In just about every interview or article I’ve read in the run up to the release of the Tintin movie, there has been a mention of Herge’s statement that Spielberg was the man to do justice to a big screen incarnation of his creation, the iconic boy reporter Tintin. It’s almost if they’ve been making excuses in advance…’well it’s what Herge would have wanted…’
So does the motion captured, mainstream, Hollywood take on that most European of characters Tintin, need that excuse then?
First of all I have to declare myself as a Tintinophile. A Tintin book was the first thing I ever borrowed from my local library as a six year old, and I was instantly hooked. Tintin’s bright colour palette and parade of idiosyncratic characters made it easy to fall for and as I got older my admiration increased as I grew to understand and appreciate all the other things that were going on in the comics.
So it’s been 40 odd years that I’ve been an admirer. It’s been the longest relationship of my life and I still get a thrill from reading the books, texts that I could almost certainly repeat by heart if I had to. So perhaps I’m a tough audience for Spielberg and Jackson’s big screen adventure.
Opening with a wonderful nod to Herge’s original artwork the look and feel of the movie is faithful to, and does more than justice to the world of Tintin. Before we even get a proper look at our hero, someone has picked some pockets and the game is afoot. Before we have time to think about the light fingered thief, however, we are sidetracked into Tintin’s purchase of the model ship, the titular Unicorn.
On the scene comes Daniel Craig’s suitably Mephistophelean character Sakharine eager to get his hands on the model and asks Tintin to name his price, much to the chagrin of the stall holder who just sold it for a pound! Tintin refuses and sets off a chain of events starting with a man shot down on Tintin’s own doorstep (‘not again’ complains Tintin’s landlady in one the film’s many excellent throw away lines).
Jamie Bell does a fine job with the lead character, but Tintin has always been almost a blank canvas. Surrounded by such rich characters it was this openness that allowed the reader to so identify with him. It was easy to project some of yourself into the character and so become all the more involved.
It means that the film only really hits its stride when Captain Haddock becomes involved and the rollercoaster ride then really takes off.
Andy Serkis proves once again that he is peerless when it comes to motion capture. A suitably bombastic performance he brings Captain Haddock wonderfully to life in all of his drunken, spitting, cursing glory. A fine litany of insults and curses spew forth from the Captain. I honestly felt like cheering at the first mention of those iconic ‘blue blistering barnacles.’
Haddock, perhaps like in the books, gets all the best lines and there are some nice ones here, watch him go all misty eyed at the memory of a card game where someone lost their eyelids. Haddock’s portrayal is as good as you could have hoped for and gives the film its humour and its depth.
From then on in the film breathlessly rattles through some excellent set pieces. Haddock’s telling of story of his ancestor Sir Francis Haddock and the battle for the Unicorn and the treasure it held is as inventive and impressive a sequence as Herge could have wished for when he first pinpointed Spielberg as the man to do justice to his work.
This is Tintin drawn in broad strokes. There is little time for subtlety and anyone looking for the political satire or quieter moments that pepper the source material won’t find them here. The film is shot in 3D and that format is still constrained by the need to have things fly out at you, or to have you plunge through a collection of things that hurtle past your peripheral vision.
It means that we end up with the inevitable chase sequence and then another face off as Haddock and Sakharine reprise their ancestors’ battle. Both are handled with almost as much invention and wit as the Unicorn battle and are as enjoyable to watch as we breathlessly race towards the film’s conclusion.
A little more time spent on the characters wouldn’t have gone amiss though, with Thomson and Thompson particularly short changed. They get enough screen time, but they never quite gel. Their comedy bickering just doesn’t come off as well it could have done and this failure to get them right is the film’s biggest failing.
Elsewhere, Tintin’s faithful companion, Snowy does exactly what he does in so many of the books. He quietly steals the show. From a nicely paced and funny chase sequence of his own, to a glance back to glare at a paint tin late on, Snowy is a joy and pleasure to watch.
Tough audience or not, The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn won me over. It’s not perfect by any means but it is a thoroughly enjoyable romp and Spielberg’s best film in a very long time. It may even cancel out the atrocity that was Indiana Jones 4.