Movie Review: “The Adventures of Tintin”

Written by Alicia Kaiser January 02, 2012

From the perspective of a North American.

Having not been that familiar with Hergé’s Belgian comic Tintin, I was surprised at my adamant interest in seeing Spielberg’s adaptation of the European field reporter and his sidekick terrier, Snowy. I admittedly knew nothing of this little blonde guy, save his famous face and his four-legged friend. The film, unfortunately, does not do much to explain them either.

Geared specifically towards a familiar, nostalgic audience, The Adventures of Tintin dives right in to the adventure leaving those unfamiliar with the characters scrambling. That being said, the motion-capture animated film (think Polar Express) is so unbelievably eye-catchingly stunning and fun that you won’t really care about being confused – you’ll just let the waves of unknown lap over you and enjoy the beautiful ride.

Based on Hergé’s 1943 titles The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, the film follows Tintin (Jamie Bell), the wiley young reporter always keen for a great story, and chronicles our hero in the formula of a comic book. The film begins with no real introductions – we are just expected to know who the dynamic duo is – and plunges right into a “story” with a thrilling ferocity. We meet characters along the way that are only vaguely introduced (as I realized from Google afterwards that we are expected to already be familiar with some of them) and the film ends abruptly after the unveiling of the mystery.

What Spielberg offers is simple, acceptable and true to the original properties of the comics. You can sense the love and effort that went into the film’s creation from the perspective of a bloke who grew up with Tintin. What Spielberg does not do successfully is open the film up to new audiences. Though he releases it internationally, as Spielberg is wont to do, he relies so heavily on fond memories that we North Americans are a little alienated. I refuse to let this get the best of me, however, because there was too much brilliance, beauty and fun offered to condemn this movie.

The plot is crammed with enthusiasm. As Tintin stumbles upon a secret treasure map concealed within the mast of a model ship, called the Unicorn, which he purchases from an outdoor market, the film trails his search to find, not only the promised treasure, but the tale behind it – the mystery. Borne with an analytical sense of wonder, Tintin cares most about the story. Along the way, Tintin teams up with a drunken snarly ship captain (with a secret heart of gold), Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), as well as come into perilous conflict with the suave and dangerous antagonist Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) who wants both the secret map from the Unicorn, as well as Captain Haddock himself to settle some old scores.

Tintin is nothing if not adventuresome. There is a plane crash, a desert journey, a crane fight (?!) etcetera – it’s just wacky with action – almost too much at some moments. As if the action is just catapulted out – assaulting the audience into exhaustion – so that eventually we’ve forgotten that we don’t really know what’s going on with these completely static characters. I’ll admit that it absolutely worked for me until I spent a few days mulling the movie over. I was awestruck, overwhelmed and inspired by the cinematic wizardry.

To the films credit (and possible injury), it was produced through the eyes, brains and hands of some of the greatest movie magicians of our time. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson. It’s written by a pretty dynamic and bountiful trio: you’ve got Stephen Moffat (Doctor Who) for the adventure and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) for the witty dialogue and quotable quips. But having fully realized this intense production team, the actual movie they have created seems disappointing by comparison to its potential. Maybe it was a case where I was building it up too much for myself beforehand? I’m not sure. That being said, there is some wonderful stuff going on here.

I can appreciate Spielberg’s tactic to appeal to a nostalgic audience. Heck, I can even appreciate how he used a fast-paced comic book formula to tell the story. It just makes sense for the story at hand. I’m sure this movie will overwhelm familiar audiences as they reminisce with their childhood idol on the big screen. In fact, while in the theatre I was aware that jokes were going right over my head as a pair of middle-aged gentlemen sat behind me in the theatre giggling like little boys at quips that I didn’t catch the significance of. These guys were LOVING it while I was left in the dark. I – and most North Americans for that matter – did not grow up with Tintin. I’m not familiar with the little dude and the less he is explained the farther I find myself from being able to sympathize with his static persona – and he is, as far as we are told, as static as they come.

Thanks to excellent penmanship and screenwriting, there is some enchanting comic relief presented in the film. Specifically, the howling laughs I unleashed were courtesy of Haddock’s inebriated gallivanting – for some reason a drunk caterwauling cartoon is just too delightful. With his sloppy slurring combined with his seafaring insults and curses – “blistering barnacles!” or “thundering typhoons!” –  he is a simple pleasure.  As well, the pudgy, Chaplin-esque detective twins Thomson and Thompson are perfectly voice-cast. Voiced by bro-pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost these two bumbling authorities absolutely steal their screen-time.

Overall, Tintin looks amazing from beginning to end. I give it one million fist punches and more for visual appeal. The transitions and interludes between scenes are beautifully crafted; I guarantee you will just be mesmerized as Spielberg carries you from scene to scene. The minutest details come to light through the motion-capture and become breathtaking when they find their place in an animated film. For example, the grime on the windows, the rough hairs whispering in Haddock’s oversized nostrils, or even the dust motes gliding in the light cascading through a sunlit window. This is all such natural stuff but when put in an unnatural atmosphere (animation), they become absolutely incredible.

Tintin also probably competes rather aggressively for this year’s most impressive use of 3D – competing with Scorsese’s Hugo. But where Scorsese’s film told a beautiful story accompanied by a great visual performance, Adventures of Tintin has only the visual – the plot is unfortunately nothing earth-shattering. After embracing its alienating qualities, Tintin is still a stunning film and I will, until my last breath, irrevocably insist that it be seen.

 My Rating: 7.5/10


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About Alicia Kaiser

Alicia Kaiser

Alicia Kaiser: University student; Movie enthusiast; Nerd. She enjoys reading, writing, partaking in shenanigans and making sweet crafts. Currently, she is simultaneously employed by and a student at the University of Victoria. While she moseys towards her degree with Major in English Literature and a Minor in Professional Writing, she can be found in UVic Marketing doing cool, grown-up stuff. For Alicia, watching movies is comparable to (if not more important than), eating, sleeping and physical activity. Her reviews are full of passion, pizzazz, analysis, and introspection. Enjoy.

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