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The Adventures of Tintin

Adventures of Tintin

Bloody Belgians are taking over, mark my words

dir: Steven Spielberg

Spielbergo’s first foray in the field of fully animated films is not going to set the world alight. The fact that it’s in 3D isn’t going to dazzle the masses much either. Whether it makes its money back, or results in dozens of sequels, or honours the Hergé source material matters not to me. But I am interested in being entertained.

There I was, then, stupid glasses perched upon my nose. Entertain us, I whispered to the screen.

And he did. It did. I had a ball watching Tintin. I remember reading the books as a kid, but they never made that much of an impression upon me, in that these aren’t to me like what the comic-book faithful often moan like sad cows over when their treasured properties are rendered unto the big screen. I feel no ownership of the character or the stories. To me they’re artefacts of the old world, like polio, diaphragms and vinyl records, when racism was cool and colonialism rocked. It’s also a kind of adventure tale which we miss, since today these stories seem to be bogged down by setup, thematic bullshit, meaning, significance and purpose.

This is just straight-ahead Boy’s Own adventure with a capital A, or T in Tintin’s case, where the emphasis is on movement and buffoonery over character or message, to everyone’s relief. The Steven Spielbergo of thirty year’s ago, of the Raiders of the Lost Ark era, would have been perfect to direct this. Instead we have the current weighty titan of unsubtlety who beats us over the head with his ideas wrapped up as they are in the best cinematography or cinematic technology money can buy.

Still, the compromise is that it’s present-day Spielbergo helped out by Peter Jackson. You may have heard of the New Zealander, Peter Jackson? They named some cigarettes after him, I think. And there’s this suit shop in the city named after him, too. Other than that, he’s done a few films here or there. Wait, he did that engorged and colon rupturing King Kong film, didn’t he?

Boo, hiss. Fuck him and everyone he knows. Well, regardless of that, he knows how to work with the new technologies, and who better for Spielbergo to pretend to take advice from, eh? Honestly, if you were Spielbergo, would you be taking advice from anyone, let alone a jumped-up New Zealander? You’re the most successful director in the industry’s history, feted and rewarded beyond anything imagined and everyone else, and you’re going to take criticism or guidance from a bearded Kiwi?

I don’t fucking well think so. Still, they must have done something right, because instead of appalling me, they delighted me.

The technology is not that new, since there have been a fair few films already using full performance capture and virtually all-CGI environments to tell their stories. It’s probably the best of them though. Beowulf gets no love from anyone, but I didn’t mind it that much. So it’s like that, in that actual humans wearing goofy suits were filmed at some point, and then teams and teams of programmers overlayed the chosen imagery and animation on top of them. So it’s really like watching lots of people wearing digital fatsuits. And why not?

We are introduced to Tintin as a caricaturist draws him at an open air market, eventually showing us an image directly from the strip; dots for eyes, the little ‘u’ for a mouth, and the trademark quiff. But then Tintin himself turns around, and we see a person, or a character, that is not meant to look like a person in the real world, but a digital approximation of the strip. More hyperreal than real, and it works in the context of the flick. This bygone world is not trying to replicate the world we know, it’s trying to replicate the look of the strip in a way that would be impossible or at least shabbier as a live-action adaptation.

I thought it looked great, and the look is, let’s say, 70% of the battle for my money. The plot, well, the plot is consistent with both the books (coming as it does from the 11th and 12th books, being Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, both from the 40s), and as such it’s an adventure filled with derring-do who’s purpose is to have an adventure. And to drag us along kicking and screaming along with it.

Tintin buys a model ship from a market, and all hell breaks loose. The second he buys it, people start crawling out of the woodwork and accosting him for it. Little does he know that there’s something crucial about the model.

It has, within it, the list of the Colonel’s 13 secret herbs and spices.

No, there’s something about a map, and a treasure, and rivalry across the ages between one dashing set of drunken reprobates we’ll call the Haddocks, and a set of evil piratical villains descended from the dreaded Red Rackham. Tintin is alternately pursued or warned by various people, but can always rely on only one friend: Snowy, his scrappy little white dog that solves more of the puzzles than Tintin or anyone else does. He’s a fighter as well, which is handy, since the diminutive Tintin picks fights like a drunken suburbanite in the city on a Friday night.

On the course of his travels, he teams up with the disgraced alcoholic wretch Captain Haddock, for whom sobriety is mostly a distant memory. Speaking of memory, the solution to all their problems (and our entertainment) sometimes, often lie within Haddock’s memories of Sir Francis’s adventures from back in the day, he being his great-great grandfather. But the memories of an alcoholic exist on the most treacherous of landscapes. Even better, this glorious film uses Haddock’s alcoholism in a lot of ways. It’s such a flexible device, it truly is. It’s like a highly potent Swiss army knife without the fascist connotations.

The villainous Sakharine pursues the same objective for somewhat of the same reasons, seeing as everyone loves treasure. He, however, also has a genetic compulsion to do so, just like Haddock. It’s deep within their DNA that they’re bound to be brought in to conflict. But instead of swordfighting on the deck of a burning ship, they work out their multi-generational angst by brawling with cranes at the docks.

Don’t ask. I’m not going to explain it. The flick moves at a cracking pace, which certainly helps to stave off the tedium. There are a bunch of quality set pieces, but the piece de la resistance of course comes later in the flick as our heroes and villains careen dangerously through the steep streets of an island / port paradise of Bagghar, which fully takes advantage of the medium and all the techniques at their disposal. It would be impossible to recreate what they do in that chase sequence in the ‘real’ world with live action, even forgetting about the 3D, which you couldn’t because it’s crucial to it, but that alone doesn’t justify its existence. It’s just a tremendously put together and realised chase scene, and all they’re goddamn chasing is three little scraps of paper.

I had a lot of fun watching it, but I’m not going to make the claim that it’s especially deep or profoundly awesome or anything. It’s not exactly kids’ entertainment either, to be honest, though it is fairly wholesome on the most part. It does deliver with entertaining action sequences, especially Haddock’s ranting and raving at a French Foreign Legion outpost intercut with his ancestor’s battle at sea, or the painful opera singer, the Milanese Nightingale, enemy to glass and the good Captain’s ears alike, starting off the action in the paper chase sequence. It’s all very well put together, and I couldn’t have expected more.

From the opening credit sequence onwards, even if it was ripping off Spielbergo’s previous work, being Catch Me If You Can, even as John William’s rips off the intro score he did for that same goddamn movie, I was liking it a lot. It put me in a good frame of mind for what was to come, and a good mood. I don’t think you could really ask for more, because even for a speedy action flick, it has plenty of decent character moments between Tintin, Captain Haddock and even Snowy, the loveable little fucker. They have a great dynamic, Haddock’s a delightful character whose messiness and drunkenness contrasts nicely with Tintin clean-scrubbed do-gooder persona, and they stumble through doing the best they can.

It’s probably, for me, one of the better school holiday entertainments that I’ve had to watch during this Christmas – January holiday period, and, though it’s not a fair competition, I’d rather watch Tintin another ten times before ever having to sit through Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked ever ever ever again.

7 times the pickpocket was the real hero out of 10

“Give me those oars! I'll show you some real seamanship, laddie! I'll not be doubted by some pipsqueak tuft of ginger and his irritating dog. I am Master and Commander of the seas!” – aye aye, Captain – The Adventures of Tintin