Outside the box – The Adventures of Tintin review

The Adventures of Tintin – Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rated PG. By Simon Miraudo.

Great snakes, I hope they left some exposition for the second Tintin film! A feature adaption of Hergé’s beloved Belgian comic book hero has been a long time coming, but he could hardly have asked for better talent behind the camera than director Steven Spielberg, producer Peter Jackson, and screenwriters Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). With wizards like these behind the scenes, state-of-the-art performance capture technology at their fingertips, and talented actors like Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig and Andy Serkis (Brando in a latex suit) breathing life into the characters, The Adventures of Tintin should have been a magical, wondrous trip down the rabbit hole. And yet. And yet…

It’s a bit talky! Although my familiarity with the character of boy-journalist/detective Tintin is minimal – during French classes, I gravitated towards the Asterix et Obelix comics instead – I assumed he must do a lot of out-loud explaining to his dog Snowy when trying to break a story or crack a case. But this much explaining? Although the picture is an undeniable visual marvel – with the best action sequences of recent memory – it’s bogged down by an overly complicated plot and an ultimately uninteresting “secret” at its core that is slavishly unravelled at a snail’s pace. You wouldn’t think Spielberg, Jackson or their visually minded writers would need reminding that “showing” is always better than “telling”. When they remember that maxim, the film is exhilarating. When they get lazy and hope the eye-popping effects alone will make Tintin’s frequent perception of the bleeding obvious bearable, the thrill-ride shudders to a halt.

The Adventures of Tintin is not without its delights however, and it opens with a big one: a rousing mini adventure that plays during the opening credits (at no extra cost!), deliriously scored by a playful John Williams. Hergé’s ‘s universe then expand to Spielberg-scope, where we meet a slightly-less-cartoonish Tintin (Bell) who has just happened upon a replica ship of the long lost Unicorn at an outdoor market. Mere moments after purchasing the model for a pound, he’s harassed by several parties eager to take it off his hands (this plot point feels as lazy as it surely reads). The stubborn Tintin holds onto the toy ship, eager to discover why it’s so highly coveted. At every turn, he’s threatened by evil academic Ivan Sakharine (Craig), interrupted by bumbling Interpol officers Thomson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), and eventually saddled with drunken Captain Haddock (Serkis), who might hold the key to finding the real Unicorn and the priceless treasures it holds.

Rather than this being strict motion-capture, The Adventures of Tintin employs “performance capture”; that means it’s less concerned with being photo-realistic, and rather uses performances as a template for animation. With the pressures of falling into the uncanny-valley alleviated, the effects team have crafted a lovely looking – and thankfully not-at-all-creepy – cartoon. The drawings truly come alive during the fantastical action scenes; a couple of swashbuckling sequences outdo all four Pirates of the Caribbean movies and a ‘long-take’ chase through the streets of Morocco combines the best elements of Indiana Jones and Police Story into a truly transcendent, Spielbergian cinematic moment. The inner-child-reviving fun of these set pieces elevate the lacklustre scenes that pad them.

The picture is based on three separate Tintin tales – The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure – but the plot still feels pretty empty. Sure, there’s exposition to spare, but our characters – excluding the vibrant Haddock – feel unexplored and the central mystery only half-mysterious (and left a quarter solved). Bell and Craig are good performers in search of interesting characters, which is shame because it means neither our protagonist or antagonist are particularly compelling. Thus, Serkis’ Haddock is left to do much of the heavy-lifting; it’s lucky that he’s so much fun.

It seems like the problem here mostly lay with the screenplay. We’ve already noted the banal way in which our story opens, lest we forget the 10-minute-long patch in which the heft of our story is revealed via a hallucinating Haddock merely being pressed to recall stories passed down by his grandfather. Is this really the best an investigative reporter like Tintin can do? And don’t even get us started on the climactic – or rather, anti-climactic – confrontation between the heroes and villains. Here’s hoping the inevitable sequel sees the boy wonder on a quest that does justice to his reputation.

3.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Adventures of Tintin arrives in Australian cinemas December 26, 2011.

One Response to “Outside the box – The Adventures of Tintin review”

  1. Are there two Daniel Craigs? If there are, both of them have eighteen movies coming out all at once.

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