The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
I have to admit, I was really, really expecting to not like this movie. I can count the number of Spielberg-directed efforts I’d be willing to watch again on one hand, Tintin has never really adapted all that well to the big screen (I’ve seen at least half a dozen attempts, none of them completely successful), Spielberg hasn’t delved into the PG world for over two decades (his last PG-rated film was 1991’s Hook) and Peter Jackson never has. And honest to Ritz crackers, of all the people you could have cast as Tintin… Jamie freakin’ Bell? Billy Elliott, for pete’s sake? Why does this kid even have a career after Jumper?
And yet, somehow, I am amazed to tell you, it all works. I’ll put it this way: my fifteen-month-old son barely has the attention span to watch a ten-minute episode of Moomins or Curious George, but I put The Adventures of Tintin on this morning and he sat in his high chair riveted to the screen the entire movie. And you know what? So was I, well without the high chair. Everything that should have been irredeemably wrong about this movie somehow works.
If you’re familiar with Hergé’s series of Tintin comics, The Adventures of Tintin is a (loose) adaptation of The Secret of the Unicorn, with a very abbreviated version of Red Rackham’s Treasure in the last fifteen minutes. If you’re not, the plot: Tintin (Bell) is an award-winning Belgian reporter between the World Wars. He and his faithful dog Snowy are wandering aimlessly through a flea market one afternoon when they chance upon a beautiful triple-masted model ship. Tintin buys it for a pound and is immediately accosted by two men in succession who want to buy it from him for dozens of times more than he paid for it. Obviously, there’s something special about this ship. After Snowy accidentally knocks the ship over, Tintin finds a miniature scroll hidden in the mainmast—and soon finds that Professor Sakharine (Craig. Daniel Craig.), one of the men who had attempted to buy the ship from him earlier in the day, has an exact replica. With, presumably, another scroll. Thus begins a globetrotting game of cat and mouse, as the two attempt to wrest each other’s scrolls away.
Now, I’m one of those people who thinks that this motion-capture form of animation that’s gotten so big recently is just downright creepy-looking, which was another thing the movie had against it in my head before I started, but ten minutes in I had almost forgotten I wasn’t watching a live-action film (save Snowy, who’s always pretty obviously a CGI creation). The characters are expressive and just shy of realistic, almost all of them very well-voiced—and delivering great lines thanks partly to Hergé and partly to screenwriting team Steven Moffat (Coupling) and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), who are obviously familiar with the series and inserted references to a number of other Tintin adventures (The Crab with the Golden Claws, Explorers on the Moon, The Land of Black Gold, and many more). Spielberg has always been good at action sequences (and that handful of his films I’d be willing to watch again all turn on distinctive ones—1941, Duel, Saving Private Ryan), and he delivers some solid ones here, especially in the film’s climax. This is excellent stuff all around. It would have been very nice to see them draw it out another twenty minutes or so and work in at least a little more of the actual Red Rackham’s Treasure storyline, but you can’t have everything. ****
Trailer, of course.