Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin

I know we Americans apparently aren't supposed to be huge fans of Tintin, but I grew up on the intrepid quiff-haired reporter and his globetrotting adventures.

I used to devour the Tintin books from the local library until they started to fall apart. "The Broken Ear," "Tintin in America," "Destination Moon" and many more - the great Herge's art is pristine, detailed and expressive, while the cast of characters surrounding Tintin are some of the great eccentrics of comics.

But I went to "The Adventures of Tintin," the big-budget Hollywood epic, with a bit of concern. I appreciate Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson devoting so much care to bringing Tintin to the screen, and their fancy new CGI motion capture technology achieves a pretty remarkable look -- something that pays homage to Herge's crisp cartooning that isn't quite a cartoon. Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis voice Tintin and the rummy loudmouth Captain Haddock in an adventure that ties together several of Herge's stories into one narrative. Serkis, the king of motion capture, steals the show as the blustering Haddock, while Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are the amusing twin detectives Thomson and Thompson.

There's an awful lot I liked about "The Adventures of Tintin", and my nearly 8-year-old movie companion loved it. They are highly reverent to the basic characters -- Tintin still has his plus-fours and oddly ageless look and isn't carting around an iPhone or anything. The delightful "boy's own adventure" tone of Herge's work is intact, with Tintin merrily circling the globe on a detective quest that involves hidden treasures and ancient rivalries. Frequently, the animation is stunning -- particularly a show-stopping battle between pirate ships that's one of the best I've ever seen in the movies, and could probably have only been done in animation.

But there's things about "Tintin" that leave me vaguely unsatisfied.

The look, while technically an utter marvel, sometimes threw me out of the picture. Not so much Tintin and Haddock, who are just perfect quasi-realistic creations, but more the background characters or the too-rubbery Thompson and Thomson. The "dead-eye" look many CGI characters have is mostly gone here, but the background characters have this weird deformed off-putting look, which kept distracting me. Yeah, they're in Herge's style, but still.

I'm not one of those pedants who gets too worked up over movies differing from the source materials that much, but in "Tintin," the parts I liked the least tend to be the bits Spielberg, Jackson and the rest have bolted on to Herge's elegant stories. There's a little too much Spielberg in Tintin, too much over-the-top, utterly implausible action that just kind of glazes your eyes over. Almost every bit Spielberg has added on - I'm thinking the ludicrous "crane fight" for example - adds nothing to the story.

I always liked Herge's fine detail and the way his action scenes seemed real - punches really hurt, characters really bruise. Sure, there's big goofy action sequences in the comics, but here Tintin too often becomes yet another movie Superman. There's some business with a larcenous falcon or some huge motorized cranes that just goes on forever and doesn't really seem "Tintin" to me. What I liked the best are the bits of Tintin that really do stick close to the book - the meticulous treasure hunt, the wonderful Haddock/Tintin bond, the intrepid, brave Snowy. "Tintin" is a good movie, but it falls a bit short of great - perhaps the likely sequel (the movie hasn't done huge in America but is a big money-maker in Europe) will be a bit more Herge and a bit less Hollywood.

1 comment:

  1. Never really got that into Tintin. It was all about asterix and obelix as far as I was concerned. Know what you mean by the 'dead eye' look of so many of these motion capture flicks, glad to hear they're getting that taken care of.