Synopsis: Tintin’s first encounter with Captain Haddock and the discovery of a clue to the treasure and sunken ship commanded by the captain’s ancestor Sir Francis Haddock. But someone else is in also search of the ship and the pair seek protection from a former thief as they set out to find the lost treasure.
When I first heard that Tintin was coming to the big screen, I was pretty pleased: it had been a while and Tintin never really got a decent cinematic treatment. Oh, sure, he’d had a few feature films, but they were all uneven efforts.
Despite the fact that Spielberg helmed one of my top-10 films of all time, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, I’ve found his tendency for pointless eye-candy and/or thrills tiresome. If it serves the story, I’m fine with that, but Spielberg has a predilection for going over-the-top for no other reason than because he can (he hasn’t stumbled in George Lucas territory yet, but he’s in danger of doing so…).
Truth be told, I haven”t enjoyed a Spielberg film since ‘Minority Report’, and even that was filled with excess, contrivances and clichés that you’d think an experienced director would avoid. I pretty much stopped caring after seeing ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘The Terminal’ and ‘War of the Worlds’ – all okay films, but terribly average efforts that leave no enduring satisfaction.
Then I found out that Peter Jackson was also involved and that he would direct the second in a planned trilogy. I’ve been a fan ever since ‘Heavenly Creatures’ and, while he’s not a perfect filmmaker, he’s original and always serves his audience something no one else could. As well, his adaptations of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ were absolutely blissful.
Perhaps he could help steer this ship to the right destination, I dared hope. Except that he wasn’t directing the first installment, was he? Spielberg was! And with his dismal failure at reviving Indiana Jones, I couldn’t help but worry about the outcome. Tintin is a childhood favourite of mine and his many adventures will always hold a dear place in my heart; I don’t want to see them get botched.
For some reason (politics, perhaps?), the film was first released overseas. Soon after its release, reports were that the film was doing exceptionally well, with positive reviews pouring in and box office numbers rocketing. It occurred to me that, if this film was being received well in Europe it had to have something going for it; after all, Tintin was first known there – they wouldn’t buy into a half-baked product!
So I started looking forward to seeing the film, finally, and got together with a few friends who knew the Tintin books relatively well for a road trip to the cinema. It was a lot more fun making an outing out of it and doing so with other fans of Tintin: we could all discuss the books and the film from a similar vantage point – we wouldn’t have to explain everything to a novice. That was a huge win.
While everyone enjoyed the film to varying degrees and for various reasons, including myself, I must say that the film could have been much more than what it ended up being – which is a Spielberg film, not a Tintin adventure. While it doesn’t say “A Steven Spielberg Film” on the poster (as it usually does!), you might as well ignore the fact that the film is called ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ and focus on the director.
Because, this is “A Steven Spielberg” film…
And unfortunately, this is no longer the nuanced director of ‘Jaws’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. I’m not quite sure what happened to that guy, but he’s been usurped by a frenetic Spielberg. It’s a real shame, because Spielberg’s always at his best when he takes the time to humanize his characters and creates “action” out of the emotional aspects of a story – besides the action proper.
In fact there was such gratuitous violence at times that it’s a wonder that I didn’t check my ticket to see if I was actually watching Tintin. One prime example is this scene when Haddock picked up a rocket launcher, which just happened to be lying on the ground for no apparent reason whatsoever, and proceeded to blow up a dam with it… by mistake. Did it serve a purpose? Nope. It was just for laugh and chaos. Dumb dumb dumb.
It even trailed the depths of the torture porn wave with a very short scene referring to a man who can’t sleep because he had his eyelids cut off. Now, maybe it’s just me, but I’d be curious to know how this wholly unnecessary bit of gruesomeness somehow slipped into a family film: it’s frightfully creepy and the kind of thing that could give a susceptible child nightmares. It was played for laughs (haha! ), but I found it out of place in a film such as this.
Speaking of which, I was surprised that Haddock’s alcoholism played such a large part in the film. While violence is apparently totally acceptable in North America (ex: ‘The Dark knight’ got a PG rating!), I didn’t think that alcoholism was good family fun. Here we have Haddock becoming a hero only when he drinks and there’s even a “humourous” sequence wherein Milou (a.k.a. “Snowy”) participates in the drinking.
Now, Haddock’s incessant elbow-bending was integral to the earlier books, sure, but this film is hardly a purist’s dream – so why not cut it out, of all things? I’m not actually complaining, because it’s truer to the original character, but I wonder about the editorial choices the filmmakers made.
