The Adventures of Tintin

Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the iconic Hergé comic is a pure delight

The Adventures of Tintin


Directed by Steven Spielberg. With the voices of Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, Andy Serkis, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Sebastian Roché, Mackenzie Crook, Tony Curran. Written by Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish, from the comic book series by Hergé.

Delightful. Tackling animation for the first time in his career as a director, Steven Spielberg has delivered a terrifically enjoyable adventure with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, perfect family-oriented entertainment (despite some infrequent gunplay) that recalls the best of his Indiana Jones films.

He has a lot to work with here: a script by UK writers Stephen Moffat (Coupling and the most recent Doctor Who incarnation) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim) & Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), adapting the legendary work of Belgian author Hergé, who detailed the exploits of his iconic creation in a series of comic strips and graphic novels over the course of five decades. Specifically, the writers are adapting material from three WWII-era books: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Also behind the scenes is producer Peter Jackson, whose company Weta Digital has handled the motion-capture animation.

Tintin starts out on the right track with a terrific Saul Bass-influenced title sequence (though this fan-made title sequence, incorporating material from Tintin’s adventures through the years, is pretty great, too). It segues into a sly reference that sets the tone for the rest of the film: while the little white-haired Fox Terrier Snowy is trailing a pickpocket at a marketplace, Tintin, back to the camera, is getting a caricature done. Before the CGI Tintin’s face is revealed to the audience, the caricaturist delivers his work – of course, it’s the iconic Hergé image (and on the caricaturist’s wall – other images from the comic). Perfect.

Soon, we’re swept away into comic book intrigue and adventure at breakneck speed as Tintin (played by Jamie Bell, with the actors lending their voices and movements to the animated characters) buys a model ship (“The Unicorn”) for a pound, discovering moments later that it has some real significance – both an American agent and the snarly Sakharine (Daniel Craig) want to get their hands on it.

Tintin, a journalist and adventurer whose previous exploits are established by newspaper clippings on his apartment wall, decides to investigate further. This leads him to bumbling Interpol agents Thompson & Thomson (Simon Pegg & Nick Frost), an elderly pickpocket (Toby Jones), and – most importantly – Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), descendant of the owner of the original Unicorn, and key to its secret.

But the character that owns the film is the one without a performer – Tintin’s lovable, irrepressible Fox Terrier Snowy, who figures in most of the movie and steals a number of scenes – especially the action sequences. A lot of care went into the creation and presentation of Snowy: watch him in the background while the focus is on other characters, and you’ll get some subtle gags and in-jokes.

I’ve always been disappointed by the traditional approach to cinematography and editing in fully computer-generated animated features (in the mainstream realm, at least); while the cinematic possibilities are almost limitless, without being hindered by the boundaries of live-action or hand-drawn animation, most CGI films seem to be trying to do little more than mimic their live-action counterparts. The epitome of this was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which shot some of the most accomplished CGI (of the time) in the most boring way imaginable.

In The Adventures of Tintin, however, Spielberg and longtime collaborators Janusz Kaminski (cinematography) and Michael Kahn (editor) do some marvelous things. This includes some snazzy transitions, but more importantly long, unbroken takes, particularly during the action sequences, that have the camera swooping in and out of buildings and around cities. The climatic chase scene in the fictional town of Bagghar is pure movie magic.

Diehard Hergé fans may take issue with the CGI creations, but while they’re vaguely realistic, they’ve also retained (apart from the lead character, whose look I’m not completely sold on) a charmingly grotesque, exaggerated comic-book style. More issues may be taken with the script, which crams a lot into what feels like a short (100 minutes, minus credits) running time; there is a lot to get through, and not all questions are explicitly answered, but when a film is so blissfully fun it’s hard to complain.

One thing I cannot do is compare how faithfully this version adapts the source material. While familiar with the brand and Hergé’s iconic imagery, growing up in the US I never read the books or saw the (live action and animated) movies or the more recent animated series. But here’s the sign of a culturally significant work: despite not reading or seeing any of the above, I was already familiar with the images and even characterizations of Tintin, Snowy, and some of the supporting characters before I watched the movie.

The series just didn’t enjoy the same level of popularity stateside that it did in Europe; hopefully, Spielberg’s film can help to correct that. Taking advantage of the international popularity, distributors are releasing The Adventures of Tintin in Europe and other territories a full two months before it hits cinemas stateside. Lucky us; this is the first time I’ve seen a major Hollywood product use this release strategy, but positive word of mouth (which the film is bound to gather) should help quell fears and lead to greater exposure in advance of the Christmas US release date.

While Pixar delivered a rare misfire in Cars 2 this summer, unlikely sources have picked up the slack in mainstream animation in 2011: first Gore Verbinski’s eccentric Western parody Rango, and now Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. While Rango wasn’t really for kids, Tintin is a wondrous ride that will provide plenty of fun for the whole family.

Note: The Adventures of Tintin is screening in a Czech-dubbed version in most cinemas, but you can catch it in English (2D version only) at CineStar Anděl and Cinema City Slovanský dům, Nový Smíchov, Flora, and Galaxie. Above review refers to the 2D version of the film.

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