I was having a look at my shelf full of European comics (as opposed to my shelf full of American comics), and my suspicions were confirmed: I only have one Tintin album in my collection. And my memories of reading it are very sketchy. I probably enjoyed the art; I’ve always admired Hergé’s style. The story I can’t remember. Something about the young journalist never appealed to my reading tastes.
So the prospects of a film adaptation never fascinated me. But I allowed myself to be dragged into the movie. Perhaps it was this lack of interest that resulted in such a fantastic experience for me.
Throughout the movie I kept waiting to hear the Indiana Jones theme. That’s how fast-paced and exciting the movie was. The Adventures of Tintin doesn’t waste time setting up the first arc. As soon as the animated credits sequence starts we’re promised adventure, mystery, dashing escapes, humour and action. And action is what we get in the form of naval battles, swordfights, feverish car chases, and much more. The movie plunges the viewer right into the story, with Tintin buying a mysterious model ship at a flea market only to be warned by a terrified man that his life is now in danger. With his curiosity roused, the intrepid journalist’s investigation takes him aboard a ship where he meets Captain Haddock and Sakharine, a criminal in search of a sunken treasure.
The movie is first and foremost an introduction to Captain Haddock, as well as his rehabilitation. When Tintin meets him, command of his ship has been taken away from him by a mutinous crew and the poor Captain is consoling himself with copious amounts of alcohol. We learn that Haddock descends from a long line of worthless ne’er-do-wells, with the exception of an ancestor who once loyally served the King of England and allowed a fabulous treasure sink rather than let a pirate get his hands on it. For someone who’s mostly familiar with the world of Tintin through the 1990s animated series, uncovering Captain Haddock’s mysterious background acted as a gripping way to reintroduce me to Tintin. I don’t know what fans will think about this adaptation, but I believe the movie succeeds as a gateway to casual viewers.
The motion capture animation originated many fears and has generated a lot of criticism, but I wish to assure viewers what director Steven Spielberg does with the animation surpasses Robert Zemeckis’ disappointing forays into this technology. The movie is closer to Avatar than The Polar Express. The animated characters are expressive, fluid, slightly exaggerated, and always captivating. Spielberg is a filmmaker who knows how to use technology and has always been in the vanguard of new techniques, so I have no ideas how anyone could fear the animation will be anything less than stellar. The characters not only seem to be imbued with independent life, but the world Spielberg creates is full of little details and visual jokes that will keep viewers coming back for multiple sessions and, when it comes out in DVD, using the Pause button a lot. The first of such details is the affectionate cameo of Hergé in the first minutes of the movie, complete with a nod to his original artwork.
I wrote I kept expecting to hear the Indiana Jones theme, but that’s not just because of the similarities. Sadly this movie isn’t perfect. John Williams fails to find a worthy main theme for Tintin. I don’t believe anyone will come out of the theatre humming the theme he composed for the movie, let alone remember it after a couple of days. Being an avid film score collector, I made the mistake of listening to the music before watching the movie, and I found it bland. It works remarkably well in the movie, I later discovered, but it’s not an iconic theme that sticks in one’s memory. And that’s a shame because Tintin is a hero who deserves a theme instantly recognizable as his theme, as easily as Superman is recognised by the theme Williams composed for him in 1978. I fear Williams’ efforts will not dethrone the theme Ray Parker and Tom Szczesniak composed for the animated series, in the minds of fans.
Is things movie going to be a success or a failure? I can’t say. Motion Capture movies tend to fail at the box office, as Zemeckis can attest. And Tintin, in spite of being a mega-star across the world, is irrationally obscure in the USA, which is not yet a negligible market in this globalised world. But I urge viewers to give it a chance; if nothing else, for 107 minutes you’ll be in the presence of Steven Spielberg’s old magic, which nowadays is rare indeed. That was once a great selling point. I hope it can be again.
And if there are any sequels planned, may they come as quickly as possible.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay Hergé (comics), Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish
Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg
Country: USA, New Zealand