Great Snakes: Tintin Comes to the Big Screen!
January 1, 2012Posted by andrew |
As a lifelong Tintin fan, I greeted the news that Steven Spielberg was making The Adventures of Tintin, a computer-animated movie version of the boy reporter's escapades, with a mix of delight and dread. Like many Tintin fans, I feel a sort of irrational protectiveness for the stories and characters, and was worried about Hollywood making a mess of things. If you're new to Tintin and wonder what it's all about (he's unfamiliar to many in America), read my earlier blog post about him here.
I've made a point of introducing the Tintin graphic novels to my kids, who are now 8 and 6, and together we've read most of them. They were also excited at the prospect of a Tintin movie, and have been bugging me to take them since they heard about it.
So last week we finally made it to the theater to see The Adventures of Tintin. The Adventures of Tintin is ostensibly based on The Secret of the Unicorn, but it's actually a pastiche of that, another Tintin story The Crab with Golden Claws, and a lot of stuff that's pure Hollywood. Although I had a hard time shaking my feeling of dread, I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. (By the way, there may be spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk if you haven't seen the movie yet.)
So what did The Adventures of Tintin do right? While I'm wary of the motion-capture technology used to make the movie—all too often it results in a trip to the Uncanny Valley—it actually worked here. The characters for the most part seemed more like real people than in other motion-capture offerings like The Polar Express, and the production design and settings were pretty amazing, and invoked the early 1950s setting of many of the original Tintin adventures.
There were also plenty of little details to make die-hard Tintin enthusiasts happy, too: Captain Haddock's Loch Lomond Scotch whisky; the tins of crab from The Crab with the Golden Claws; the cars, ships, and airplanes, which were always rendered with painstaking details in the Tintin books; and the neat little cameo depicting Tintin creator Hergé himself as a caricature artist at the flea market (drawing people in his famous ligne claire style of course). It was neat to be able to see elements from the books spring to life on the screen—in some cases they appeared nearly identical to the scenes depicted in the books.
The story, while based on The Secret of the Unicorn, is substantially different in many ways from the book, especially the relationship between Tintin and Captain Haddock, which is drawn from the earlier story The Crab with the Golden Claws where the two first meet and Captain Haddock's personality and character are very different from later on when he becomes a regular character in the series. Likewise, the villain in the movie—Mr. Sakharine—is only a mild-mannered art collector in the book, replacing the crafty Bird Brothers.
Originally, The Secret of the Unicorn was the first of a two-part story that was completed in the subsequent book, Red Rackham's Treasure, why Spielberg, Peter Jackson, and crew couldn't have made a feature length movie from the two books is puzzling; probably not enough action, by Hollywood standards.
Speaking of action, the story suffered a bit from being nothing but non-stop action scenes and set pieces. While the original Tintin stories were comic books, there were still some quiet moments here and there; not so in The Adventures of Tintin. Some of action scenes were just silly, like the ridiculous dock crane fight at the end.
I know Tintin adventures aren't noted for their adherence to realism, but scenes like the crane fight just seemed to be out of place in the Tintin world. Much of it seemed more Indiana Jones than Tintin, which is not surprising, given that this is a Steven Spielberg product.
While some of the character design was spot-on, I disliked the look of some of the motion-capture characters, especially Captain Haddock and the Thompson and Thomson, none of whom really adhered to what I thought they should look like. Tintin himself was a pleasant surprise, and it was a treat to recognize many of the minor characters from the books, but I never bought the Captain as the Captain.
On a side note, the movie doesn't shy away from Captain Haddock's drinking problem, but it never shows him smoking a pipe, something he's seldom without in the books. Can it be that in the 21st century we can show plenty of violence and boozing but not a pipe?
Overall, The Adventures of Tintin is well worth the time of both Tintin fans and newcomers alike. The movie ended with a really obvious setup for a sequel, so it'll be interesting to see what they come up with for the next installment.
If you're interested in seeing more Tintin on the screen, check out the newly-released DVD set of season one of The Adventures Of Tintin, the French/Canadian animated series from the early 1990s that's surprisingly faithful to the original Hergé works. My son bought his copy with his Christmas money and he and his sister have watched both discs probably seven or eight times in the last week. Highly recommended!