerous thrill-rides and heroic escapades provide a little old-fashioned escapism for today's viewers. Wonderfully animated, brilliantly directed and well performed, this is one film that would be criminal to miss.
Great For: family nights in, nostalgic fans of the comics, animators
Not So Great For: the pedantic, Scottish seamen's reputation
What else should I watch?
It's not possible to mention "adventure" and Steven Spielberg in the same sentence without bringing up the original Indiana Jones trilogy. Both Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade are timeless pieces of cinema that remain brilliant for families to watch and enjoy over and over again. The second film in the series - Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom - gets a little dark but will always be remembered for that brilliant minecart rollercoaster chase. Unlike Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull which simply won't be remembered at all other than killing a once-revered franchise.
Motion-captured animation is an area of movie-making coming on in leaps and bounds as technology moves forward relentlessly. But it's a tricky science to master - the hyper-realism in films like The Polar Express, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and the 2009 version of A Christmas Carol all share this fault of looking too realistic, which in turn makes them unrealistic - a phenomena known as the Uncanny Valley. For me, the most successful motion-captured performance is a niche that Serkis already specialised in. Anyone who saw his portrayal of Gollum in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy will tell you that it is a fabulous effort from animators and actor working together, even if the character himself is pretty repugnant.
© 2016 Benjamin Cox