2011, action, adventure, Andy Serkis, animated, Attack the Block, Daniel Craig, Edgar Wright, Herge, Indiana Jones, Jamie Bell, Joe Cornish, jurassic park, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, motion capture, Nick Frost, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Simon Pegg, Stephen Moffat, Stephen Spielberg, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Toby Jones
Written by: Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, based on the comic books by Herge
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Toby Jones
It’s easy to expect that Herge’s beloved characters have been rendered grotesque by the mere process of transposing them from the 2D into the 3D hyperreality of motion capture in Stephen Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin but the fact is that Spielberg and his animation team have not unfairly wrenched these characters from their intended world, they have breathed a life and movement into them that was, in a way, always present in Herge’s book. I hesitate to suggest that Spielberg has liberated these characters from a static existence, far from it, but he has managed to construct a film that moves with the vibrancy we always feel when reading Herge’s comics. Cars and motorcycles zip through bustling crowds and market squares, planes dip and twirl and threaten to crash, guns fire and the bad guy keeps nearly winning. It’s thrilling to watch this film, stuffed as it is with all the wonder and excitement of the books and the television show which was, admittedly, my first introduction to these characters as a child.
The plot of the film borrows heavily from Herge’s books The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, telling the story of young journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) as he becomes fascinated in a mystery involving Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) who is strangely adament about getting his hands on a model ship, The Unicorn, that Tintin has recently purchased. The ship, it turns out, is a model of the ship helmed by Sir Francis Haddock, ancestor of Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin’s best-friend-to-be whose severe drinking problem repeatedly gets in the way of Tintin’s investigation. This search turns into a wonderful globe-circling chase to catch Sakharine and figure out what he’s up to. The screenplay was wrtten by Stephen Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) and Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), three brilliant writers whose combined talents result in the perfect mix of mystery and humour required to tell a great Tintin story.
The animation is magnificent, motion capture seems to be taking baffling strides with each new instance. In this film, the textures are so realistic I frequently found myself forgetting it was animated at all. One scene, in which Thomson (Nick Frost) and Thompson (Simon Pegg) are chasing a pickpocket (Toby Jones), almost looked like a live-action film with only cartoon heads superimposed on the actors. I believe in the value of motion capture animation, and its because of films like The Adventures of Tintin that I do; Spielberg avoids the uncanny valley by replicating the exaggerated human features of Herge’s original drawings, but is able to combine realism and fantasy seamlessly by using a uniform aesthetic which I believe to be more effective than a combination of live-action and CGI. Spielberg deftly captures the sense of adventure and excitement of the original Tintin comics, and at the same time just happens to create a film closer in tone to the original Indiana Jones films than the last Indiana Jones film. Exotic locations, daring tales of adventure, and daunting predicaments are all part of Herge’s plotting and Spielberg hasn’t lost any of it in translation. This is what Spielberg does best; Raiders of the Lost Ark is a tribute to action/adventure serials of the 30s and 40s, films that contained the same sort of spirit as Herge’s books. Spielberg knows how to craft adventure and here is a film that feels exactly like Herge’s comics. There are amazing set-pieces throughout The Adventures of Tintin; chases, plane crashes, all sorts and they’re brilliantly choreographed. One scene in particular, a chase through crowded Middle Eastern streets is just a positively thrilling action sequence, one of the film’s many moments that had me genuinely panicked.
The sense of adventure, the thrill, the flavour of each new cartoon-country and the wonder of the whole world, it’s all there. In this film, the characters of Tintin inhabit a world of more physical nuance than they’re used to, but this is nothing less than a genuine Herge-ian (??) world. Spielberg is right at home in the director’s chair of such a tale and really this is his most wondrous and exciteable film in twenty years. To watch The Adventures of Tintin is to be experience the long-abandoned art of the adventure film; this movie evokes a time when the world could be mysterious and action could be extravagant in order to create a truly mystifying and exciting film, something that, these days, has largely been lost in favour of something a little less refined.