REVIEW: The Adventures of Tintin
Growing up, I devoured just about all the animated adventure programs on television at the time, meaning I saw early anime series like The Amazing Three and Astro Boy in addition to the adaptations of Belgium’s classic hero Tintin. As a result, I have always known the teen hero and have respected Hergé’s amazing output of graphic albums until his passing. I even paid a visit to London’s Tintin store, amazed at the variety of offerings that were nicer and less kitschy than the American tonnage devoted to the most meager of properties.
It always surprised me that a live action Tintin movie was never made so was excited to hear that two legends, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, were going to collaborate on a series of films. The quirk was that it would all be done with state-of-the-art motion capture plus shot for 3-D. Since Robert Zemeckis first explored motion capture, the technology has been continually refined, but full-length features have always fallen short (remember Beowulf?). I am also not one of those who has embraced the latest round of 3-Ds; both proved factors that kept me away from The Adventures of Tintin when it opened over the holidays.
A chance to evaluate the film has arrived in the form of the Blu-ray edition, going on sale Tuesday from Paramount Home Entertainment. I still have vague, pleasant memories of some of the adventures I watched as a kid and was looking forward. As it turns out, the script drew from three of the albums — The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), The Crab with the Golden Claws (1941), and Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944). What amazes me is that Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright, all highly pedigreed screenwriters in their own right, mined these and came up with what felt like an exceptionally thin story.
Largely, it has to do with the descendants from two families dating back to the days of pirates, one seeking hidden wealth and one hiding from his legacy inside a bottle. When Tintin becomes accidentally embroiled in the search of the legendary treasure from the sunken ship The Unicorn, things are moved forward. As a result, there are many, many differences from albums to film and yet, it all feels incredibly weak, just excuses for chase scenes.
What the script does nicely capture if Tintin’s youthful exuberance and inexperience, so he’s not a perfect hero with all the answers. It also takes him around the world to exotic locales, which Hergé painstakingly researched and Spielberg nicely realizes.
The idea of a motion capture Tintin versus a traditional line-drawn animated was certainly an ambitious one but it is jarring to see Tintin’s hair swoop and Captain Haddock’s bulbous nose in three-dimensions. (Having said that, I adored the animated title sequence.) In fact, so much of life-like mixed with the exaggerations culled from the source material that the final product looks right and wrong at the same time. Where the motion capture excels is when the characters move and there’s plenty of movement. At times, the story feels more like an excuse for set pieces that leave you breathless or checking your watch.
Jamie Bell makes for a fine Tintin and was well cast, paired nicely with Andy Serkis’ hard-drinking Haddock. It reminds us that Serkis is more than a guy who moves well, but a guy who acts and moves well. This is a strong performance. They’re well supported by the likes of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling Thompson and Thomson and Daniel Craig as Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine. Snowy is all digital and steals most of his scenes.
The biggest problem for me with the final film is that it was pretty to look at but there was not enough character bits or story to make it worth sitting through the prolonged action sequences. John Williams’ first score in four years even sounded overly familiar.
The 2-D Blu-ray transfer is wonderful with excellent sound so you won’t mind sitting through this at home. The film is supported by a series of featurettes that, strung together, run 1:36 and give you just enough information on Tintin, Hergé, the casting, and the laborious production process. Some of the best bits are the early tests for Snowy and Jackson filling in as Haddock. You get a sense of how directing and filing a motion capture production works but there is a lot of the same movie footage recycled and it gets tiresome. And despite celebrating Hergé, there’s no real image of him or footage of his widow complimenting the film. It would have been nice to have provided a checklist or digital album sampler to direct people to the print version.
Overall, I had high hopes and was left visually pleased but ultimately dissatisfied with the final results. Word is, work is already proceeding in developing a sequel and we’ll see if the content matches the technology.