Written with a ton of heart and shot with ten tons of love, the gloriously animated The Adventures of Tintin plays like a beautiful love letter to Herge’s works. It is 105 minutes of pure, uninterrupted, thundering typhoon of adventure. I didn't think Steven Spielberg would be able to do it this well, but I stand corrected.
The Tintin phenomenon is unlike anything I’ve seen in entertainment history. Rather than being the result of clever marketing, Tintin’s popularity began at the grass roots level. And, what's more, this craze is not derived from a movie, video game or TV series, but from one of the oldest forms of mass-market entertainment - books. Now there are Tintin toys, bags, coasters etc, but these things followed the phenomenon, they didn't drive it. Much has been written about why Tintin is so popular with readers of all ages. All you really have to do is read a few pages of any of the books, and you'll understand the appeal. Hergé developed an intensely likable hero and drew his stories with a free-and-easy style that mixes high adventure with uproarious comedy. The books walk the literary tightrope of never taking themselves too seriously while avoiding the easy pitfall of self-parody. That tone is what Spielberg’s movie adaptation strives for, and, for the most part, achieves.
Tintin is based on three books of the series - ‘Crab with the Golden Claws’, ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’ and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’ and revolves around an ancient riddle, a mysterious curse, a shipwreck and a bounty of buried treasure. In this day and age of computer games, quick fix takeaway electronic happiness and incessant CGI violence, it is brilliant to be excited by the sheer power of storytelling. Lovers of the Tintin books will find most of their favorite moments beautifully realised, perhaps even bigger and more wondrous than they imagined them. The lovely 60’s-set 2D opening credits are followed by an opening scene that immediately sucks you in with its visual sophistication. It even contains an awesome cameo that makes for the single most satisfying movie moment of the year. There are in fact several moments like these, and it becomes clear that Spielberg treats Herge’s work with a reverence that isn't even accorded to The Bhagawat Gita.
But the references are never merely sly homages, and there isn't a line or a scene designed to go over children's heads to amuse their parents. Also, at least 80 percent of the writers’ (Steve Moffatt, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish) dialogue is lifted directly from the text. Indeed, Tintin delivers as promised – we’re treated to a herd of colorful characters, and led on a fast-paced, inventive adventure, with liberal doses of comedy, and even a little pathos. The fact that this film works so well is testament to the people on the production. Peter Jackson’s WETA churns out an amazing blend of Herge’s iconic art and photorealistic mo-cap imagery. If the breakneck pace, white knuckle action, impossible tracking shots and match cuts don’t impress you, then the character animation certainly will. A big technical triumph is the lifelike eyes and mannerisms of the characters. Gone are the dead eyes and the uncanny valley effect from Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture movies. Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock are exactly the way you want them to be – they aren’t waxy talking dolls, but charming, warm characters brought to life by Spielberg’s digital lens. Andy Serkis in particular steals the show as Haddock, the short tempered sea captain with the drinking problem and a large supply of one-liners.
Tintin has its share of standout sequences, including an astonishing pitched sea battle that cleverly cuts between the past and present, as sand dunes morph into swirling ocean waves. But nothing can prepare you for the incredible motorbike-boat-tank chase which unfolds superbly in one single 5-minute-long continuous take. It really is an outstanding marriage of technology and art, and for Tintin fans looking to see how their favorite scene or character appears on screen, this is a boon. Contributing to this is composer John Williams who, never known for being a slack, turns in one of his more impressive scores in recent years.
The film is not flawless, though. Thompson and Thomson are disappointing - they fail to evoke laughs despite being voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The movie is 20 minutes too short as most of the third book's plot is jettisoned. But even the plot changes don’t matter, because by making the alterations, Spielberg makes the story accessible both to those who are familiar with the source and those who aren't. Fans of the books will likely love or hate the ending based on how closely things match their preconceived notions. Regardless, when viewed exclusively as a piece of cinema - something extraordinarily difficult to do with Herge’s property – Tintin stands out as a solid piece of entertainment. And the nod to Indiana Jones, coupled with its early 20th century period charms elevates the film to even greater heights.
Make no mistake, The Adventures of Tintin is a kids’ movie. But it is one that transcends through time and makes even the most cynical crestfallen adult smile and feel like a child again. Whether or not you’re a grown up, all you can do after watching this movie is go home and just look at your own beaming face in the mirror. Thank you, Mr. Spielberg, for making this fan extremely happy. Blistering barnacles I eagerly await the sequel now.