Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) and Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) and Snowy the dog in The Adventures of Tintin.
Directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson and co-written by Stephan Moffat and Edgar Wright, this movie comes loaded with pedigree. That combination of talent surely has to add up to something extraordinary. Or so you'd think. While there are some moments of entertainment in The Adventures of Tintin and lots of sound and spectacle, it never adds up to anything all that great.
Tintin is a character from a Belgian comic strip first created in 1929. Well known in Europe, he is virtually unknown in the United States, which explains why this movie was released two months earlier there and we're just now seeing it. Those familiar with the strip, comics, books and other media that the character has appeared in will surely get a bigger kick out of seeing these characters and situations come to life than someone like me who had no idea who any of these people were. It is such a European story that I wonder why an American director (even one of Spielberg's stature) was chosen to direct it anyway.
The story follows Tintin, a youthful reporter in England (the country is never named, but pounds are the currency, the actors are all English and Scotland Yard gets a mention) in what appears to be the 1930s. In an adventure that Indiana Jones wouldn't feel out of place in, Tintin and his dog Snowy end up on the hunt for a lost pirate treasure. He teams up with Captain Haddock, a drunken ship's captain voiced by Andy Serkis, who is the descendant of the pirate who lost the treasure. Tintin wants the story and Haddock wants the gold. They're opposed by the evil Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who's also after the treasure.
All of the ingredients seem to be in place for a rollicking good time, so why then did I find myself actually bored during it? I blame a couple of things.
First, the quest isn't all that important. "We've got to get there first," Tintin declares at one point in a very serious voice. My question was, "Or what?" No one would die. Captain Haddock, who isn't the type of guy you'd want to entrust a large amount of money to anyway, just wouldn't get his money and Tintin wouldn't' get a story.
The other thing that undercut the tension is the animation. There are a few amazing sequences, but because they're animated they're not all that impressive and I was never worried about the computer generated characters getting killed or injured. Tintin whips along on a motorcycle in the film's climax and it disintegrates beneath him and he ends up dangling by the handlebars along a clothes line in a sequence that would have been impressive had it been performed by a live actor, but which ends up looking like something out of a video game here.
It is the movie's lighter moments that I enjoyed the most. The dog Snowy is a scene stealer and often times the brains in the group. Drunken Captain Haddock provides the most comic relief and the most genuine laughs. The bumbling detectives Thompson and Thompson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) aren't as funny as they should be however, although the small children in the audience seemed to enjoy them.
Maybe I was just the wrong audience for this movie. I'm perfectly willing to accept that. Maybe the very young or those familiar with the source material will enjoy it more. Personally I was left completely unaffected by it and was left in zero anticipation for the sequel that the ending hints at.
Tintin and Snowy.
Scott hit on the film's problem when he wrote that, "the quest isn't all that important." Not only is it not that important, but outright pointless. Captain Haddock is an alcoholic who spends all of his time wallowing in a drunken stupor. The entire plot of the film is an attempt to find this loser some treasure that his ancestor stole. Why are we supposed to care if this lazy drunk gets his hands on some loot that technically does not even belong to him or his pirate ancestor?
I liked the animation very well. The cars and setting are often very realistic to the point of not being able to tell the difference. Notice the shot of the ship in port at night. It could be an actual cargo ship and dock. One question I have though, is why in the scene near the end when Tintin and Haddock are talking next to the ocean did the animators include a glare, as if the sun was creating a circle reflection off the camera lens? Is it a clever or stupid detail, you decide.
Tintin was created by Georges Remi, whose pen name was Hergé. Although Scott points out that the story seems to take place in England and is voiced by mostly British actors, Tintin, like his creator, is actually Belgian. The Adventures of Tintin is based on three published Tintin stories from the 1940s. This is in fact the sixth Tintin film. The most notable being two live action French Tintin films made in 1961 and 1964.
It is perhaps the vague details that help make this character appealing. He is very much a man/child. He runs around with his dog like a boy playing in his backyard, yet he has his own apartment and job. He also seems to not have any responsibilities. Does he pay rent or have a deadline? The films and comics never state how old Tintin is, but the actor who played Tintin in the two French productions was 18 when he made the first one.
This movie never says where or when it really takes place. If it does take place in the early 1940s there is no reference to World War II. Thus Tintin is whatever the reader wants him to be. He can be a boy or a man, living in a real historical world or a timeless place where such details are not important. By not pinpointing such details, Tintin becomes a character for all time.
The problem with this film is that Tintin is only along for the ride. We root for Indiana Jones to get the Ark of the Covenant for he has noble intentions and is racing Nazis. Tintin is helping a lush find some stolen goods he has as much right to as the other people searching for it. This is Captain Haddock's story. He changes over the course of the film. Tintin has more screen time, but he is practically the supporting character in his own film.
Rackham and a henchman in The Adventures of Tintin.
Like my brothers I knew nothing of Tintin and his adventures before watching this movie, yet I somehow enjoyed it more than either of them. I loved the animation and the setting is wonderfully recreated. It looks like it takes place inside a Hollywood adventure serial from the 1930s. Tintin is a great hero. I think it's a bit silly to quibble over the lack of practical information given about his life though. I mean this is a simple comic character, who cares how he pays his rent?
The story moves quickly and I simply let the adventure wash over me. The mix of action and humor is excellent. Sure the quest Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy embark on isn't exactly earth shattering in its importance but why does it have to be? I rather liked the simplicity of it.
Another detail I noticed was in the look of the villain. I have no idea what the character of Rackham looked like in the original comics but was I the only one that thought he looked a bit like a roguish Steven Spielberg? (see photo) Perhaps intentionally?
I do agree with Scott that animation in general can never elicit the same sense of real danger as live action movies. At least until the advent of CGI anyway. Today that is no longer necessarily true. The action in the most recent Indiana Jones movie, for example, is no more realistic than what's depicted here. By comparison I enjoyed the action sequences more in this movie as animation is more suited for such over-the-top stunts as the motorcycle chase Scott mentioned, than live action movies are.
So while I don't think this is a great movie it is better than my brothers say it is. It's visually interesting and the story draws you quickly in. Tintin is a timeless hero and I understand completely why he's been such a phenomenon in Europe. I will definitely get in line for a sequel.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (2011)