After all, they took massive liberties with the original book, ‘Le Secret de La Licorne’, threw in elements of ‘Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge’ (which makes complete sense because it is the sequel to the other book), and, also inexplicably threw in massive chunks of ‘Le Crabe aux pinces d’or’. They also included characters that shouldn’t be there (la Castafiore) and removed others that should be (The Loiseau brothers).
While it might ruffle the feathers of die-hard fans, I found that the way they wove the disjointed elements together rather skillful. In fact, some of my friends didn’t even notice that some of the bits had been rearranged – proving that, if the stories aren’t vivid in one’s mind, the screenwriting in ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ is decent enough to get away with its mish-mash style. And, for those who are unfamiliar with the originals, it kind of works.
You see, past this point the film bears absolutely NO resemblance to Tintin whatsoever and becomes a dumb-@$$ action flick of the genre that the worst of the ’90s James Bond movies were. Except that, whereas the 007 films injected action pieces here and there, the last third of this Tintin adventure is one big action sequence of the kind that makes ‘Die Another Day’ look like a cinematic masterpiece.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Speaking of predictable, there’s this grossly clichéd sequence wherein Tintin feels deflated by the turn of events and Haddock gives him an “inspiring” speech – telling him that he needs to get beyond the walls when he hits them.
Firstly, Tintin is an extremely driven, duty-bound and intelligent character who thinks quick on his feet and outside the box. If anything, the roles should have been reversed! He shouldn’t be taking lessons from Haddock – he’s a bloody Boy Scout-like do-gooder, for goodness’ sake! That’s like Superman getting a cheering up from Batman.
Secondly, it was pure drivel that I’d heard countless times before. Except that this platitude was meant to inspire the young ‘uns in the audience, even though it would have been better to show Tintin unfazed by setbacks, getting up and carrying on – and being the anchor for his group of misfits. Tintin as the ultimate role model, if you will. Oh sure, perhaps it’s not representative of the average person, but we create our fictional heros as, not just something to relate to, but to aspire to as well.
All griping aside, the technical side of ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ was near-perfect:
The animation was quite impressive: it was rich in detail and was total eye-candy. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work that must have gone into rendering this CGI world so completely. The sheer scope of the scenes would already have been amazing in live-action (ex: the Harry Potter series), but to think that this was all created in a computer by animators is mind-boggling. In a good way.
I was awed by the characters designs and the touches that were put into them, including freckles, blemishes and other imperfections (ex: Haddock’s teeth). The characters weren’t real-looking, because the animators chose a style that was somewhere between real-life and Hergé’s comic strip creations, but it was a perfect look. Tintin was the least accurate of the bunch, but he was also done in a way that works.
As for the villain in our story? It’s Steven Spielberg. No, really, I’m not being facetious: the villain looks quite a lot like Steven Spielberg did 15 years ago. His hair is the same cut he once had, the beard is very similar, even the features are close enough to confuse a witness during a police line up. I’m not sure if it was intended to be this way, or if this was an inadvertent slip, but how fitting that is…
They even had difficult things like water and hair looking pretty real here. It wasn’t perfect, but they did a decent job of it – which is rare. And, with the aid of motion-capture technology, human beings moved like people and were subject to the laws of gravity – an issue in most CGI films. I was concerned about this, after having seen an unconvincing preview of the film. Well… there was no cause for alarm.
The only real trouble was when some of the motion wasn’t motion-captured, such as when characters rebounded off things or were propelled in the air – then they had the usual rubbery, anti-gravitational quality with is so crummy-looking. As well, Milou (Snowy) was clearly not rendered from motion-capturing a real dog; he was cartoony and moved like an animated dog – not a real one. Oh well.
There was even a nice cameo from ‘Hergé’ at the beginning of the film. He was doodling a picture of Tintin and, when he showed it to him (and us!), it was an exact replica of what Tintin looks like in the books. Tintin commented on its likeness, which was a gas, and then a display of his other works for sale was revealed: featuring, of course, characters from all the books! It was a nice nod and it set the tone just right.
Honestly, I truly wanted to love ‘The Adventures of Tintin’. I liked the first 2/3 of the film, while it still carried echoes of Tintin’s original adventures, and was about to give it an 8.0-8.25 – likely placing it in my Top 13 list for the year! Then it turned into a hopped up Indiana Jones meets Transformers movie and bore NO resemblance to Tintin whatsoever, aside from its characters. With such a farcical last third, I have to knock it down a few notches.