The Adventures of Tintin (Review)

Every year brings about new developments in moviemaking technology, and so it’s almost a given that we will be astounded with some kind of visual effects extravaganza. Last year gave us Avatar, which was really Pocahontas with blue aliens. It was brilliant in action and its use of 3-D, but rather lackluster when it came to story.

Lackluster story is not something you would ever accuse The Adventures of Tintin books having. Nor this year’s film adaptation, which is surely this holiday season’s technological breakthrough. A visual feast that is powered by a compelling story and lovable characters, Tintin strings together memorable action set pieces that will be entertaining many generations of young viewers, just as the comics have done for decades. 

A re-reading of Hergé’s comics (done before writing this review) helped to refresh the sense of fun and excitement that were inherent in the books, and also helped to remind me of how much a genius he was in the comics medium. And luckily working on the film adaptation is a set of geniuses in their own right. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson are producing, Spielberg’s taken the helm as director. And providing the script are Steve Moffat, showrunner of Dr. Who and Sherlock, Edgar Wright who directed movies like Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Joe Cornish, who is behind new cult classic Attack the Block.

The Adventures of Tintin combines elements from three different books, picking and choosing (though leaning largely on the plot elements of Tintin and the Crab with the Golden Claws) to provide us with an exciting new story filled with swashbuckling, intense chase scenes, and on-the-edge-of your seat adventure. If there were a problem I had with the film, it would be that it doesn’t change its tempo, it’s always at a high-pitched, frenetic pace. There’s hardly a moment to breathe or think as we are overwhelmed with everything that is happening onscreen.

We begin when Tintin buys a ship replica of The Unicorn, which as our hero and the ever loyal Snowy discover, is a ship with a rich history. Even before they can piece things together, their house gets trashed and a dude is gunned down in front of their house. This is more than enough impetus to get our intrepid boy reporter on the case and working to get to the bottom of things.

And when he isn’t working at getting at the bottom of a barrel, Captain Haddock serves as Tintin’s companion through this adventure. Played by mo-cap go-to-guy Andy Serkis, who we’ve all met in the forms of Gollum, King Kong, and genius chimp Caesar of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain Haddock here is brought to life with vivid movements and great funny moments. It’s Haddock who’s key here, as his family history is intertwined with the treasure they are chasing after, as well as the big bad that he and Tintin have to face.

We’ve got familiar pieces here, Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, and an adventure. From there Spielberg adds in his signature touches, from the inevitable play with shafts of light, to the knowing wink he gives older viewers when Tintin swims with his bit of hair sticking out creating a Jaws-effect, to breathtaking action that one wishes the director had brought to his last Indiana Jones flick. There are so many amazing moments in this film, and I don’t want to spoil any for the viewer, but I feel the need to mention that there’s a chase scene where we have a number of people chasing and being chased, a water mane bursting, a number of vehicles as well as a falcon, and entire sections of a city moving along with the chase. It’s just this massive piece that could not be done in any other medium or art form, and it’s executed with flurry and flourish and I can’t help but stop thinking about and admiring it. Honestly, if only for that scene I would watch the whole movie again (and there are a lot of other reasons for me to head back and see this movie again).

There’s so much that the film offers on a visual level. It’s got those heart-pounding action sequences, great bits of suspense (watch out for a scene with Haddock, an airplane propeller, and Tintin’s hair), and even these small, well-executed transitions to look at and admire. Mo-cap animation can be freaky sometimes (especially in its early days which suffered from problems like dead eye), but here it works well. There will always be a charm to Hergé’s art and panelling that film will never be able to capture, but what Spielberg does is he translates this to the film medium in a masterful way. Spielberg knows films and visual language, and he makes it clear here that that’s a fact we won’t soon forget.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching Raiders of the Lost Ark on crack, because it did bring back that film’s feel, but also ramped things up and made them so much more intense because of the CG-work. I came away from the screening suffering from a bit of sensory overload (watched in IMAX 3-D). I had been overwhelmed by how much the film offered. The Adventures of Tintin is an exciting and memorable romp that packs in a heck of a lot of stuff in its screening time. And I expect to be enjoying this film (and hopefully its sequels) for many years to come.

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