A Study in Spielberg: The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

27 Apr


Something odd happened just the other night.  I revisited both Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Adventures of Tintin on the same evening.  For the latest Indiana Jones adventure, this is not good news because Tintin gives me everything that I wanted and missed in Crystal Skull.  This film was fun, it was a roller coaster ride, it had a great mystery, it had fun characters and it had a nicely organized story.  Whatever was churning inside Spielberg that compelled him to make Raiders of the Lost Ark is surely present here.  I didn’t find them in the other with Indy’s search for the skull.

For Raiders, Spielberg teamed up with George Lucas, but for Tintin, Spielberg to assistance from Peter Jackson and his company who bring this classic old character to life.  The Adventures of Tintin is based on the classic European comic by the Belgian artist Georges Remi who wrote under the pen name Hergé in a clean-line style that will be familiar to anyone who remembers Popeye or Betty Boop.  Tintin, I’m afraid, is a property that I am unfamiliar with, but I have to say that this animated movie is a wonderful introduction.  He’s really something else, this Tintin.  He’s a spirited lad, a kid newspaper reporter whose always on the beat, always after a great story, and always just around the corner from a noseful of trouble.  Along with his trusty dog Snowy, one thing snowballs into another and into another.

Along his travels he runs into a fun group of supporting players, not the least of which is a drunken sea salt named Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) whose whiskey breath is enough to fuel a bi-plane that’s low on gas.  Also there’s a pair of bumbling Interpol inspectors Thompson and Thompson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) identical twins who can easily tell each other apart, but what are we to do?  And there’s the pointy-nosed villain Mr. Sakharine (voiced by Daniel Craig) who has a look that suggests that in a few years he may be visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve.

The story begins when Tintin buys a lovely model boat from a street vendor.  The rather humorless Sakherine (pronounced “Saccharine”) is keen on acquiring this particular boat and seems rather adamant that he have it.  What’s special about this boat?  Time will tell, and so will the adventure that propels from whatever this particular item is hiding.

The plot hardly matters.  Like the earlier Indiana Jones films, they’re a hook on which to hang a gaggle of fun action sequences that take us around the corner and around the world.  Tintin goes to exotic locations, meets up with over-the-top villains and kooky bystanders.  he gets to ride in helicopters, cars, airplanes, steamships, boats, trains, a motorcycle (which breaks apart during a chase to the point that he’s zip-lining down a clothesline using the front wheel).

Spielberg and company have taken the characters off the page and rendered them into the same 3D renderings that were responsible for Robert Zemekis’ The Polar Express.  The difference here is that the characters are suppose to be an approximation of animation whereas the characters in Zemekis’ film were suppose to be approximations of human beings.  This approach, I think works much better because the character are much further back from the Uncanny Valley.  With Polar Express, the human motions felt odd because we were watching something that was trying to mimic human motion.  With Tintin, we’re aware that we are seeing an upgrade in the style of the comic.

This also lends credibility to the actions, which are let loose from the limitations of the real world.  I was impressed by the life and energy that the movie gives to snowy, who act here as an honorary human being and seems to figure things out even before his human counterpart.  One of the great running jokes in the film is that he is set upon a clue but is having trouble conveying it to the clueless humans.

Oddly enough, I had more fun this time around.  I saw the film in a theater on Christmas Day back in 2011 and I remember that my reaction wasn’t all that exuberant.  I’m not sure what I was expecting.  I remember that I liked it but I wasn’t exactly doing cartwheels over it.  This time, for whatever reason, the movie really worked on me.  I found that I had a much better time.  I realized that the movie is a good starter for little boys too young for Indiana Jones.  It’s a much smarter and much funnier film than most animated features that just throw in puffy characters for the sake of selling toys at McDonald’s.  The great thing about Tintin is that it gives their imaginations a whole world to play in, and a fun, red-blooded adventure that gets started and doesn’t stop for anything.


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