Monday, November 7, 2011

Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Herge's Tintin series is one of the staples of my youth, but one I've been happy to leave in the hazy recesses of my memory, and felt little need to revisit. I'm not sure why, either, I read them ferociously, even badgering my parents on a couple of occasions to head out to libraries further afield to see if there were books there that weren't in my local branch, but they've left me with a wellspring of affection for them but little compulsion to go back and own or even re-read them. So in some ways the fact that they've made a movie from them didn't fill me with excitement, just a vague interest more due to the talent involved in the adaptation than the fact of an adaptation itself. But this weekend I took our eldest to go see it as a reward for an excellent school report, without much in the way of strong opinion on what I was expecting.

You know what? I loved it.

The Adventures of Tintin is in many ways a pretty old school movie, masquerading as a very modern one. Underneath all that motion capture and 3D effects (more on which in a moment) it is more akin the adventures of the period in which it is set - a constant, rolling stream of chases, fights and peril that push the narrative forward steadily but unrelentingly, yet remarkably free of the over-the-top, sense-deadening bombast that a lot of modern blockbusters go for. Its running down streets, corridors and rooftops, a couple of goons with guns, that sort of thing, with only one real exception.

That exception is the flashback to the fate of the Unicorn. Told in flashback, with the memories rising out of the desert sands in a way that totally outclasses the similar shot at the start of Pirates of the Caribbean 3, the fight between the Unicorn and Red Rackham's pirate sloop is the swashbuckling fight of your childhood dreams; a dark, stormy sea, burning ships and flashing blades and a dazzling vindication of the decision to do the film in all CGI. My eyes boggled and my jaw dropped and my 9-year-old son didn't talk about much else all the way home.
What I don't understand Snowy, is why The Guardian keeps writing
these hit-pieces against the film? Must be a story there somewhere! 
That aside the all-CGI, motion capture is mostly pretty successful. It allows most of the characters to look like living cartoons, retaining Herge's designs and enough "unreality" to prevent you being slapped around the brain with a big dose of "uncanny valley", and quality of the work means that the world feels solid, with none of the odd "floating" effect you often get from characters not holding things correctly, or moving across surfaces seemingly without proper weight. It still has it moments, but they were either heavily weighted towards the start of the film or I just got used to it pretty quickly.

I can't really comment on how faithful it is, because really my memory isn't that great. I did spot a lot of references to other books, and some characters I am completely sure don't appear in the original Secret of the Unicorn / Red Rackhams Treasure, but on balance I really don't care. Taken in it's own right, its a fun story that uses it's characters well, albeit one that serves a vehicle to move the characters around rather than be complex or dynamic in it's own right. That said the script is pretty sparkly, the voice acting is solid, and true to form Andy Serkis' Captain Haddock steals the show.

The Scene where Haddock calls for the "Whiskey to Go" plane almost
didn't make the PG edit. 
I think there is (rightly) a criticism of modern blockbusters that they sacrifice anything in the way of subtlety or complexity in favor of spectacle and crowd-pleasing, but for me there is a world of difference between a film like Transformers (or its increasingly horrible sequels) and a film like Tintin, for all that superficially they are rooted in the same vision of what big Hollywood entertainment should be. Tintin is pretty straighforward, and is pretty action heavy, but it's also crafted with great care and great warmth and really good solid family fun.