It is rare that a film is released in Europe before North America, unless it is a European production. And while The Adventures of Tintin is technically not European, its roots are, and so its release here in the United Kingdom last week was appropriate. Based on the famous Tintin comic series by Hergé, the books have stood the test of time despite a lot of racism and sexism between the pages (Hergé would at least apologize for the former in his later years.) Prior to his death, Hergé handpicked Steven Spielberg to make a film of the books (Not that there have not been animation and live action works before.), and it seems to be a pretty close to perfect combination. This is Spielberg at his finest, and bringing British screenwriters Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat and Joe Cornish and a mainly British cast, along for the ride enhanced the European origins. This is a rollicking adventure film, aimed at a young audience, but still to be appreciated by adults. It is reminiscent of the best adventure stories of the 1980s, high concept, intelligent and fun.
Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) is a young boy reporter who has a knack for solving mysteries. He and his faithful dog Snowy find themselves embroiled in a mystery of a 17th century ship, sunken at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. Tintin purchases a model of said ship, which contains a clue to the whereabouts of the treasure, but is kidnapped and stowed on a boat bound for Africa. En route he meets Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and the two of them plot to foil the kidnappers and their leader, Sakharine (Daniel Craig.) Along the way Tintin is hindered and helped by bumbling detectives Thomson (Nick Frost) and Thompson (Simon Pegg.)
Any adaptation of any book or comic is never going to be the same as its source material, that’s why it’s called an adaptation. An entirely different team could have made a Tintin film, based on the same story, and come up with a completely different concept. So no, it does not look exactly like the books. Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson chose motion-capture animation, and it works. No, it doesn’t look like real people. It’s animation. But motion capture allows for the life that the actors bring to their parts to be displayed. It breathes life into the film while still maintaining its graphic roots. Realism mixes with fantasy; the movements are not those of a human, giving it that comic quality. And at the same time, it’s believable.
The animation allows for fantastic set-pieces that one simply could not achieve in live action. Michael Bay, take a lesson from Spielberg’s action scenes in this film. They look good, they are nail-biting, full of colour and life, and he knows just how much action to give before getting back to the story. As a live-action director, Spielberg understands how a camera moves through a sequence. Given a bit more license in this film, his ‘camera’ can sweep and dive in ways that make you feel you are diving with it. (I should note, I did see this film in 2D due to my hatred of 3D. I did not feel any sense of loss.) This lasts from the opening credits, a wonderful homage to Hergé and the books, to the clash of the Navy and pirates (in a scene that puts anything in Pirates of the Caribbean to shame), to the climactic fight betwen Haddock and Sakharine in the closing moments. There is never a dull moment.
As a comic has both images and dialogue, there is extra pressure on screenwriters and actors to perform in a way that will be both truthful and original. The triple threat of Wright, Cornish and Moffat does not disappoint. They keep the dialogue fresh and true, and manage to include Haddock’s famous seafaring-imagery-swear word substitutions without making them seem trite or out of place. And will someone please nominate Andy Serkis for an Oscar? No actor can lift a motion capture character off the screen the way he can. No doubt, all the actors are perfectly cast, (and you can tell they all had a smashing time voicing their characters,) but Serkis brings life to Haddock that will make you forget the original version.
A few critics on this side of the pond have particularly vile in their hatred of this film, one that includes comparing watching the film to an act of violent assault (an appalling and offensive comparison – it’s a movie, not torture.) I cannot understand their attitude. The Adventures of Tintin has made me completely forgive Spielberg for the disaster that was the last Indiana Jones film. The film is a great tribute to Hergé and his books, and the kind of film that is too often missing from cinemas these days: an adventure for the young that can be loved by their parents, and the young at heart as well.