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The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

by on 2012/04/09

“My memory isn’t the way it used to be.”

* * * *

It’s serendipitous my first “funnybook” review this month should be prompted by the oldest series I read as a kid, The Adventures of Tintin by Georges “Herge” Remi. My mother introduced it to me when I was young, as she’d discovered the comic in her own youth.

I’ve always loved Tintin. T-shirts, posters, art folios, videos . . . they wove an ongoing spell over me once I’d exhausted the original volumes. I bought histories, biographies, and other rare releases: Land of the Soviets, In the Congo, Lake of Sharks, Alph-Art, and so on.

So it was a little bit surprising, when this movie was announced, I didn’t feel especially excited. Early stills and clips failed to pique my interest, despite it being based in part on two of the earliest books I received: Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure.

Even upon its release, I didn’t (immediately) come to my senses. I dismissed it as yet another creepy motion-capture piece, and one which was difficult to find showing in good old 2D on top of it all. Nonetheless, I eventually caught up with the rest of the world, though a few slight concerns do remain.

Boasting a notable roster of “unseen” talent providing character actions and voices, The Adventures of Tintin features Jamie Bell (Jumper), Daniel Craig (The Golden Compass), Nick Frost and Simon Pegg (both of Shaun of the Dead), Andy Serkis (Fellowship of the Ring), Mackenzie Crook (Pirates of the Caribbean), Cary Elwes (Princess Bride), and Toby Jones (The Mist). Adapted mostly from The Secret of the Unicorn, the story follows youthful journalist Tintin as he navigates cobblestone streets, high seas, and arid deserts, in search of a pirate’s treasure.

Set in the early 20th century, director Steven Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) resists his notorious urge to replace hand guns with radios. He has, however, forgone traditional animation for the mocap approach, a process still wandering around in the uncanny valley.

I chose to interpret everything I saw as a nearly photo-real puppet show. If I hadn’t, the players’ plasticene pallour and too-glossy eyes would have been as distracting as a vintage Republic serial acted out by the cast of Tod Browning’s Freaks.

Other elements struck me the wrong way too: “three dimensional” gimmickry, an apparent fetish for lens flares, and an out-of-place attempt to give the protagonist an emotional arc.

These missteps notwithstanding, I found the overall work entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the opening credits, like a mashup of Saul Bass, Shag and, of course, Herge. Not only was it a cool and stylish sequence, but it served to bridge the divide between the source material and its update. I appreciated the peppering of references to Tintin’s many excursions, in newspaper clippings, souvenirs, and some well-known panel framings. We’re also treated to meta-level jokes, and a true “tour de force” denouement.

Then again, it’s hardly a surprise the product of two cinematic titans — Spielberg (directing) and Peter Jackson (producing) — might be anything less than solid and professional, even nuanced and decorative. Nor that the filmmakers behind Indiana Jones and King Kong (2005) were attracted to the comics.

I just hope their efforts were successful enough to merit a follow-up tale. Or that those, like me, who were skeptics at first, came around in due course to support it. For, despite my objections, by the end of this one, I was ready for more Adventures of Tintin.

* * * *

Rated PG

106 minutes

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