What’s it all about? Going into “The Adventures of Tintin” cold, having never read any of the famous books, I felt a little lost. And the whirlwind pace set by Spielberg and company gives the “Tintin” virgin little to hang his bowler hat on. The result is a coaster ride that feels rushed and incomplete.
As my eyes glazed over amid the hustle and bustle of the “Tintin” adventure, I gathered that the title character (voiced by Jamie Bell) is an investigative journalist. The 2D animated title sequence hints that Tintin has been on other exciting adventures solving thrilling mysteries. This story opens at an open air bazaar. Tintin purchases a pirate ship encased in a bottle, and he is immediately accosted by a man seeking to purchase the antique at a profit. Naturally, Tintin refuses the offer. This ensures that he’s drawn into a dangerous episode that takes him on board a ship, becoming adrift at sea, and eventually he gets lost in the deserts of North Africa. The search involves sunken treasure and an age old rivalry between sea captains. The globetrotting is brisk and solidly of the comicbook variety.
With all the exceptional motion capture effects on display that often convey photo-realistic environments, the story told in “The Adventures of Tintin” is frankly pretty ridiculous and strikes an uneven tone. For example, there is a scene in which a character is gunned down in the doorway of Tintin’s apartment. The unfortunate victim even scrawls a message in his own blood on a newspaper. Later, a character named Haddock (played by the great Andy Serkis) crawls outside a plane in mid flight and belches into the gas tank of an airplane causing it to lurch forward as if propelled by jet fuel. Who is this kind of fantasy for? As I become more and more unengaged with the story and characters, I resolved that Steven Spielberg and his co-producer Peter Jackson were targeting youngsters but that leaves the rest of us out in the cold. And this is especially true if you’ve never previously become acquainted with the source material.
To be fair, “The Adventures of Tintin” hits the mark visually. It makes maximum use of cutting edge motion capture technology to create a striking illusion of life. The action sequences take the viewer on a ride that probably couldn’t be achieved had the film been a live-action project. Tintin purists will probably have issues with the style of animation (and animation purists have issues describing motion capture as animation). Clearly the effort is to strike a happy medium between real life and the comic, and for me, I thought it worked well. Tintin’s trusty dog Snowy is a bit more animated than the rest of the characters and Tintin himself seems to resemble his comic alter ego.
But the real question that Tintin fans will be asking is why adapt Tintin as a motion capture film? Folks will likely be divided as to whether a straight live action approach would have been superior to one that adopts the comic book’s 2D style and gives it motion. The entire reason director Spielberg became interested in making a Tintin movie had to do with comparisons made to his Indiana Jones films. Therefore, I think that Spielberg should have made Tintin with real people and gone the way of his classic archeological adventure serial. A live-action Tintin wouldn’t have raised the ire of animation junkies and concerns of Tintin fans would be largely neutralized. As it is, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a worthy experiment that might enchant younger viewers but could bore older ones.
If you’re like me and have never read a Tintin comic before, the movie is confusing and will play only on a surface level. If there is a moral or some deeper meaning intended, I missed it. “The Adventures of Tintin” is childish, comic book fun, but little more.