I am a shameless Steven Spielberg fan. Which in and of itself is now looked down on in many critical circles. Spielberg is credited as being nothing but a money grubbing sell out, a sentimentalist who always goes too far and someone who is always playing to the mass audience with no defining voice. In basic terms, in the eyes of the high brow critics his movies are soulless, which is just a load of rubbish.
Spielberg remains to this day the master of blockbuster cinema, he knows better than any other filmmaker in the world how to make movies which appeal on a wide scale. He is a filmmaker who knows exactly how to emotionally touch an audience. In seconds he can make you cry, make you excited, make you scared and even make you disgusted. Spielberg hits all those beats incredibly well.
That’s why Spielberg adapting Tintin for the big screen is the perfect match between character and artist. Tintin is your archetypal hero, an intelligent, resourceful and resilient person, an adventurer who is always looking for truth while maintaining integrity. These are qualities which the Belgian reporter also shares with Indiana Jones, and of course Indy was slightly inspired by Tintin. And this is Spielberg’s territory, a grand scale adventure story which is for all the family. What The Adventures of Tintin boils down too is essentially an Indiana Jones movie, a rollicking tour around the globe, hunting for mysterious treasures with various complex outcomes and action set pieces.
The film attempts to meld three different Tintin stories, most notably The Secret of the Unicorn (which is the film’s subtitle) as well as The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure. The adventure begins when Tintin sets off with Captain Haddock to seek Haddock’s ancestor’s sunken ship: the Unicorn, which leads back to a feud between an enemy and some sunken treasure. However, they are fighting against a mysterious man by the name of Sakharine who is also hunting the treasure of Unicorn.
The synopsis should make it seem like Spielberg is in perfect territory. It sounds very Indiana Jones-esque, and the film is very much in that vein. However, it is with a heavy heart that this is closer to Kingdom of the Crystal Skull than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Beyond its gorgeous visuals and superb turns from Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig and Snowy, the film has very little to offer and it is a great shame.
People will come away talking mainly about the motion capture, and it is stunning. The design and creation of this film knocks anything Robert Zemeckis has attempted completely out of the park and into the trash bin. The Zemeckis films: Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol failed to create that photo realistic version of humanity, because trying to motion capture and animate real people in that photo realistic way just makes humans look plastic and dead behind the eyes. Here there is a valid reason for this use. It could be done in no other way.
The animation is attempting photo realism but still has that cartoonish quality. They have the Hergé tropes, the funny noses and weird hairstyles. Captain Haddock still looks like Captain Haddock from the comics but its Haddock as if he were a real life being. That technique however is incredibly effective, and never distracting. Also there is no attempt to make any of the characters look like their acting counterparts, which is another distracting element of Zemeckis motion capture.
Spielberg and WETA have crafted some terrific images, with several iconic shots which will remain with you for a long time. Most notably the Unicorn coming back to life, crashing through sand dunes as they turn into ocean is just breathtaking and of course you get the brilliant Spielberg spectacular set pieces, the chase through Morocco easily being the most impressive.
There is a really nice comedic turn from Andy Serkis as well, who again proves he is the complete master of this style of acting. His Haddock is a work of genius and the light hearted centre to the film not provided by the lead character, more of which in a minute. Also, it is nice to see Daniel Craig in a villainous role, and he pulls it off magnificently. He in effect makes the film, his usually silky yet gruff voice coming across as far more oily and malevolent.
It is the creation and bringing to life of Tintin’s canine sidekick Snowy where the film truly finds greatness. He is just a wonderful character and ironically the most expressive in the entire film. This is a film shamelessly aimed at kids, and I imagine Snowy will be the entry point for most younger viewers and myself. If you loved Gromit from Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit, then you should love Snowy.
On the downside, the main problem with the film is its script which is written by Joe Cornish, Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who fame) and Edgar Wright. A trio of very talented writers, even though Cornish’s debut: Attack the Block, was massively overrated.
The script is, quite frankly, all over the place, chock full of ellipsis which can sometimes be very helpful to a film but here it is just lazy and sloppy. And although they try cover up exposition, they don’t do a very good job. There are some very clunking lines, which to a younger audience won’t be a problem but for me and many others it will. Of course most of this is spoken by Tintin.
Despite being the intended centre and hero of the entire film, the character of Tintin gets oddly sidelined by characters who are far more interesting because he is essentially very bland. This is entirely in keeping with Hergé’s creation of the character but in translation to the screen he needs to be made far more interesting. And he isn’t. He’s a really boring character. Also Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are wasted as the bumbling police officers Thompson and Thomson and could have easily been cut from the movie. Their role in the plot is minimal at the very best, and their job is to bring comedy to the proceedings and yet they aren’t funny.
It breaks my heart to be cruel about a Spielberg movie because I am such a fan and I think he deserves better than he gets from the press. He has created some of the finest American films of all time and it’s such a shame that this isn’t one of them. It isn’t that The Adventures of Tintin is bad, but outside of the visuals, this film breaks no new ground for Spielberg. There are some very good parts in the film, but as a whole this is disappointingly unremarkable.