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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011 film)

A while back, I wrote a post on the Tintin comic series, and how much I like them. Now, I am at last writing a post on the 2011 movie The Adventures of Tintin and how much I liked it. Mind you, it's not a perfect adaptation, but it's still pretty darn good. It would have to be, being directed by Steven Spielberg, who directed the Indian Jones movies, among others, and being produced by Peter Jackson, who directed The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies.

The Adventures of Tintin (known as The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn outside of North America) follows, well, the adventures of Tintin (Jamie Bell), a young journalist who is thrust into a web of intrigue when he buys a seemingly innocuous model ship. Drawing from the plots of The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, Tintin must work with the perpetually inebriated Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) to foil the diabolical schemes of the sinister Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig). They journey to exotic locales, cross paths with all manner of persons, and go on incredible adventures. Throughout the film, there are flashback sequences to the adventures of Sir Francis Haddock, and what he did to hide his treasure.

Firstly, I want to make clear that even though this movie isn't strictly speaking faithful to the plot of any particular installment of the comic series, it stays true to the spirit of the Tintin comics. The idea of Mr. Sakharine as a villain is a completely new idea for one thing, an alright expansion as adaptation expansions go. Additionally, Tintin met Haddock in The Crab with the Golden Claws, but didn't work with him to find the secret of the unicorn until several adventures later, in the aptly named The Secret of the Unicorn. Also, this sheik guy, Omar Ben Salaad (Gad Elmaleh) was the Man Behind the Man in The Crab with the Golden Claws, but here he's just some random rich guy who happens to own the place where the second-to-last action set piece takes place. I could go on, but the main thing to remember is that it stays true to the spirit, the mood, the tone of the comics. That's what's important. Plus, there are more than enough shout outs to the comic books stories in both the opening credits and the film itself to satisfy the most enthusiastic fans, such as myself. I also liked that the filmmakers actually took initiative to build a very different, amalgamated story than the one presented in the comics. This a good thing because it allows the movie to be a great Tintin story and a great movie in its own right, and not just another (albeit good) adaptation.

Another notable thing about this film is that it is very stylish. The background and set pieces is all  CGI animated, but I believe that all of the characters (with the exception of Snowy) are done using motion capture. As I understand it, the actors all did their thing in front of a blue screen. It all makes for very fluid animation which at the same time heavily leans on the comics' art style. Facial features are exaggerated to resemble the characters' faces from the comics, for instance. As much as I would have appreciated a pure, live action adaptation of the comics, I feel that director Steven Spielberg and company hit it out of the park with this decision. My reasoning for this assertion is thus: I read somewhere that we watch animation to escape, and we watch live action to related. Tintin tales are largely pulpy adventure stories, the sort that lend themselves to escapism. Therefore, an animated approach would probably be the best way to go. As it is, the animation is spectacular, right from the opening credits (filled with references to the comics) to the very last scene.

What the film really nails is the dynamic between the twin leads, Tintin and Captain Haddock. As carried over from the comics, they're the perfect foils for each other. Tintin is idealistic, polite, determined, brave, and pretty much perfect. Haddock is an alcoholic, foul mouthed, cynical, and easily angered. Their interactions are the source of a sizable chunk of the film's humor, such as a scene lifted directly from The Crab with the Golden Claws where Haddock gets drunk and lights a fire in their lifeboat. Getting back to the issue of characters, all of the characters have understandable and believable motivations and goals, even Mr. Sakharine, who's going with settling-a-perceived-family-feud-and-get-rich-while-doing-it thing. And for the record, I love both Haddock and Mr. Sakharine. Haddock is just so hilariously awesome, just like he was in the comics, and Sakharine is a great, really Bond-like villain. No, scratch that. He's a great Tintin villain, even if he wasn't one in the comics.

The film's quick pace aids in producing a pulpy treasure hunt movie, and the result is a really darn fun family flick. However, there are a few things I take issue with. For one thing, this movie is a lot more cartoonish than the comics, or even the animated series, ever were. Sure, we had scenes with the Thompsons falling down a flight of stairs and getting their hats jammed over their eyes and the like, but we didn't have Tintin sliding over a column sleeping sailors without waking them up, even after they were tossed around like rag dolls into a heap. However, the slapstick comedy is still decently done, as are the various visual gags. In general, the comedy in this film is sufficient, if not exactly outstanding, and not quite on the level of the books.

In addition, the flash back scenes were a bit drawn out and a tad unnecessary. It would have sufficed to have one big flashback sequence instead of several drawn out segments which don't do much to advance the plot. As it is, we've got several strung together sequences interspersed with Haddock hallucinating in the desert. My final complaint is that the music, composed by the great John Williams, is a bit... I don't know, minimalist. It might have worked better with a darker, more noir-ish film (this film had a little bit of noir in it, but it's decidedly not a film noir, such as The Third Man), but I felt like Tintin needs more grandiose, exciting music. Then again, if it's not meant to be overly serious, but not overly silly either, then I suppose I could let it pass. The music did fit with a very lighthearted film, which The Adventures of Tintin was, and it did get nominated for an Academy Award. It's not that I don't like it, it's just not exactly what I expected.

The Adventures of Tintin is a rousing, action packed, humorous, really, really fun adventure story that you can sit down and watch with the family. Who knows? Maybe it will get the kids (or you, gentle reader) interested in the comics. Always good to get kids reading. What's more, the sequel is currently in the works, and if this film is any indication of where this franchise is going, then I just might go see that film in theaters!

RATING: 8/10

Image courtesy of movieinsider.com