Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin
Every little boy seems drawn to adventure. Swashbuckling. Damsels in distress. Treasure. Dragons or other mythical beasts. Pirates. The wilderness. The jungle. The sea. Just a few choice key words can evoke the imagery of a gaggle of boys riding their bikes on a secret quest filled with mystery and imaginary guns fired with verbal “pows” and cocked fingers. These battles end before dinner and always result in the pre-determined hero having defeated “the bad guy”. While I’m not entirely sure how often this reality is realized (probably because girls are never allowed), it is how most young boys are frequently portrayed: outside, Tom Sawyer style, looking for adventure around every corner. Now this may be admittedly more of a stereotype than an actuality, but there is one person whose childhood had to have been filled with a similar wonder: Steven Spielberg.
In my imagination, I picture Steven riding his bike to the movies every day after school and then as the streetlights would begin to glow he would head home, filled with the imagery of The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Thief of Baghdad. After dinner he would wander off to his backyard, reenacting scene for scene the peril that flickered earlier across the screen. Of course, eventually he acquired a camera to document these scenes and the rest is history, but after seeing The Adventures of Tintin, my fictitious world of little Steven has been revised. Now after his mother put him to bed every night, he would wait until everything seemed still, grab his flashlight and hide under the covers reading the comics of Hergé.
I mention all of this because Steven Spielberg is arguably the perfect director for The Adventures of Tintin. He has made a career laced with flawless representations of childish whimsy. Think of Drew Barrymore’s face when she first discovers the equally childlike E.T. or, who can argue the innocent excitement felt in every audience member as the music swelled when the first Brachiosaurus was seen onscreen in Jurassic Park. Of course, he has made his share of “important” films, but it is his fantastic adventures, like these films as well as, Indiana Jones, that he will always be cherished for. It is in the realm of fantasy and adventure that he truly appears to be home. With The Adventures of Tintin, Spielberg (who directed and produced) along with Peter Jackson (who also produced) have created a film that may not be their greatest, but from start to finish it is a labor of love. And its hard to not love it just for that.
It opens with Tintin, a youthful reporter (played by Jamie Bell) meandering through the streets of a market in a nondescript European city that is as enchanting as a film by Jacques Tati, while still as ominous as a 1940s British film noir. He stumbles upon a beautiful model ship, which he discovers is called “The Unicorn”. He purchases the item for a small fee and it is in that moment that an adventure is unknowingly set into motion. Shortly after the ship is procured, a secret is revealed: a hidden poem within the model is found. This poem contains a cryptic message, one that can only be discovered through further investigation. Tintin jumps on the case along with his faithful and rambunctious dog Snowy (who bouncily steals every scene that he is in). There are others, however, most notably the villainous Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), that are invested in the mystery as well and their motives are not nearly as honorable.
To give away any more of the plot would be a unfair to the viewer. It is a joyride filled with twists, turns, deserts, the sea, villains, pirates and treasure, not necessarily in that order. The film uses motion capture, a style of animation that has been been praised as frequently as criticized. While films like The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol have been pandered for their eerie lifeless characters that look a lot like the actors, but don’t “feel” like them, other uses of the technique have been greatly praised for their ingenuity and realism: Avatar quickly comes to mind. Fundamentally though, it is a growing art form, one that is still finding its place in cinematic history. The Adventures of Tintin, however, is a step in the right direction. Not only is the animation stylish and beautiful to look at, the stop-motion doesn’t take away from the fact that this is still animated feature. Spielberg and Jackson were attempting to blend the ligne claire comic-book style of Hergé with something more still reminiscent to reality. I could have personally still handled a bit more comic book and a bit less realism, but I may be on of the few people that actually miss 2D animation. Regardless, the film is stunning and even the 3D found a way to add depth to the picture, not just make things fly off of the screen.
One of Spielberg’s greatest tricks is to take a style or genre that has been overdone and run into the ground and make it fresh and alive just by adding a bit of pizzazz. Where other directors might have made such a conventional story, as Tin Tin, seem trite and overdone, Spielberg cheerfully winks at the audience whenever something happens that has been done one too many time. These themes may be overused, but he tells stories so well that no one seems to mind. Much like he played with the conventions of the serial film with Indiana Jones, he toys with the adventures genre as a whole with Tintin. It is an homage not only Hergé, but, in many ways, to Errol Flynn, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. as well. It is not the deepest of his films, nor is it his most innovative, but it is good storytelling through and through.
I don’t see this movie going away. There are not enough great children’s films being made, and while this one is a bit darker than most, it is filled with enough excitement to replace every The Land Before Time sequel ever made. I picture children rushing home after the final credits roll and finding a clue hidden somewhere in their house. This clue sends them on a secret quest filled with mystery, exotic locales and imaginary guns used to do away with the predetermined “bad guy” before they get the call for dinner. Maybe even one of them will acquire a copy of Tin Tin himself. Something to read when the lights go out, under the covers, until he is fast asleep. That, I think, may be the film’s ultimate purpose. It is an attempt to give children even better dreams.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars. Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring: Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.