Music Feature

Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin

by Piers Marchant
Europe's favorite comic character hits the Spielbergian big screen.

Dir. Steven Spielberg
Score: 5.9

For manic Tintinologists, the apprehension towards this big-budget, motion-animation blockbuster from heavyweights Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson (Spielberg directed; both of them produced, with Jackson taking the reins for the sequel) came down to a series of seemingly minor but tellingly important details: Will Snowy, the brave fox terrier never far from Tintin's side, talk? (No, though they make his intentions incredibly clear). Will Tintin wear his trademark plus fours? (Yes, the imagery and costuming are true to the Hergé universe). And, most significantly, will the film properly maintain the vibrant characters of the books? (Mostly.) From that perspective, the film certainly fares better than it could have: Spielberg and Jackson have mostly done right by the proud franchise, except in one crucial area: Story-wise, they truncate Hergé's massively intricate plots into a 100-minute, three-act action script and miss out on the subtle brilliance of the original's most absorbing qualities.

The story is more or less a combination of three of the original books, with large sections of each removed and retooled to better fit them together. Tintin (voice of Jamie Bell), a young European reporter, is at a flea market one morning when he happens upon a magnificent model of a ship -- the Unicorn -- which he purchases on the spot. Before he steps out of the park, though, he is besieged by offers for it, including one from Ivanovich Sakharine (voice of Daniel Craig), a mysteriously goateed fellow who seems a bit too insistent for the ship's acquisition. In short order, the ship is stolen out of Tintin's flat and the young reporter is kidnapped and taken aboard a real ship, whose drunkenly besotted captain, Archibald Haddock (voice of Andy Serkis), is locked up alone with his booze, and Sakharine and first mate Allan (voice of Daniel Mays), make off for parts unknown. After Tintin rescues the captain, the two of them embark on an epic journey to recover the model ship and solve the mystery of the Unicorn, which was, it turns out, built by one of Haddock's distant forebears.

The first half of the film works surprisingly well, with excellent voice work from the leads (Bell, in particular, captures Tintin's winsome adventurousness and his direct tenacity remarkably well), and breathless motion capture animation sequences that seem largely in keeping with Hergé's revered ligne claire style. The problem comes in when, true to form, Spielberg opts to up the physical ante in the final third of the film, providing us with a thrilling-though-physically-improbable action sequence with Tintin, Haddock and Sakharine all vying for the ship's hidden scrolls in a Middle East port town, and then an even less artful final showdown between Haddock and Sakharine, utilizing giant dock cranes, that's like something out of Transformers. The film suffers from the filmmaker's lack of conviction in the more subtle rewards of Hergé's fine scripting (a pickpocket, whose significance is central to the book, is lost here as an essentially pointless plot thread).

It's hard to argue narrative semantics with a filmmaker whose works have earned billions and billions of dollars at the box office, but Spielberg's keen marketing savvy and hucksterism demand spectacle where subtlety would have been more effective in keeping with the tone of Hergé's work. That's far from the only point with which purists will take umbrage. The film is also unable to leave alone some of Hergé's more poignant character development: Haddock's raging alcoholism is present, for example, but in limited form, and is quickly given an all-too-convenient psycho-babble explanation, so as to suggest its something well within his control, which only serves to mitigate the captain's fierce stubbornness with something a good deal more softly congealed.

Still, all things considered, it could have been much worse. It will be interesting to see if Peter Jackson's proposed adaptation will run more true-to-course with the source material. If it does, we can look back at this first attempt and attribute the film's failings -- yet again -- to Spielberg's boundless faith in his understanding of just exactly what it is an audience wants to see on-screen.

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