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Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

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I don’t know whether it’s better or worse that you are a fan of the original Tintin comics before seeing Steven Spielberg’s adaptation. On the one hand you will have better knowledge of the ins and outs of the characters, the slapstick, the generally jovial and adventurous tone etc. On the other hand you will probably, as with any adaptation, be constantly aware that it’s not exactly the comic Tintin you know and love.

Tintin movie reviewThe story follows Tintin (Jamie Bell), an investigative reporter and adventurer who one day happens across a mysterious model ship. He soon learns it is sought after by the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig) as it is the key to uncovering the “Secret of the Unicorn.”

When The Adventures of Tintin works it really works, providing some truly fun and exciting action set pieces that fits comfortably in with the best of this past summer’s best blockbusters. Bringing the action and overall story to life is the wonderfully done, visually arresting motion capture animation brought to worldwide prominence with Gollum in Lord of the Rings and later giving us the likes of King Kong (directed by Tintin‘s producer, Peter Jackson) and Avatar. The technology has been criticised in the past, often to do with the “dead eye effect” (notably in the likes of The Polar Express and Beowulf), but Spielberg puts the technology to the best use possible here, providing a rich and vivid world, the motion-capture allowing them to do things that might not have had the same effect (or might not even have been possible) in regular 2D.

The film’s main problems lie in the way in which the overall mystery-adventure plot is told. Perfectly serviceable for film though the mystery may be, the execution of it at times feels languid and stodgy, like it’s stumbling along from one eye-catching setpiece to the next. Also, the way in which some of the on-going mysteries are solved seem rather convenient in order to move things along. For instance, Tintin will be struggling to think of what do next and with a “lightbulb above the head” sort of moment will figure it out and off we go to the next mystery. Maybe that sort of thing is in the original comics (I’m not overly familiar with them) but it didn’t entirely work in this particular adaptation. It’s just lucky all of those big set pieces are as entertaining as they are or the movie would be in real trouble.

Author Hergé’s wonderfully bold and diverse array of characters are a mixed bag when it comes to how they’ve been translated to the big-screen this time around. The eponymous Tintin works fantastically, with Jamie Bell (remember it is still him performing despite it being an animation) delivering the sense of simultaneous wonder, relatability, confidence and scrappy determanism the role needs. Motion-capture master Andy Serkis puts in a fabulous performance as Captain Haddock, spouting funny one-liners at a rapid pace and providing just about all the best moments of comedy. And Tintin’s faithful dog Snowy, although I felt could have been brought to life a bit better, is undoubtedly cute and funny, and will definitely be the favourite character of the kids in the audience.

Where the character translation is less successful with Thomson and Thomson, (played by comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who pulled me out of the film just shot every time they appeared, and with the villain Sakharine, who may have been effective in the comics but here is the most generic thing in a sea of creativity, even if it is fun to see Daniel Craig play the bad guy for a change.

While The Adventures of Tintin may not have fulfilled all its masses of potential (what with the comic being so well loved and the creative talent involved), it nevertheless is an enjoyable watch with some spectacular setpiece, lavish visuals and some fine motion-capture performances. But ultimately I find myself admiring the filmmaking more than loving it as an overall experience.

 

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About Ross Miller

  • Marissa

    “Tintin will be struggling to think of what do next and with a ‘lightbulb above the head’ sort of moment will figure it out and off we go to the next mystery.”

    Yup, that’s Tintin all right. :P I understand the complaint from a film critic who’s unfamiliar with the comics, but as fans of the original Herge stories, I’m sure we’ll be more than fine with it, in fact love the faithfulness to the comics. ;)

    It’s like any other family-friendly adventure story. I’m sure the action scenes aren’t exactly realistic, but we’re not expecting realism. If you read the comics, you’ll know what I mean. But even if you don’t, nevertheless, it’s for the kids primarily. (Not to say adults won’t enjoy it; I’ll see it by myself if I have to.) They’re not going to point at the screen and say, “That’s too convenient!”

    But thank you for the review. I can’t really argue credibly as I haven’t seen the picture – for all I know I could agree with you afterwards. But that gives me some good insight on what to look out for.

  • Zingzing

    Is this even out yet? How exactly did you see this?

  • Jordan Richardson

    Probably at a press screening.

  • Zingzing

    They do those two months in advance? Seems rather early…

    And there doesn’t seem to be much info about the plot or any real specifics in the review. It just seems a bit odd…

  • http://cinemasentries.com El Bicho

    Some press screening do happen more than two months in advance, but Tintin comes out in two days in a number of European countries. No surprise considering how popular the character is over there

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Ross is based in Scotland according to the bio on his website. As El B noted, Tintin is enormously popular in Europe and the UK is no exception.

  • Zingzing

    Well, at least that makes sense. I do love me some tintin, so I’m now jealous of Europe. I bought a box set of the animated series over in china for about $10, and even if there’s some dubious racism, it’s still amazingly influential stuff.

    Mystery solved.

  • Zingzing

    And isn’t the dog’s name more accurately translated as “whitey”? So I’ve heard anyway…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Don’t think so, zing. “Milou” – his original name in French – doesn’t really seem to mean anything. But if you’re right, you can imagine why they might have wanted to change it…

    Grew up reading Tintin books (although to a greater extent Asterix). Herge’s artwork, plots, characters and storytelling were second to almost none, as was his research.

    Although I’m still amused by Professor Calculus’s blueprints for the moon rocket in Destination Moon, in which he apparently omitted to install a toilet.

  • zingzing

    maybe it was translated as such before the term became so loaded. i dunno.

    i used to read the books in a store where my girlfriend of the time worked. dunno if i ever read “destination moon.” the animated show was pretty faithful as far as i recall. and the voicing was pretty spot-on. the captain and professor calculus often come out of my mouth when i have moments of frustration or confusion.

    the box set i have is quite fantastic. totally bootleg. the liner notes are for “teenage mutant ninja turtles,” one of the discs (which works perfectly well) has charlton heston on the face [he also shows up on my chinese copy of kie?lowski’s “decalogue,”but that’s understandable… if rather randomly so]), the french language selection is english, while the english is italian… $10. you get what you pay for.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    I owned a few of the books as a kid, including Destination Moon and its sequel Explorers on the Moon, but I read most of them when I worked in a children’s library (and was supposed to be shelving them, but that’s by the by).

    Like I said, Asterix was the big hit in our household. My dad, a major francophile, would buy the hardbacks in the original French as they came out. He bought them in London, so they came with a “cheat sheet” which explained some of the puns and jokes that an English readership might not be familiar with. A lot of the characters, especially the Romans, were drawn as caricatures of French politicians or film and TV personalities of the time.

    Then he would buy the English language paperback for us kids when it came out, usually a few months later. It was an agonising wait, I can tell you.

  • Zingzing

    I’ve never read asterix. Seems like an entire world to get into… Ever heard of “love and rockets” by the Hernandez brothers? Seems like a similar situation… So much background and self-referencing, it’s hard for new readers to know where to start.

    I love comics, but they can be a bitch.

  • http://wp.blogcritics.org/writer/ross-miller/ Ross Miller

    Hey guys, thanks for commenting and getting such good discussion going. Yes, the film opens here (UK) a lot sooner than the U.S. There are nationwide preview screenings (yesterday and today) before the movie opens this Friday. I think the reason why it’s not opening in the US until December is because it’s less popular over there than in Europe.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Love and Rockets… heard of it, again from working in a library all those years ago. Never read it, though.

  • Zingzing

    Ross, I’d bet it has more to do with cornering the Xmas market. Doesn’t matter what the title is, if it’s got speilberg’s name attached, there will be interest.