My childhood is currently playing in theaters. I’m not joking around, people; you see, when I was a strapping young lad in elementary school, I read Hergé’s famous “Tintin” comic book series with great gusto while my compatriots engaged in trivial matters like watching “Dragonball Z.” Heck, I was on “Tintin” before it went seriously mainstream here in America, so you can imagine my ears perking upon hearing that Hollywood was developing a film from it.
The first of an intended trilogy, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a collaboration between two self-professed “Tintin” fans: director Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson. While it provides a thrilling cinematic experience, it’s not the “Tintin” film that I’ve been waiting for my whole life, and those who did not grow up reading the series may not appreciate it as much as those who have.
Reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his faithful fox terrier Snowy have been on many adventures, but this one is certainly unexpected. Tintin notices the Unicorn, a magnificent model ship, in a local flea market and buys it, only to be quickly accosted by two other men, one of whom is the sinister Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who attempt to buy it off of him. Tintin rebuffs them and conducts research on the Unicorn, which was rumored to be carrying a secret cargo before being sunk centuries ago.
Upon returning home, he finds that the Unicorn model is gone, stolen. He soon finds a tiny scroll that had fallen out from the ship when it was broken earlier. Intrigued by the riddle it bears, he aims to investigate further, but is robbed of the scroll by a pickpocket before being kidnapped and taken aboard a ship.
There, Sakharine confronts him and demands the scroll, revealing that there are two others just like it, one of which he already has. With Snowy’s help, Tintin escapes and encounters Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the drunken descendant of Francis Haddock — the captain of the Unicorn — and the only one who can solve the scrolls’ riddle. Together, the duo embarks on a journey to secure the third scroll and discover the Unicorn’s secret before Sakharine does.
If there was any doubt whether Spielberg and Jackson are indeed true “Tintin” fans, it’s gone. The film is based on three books in the series: “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure.” The film condenses them well in a story that preserves the spirit of the comic books. The first five minutes, including the opening credits, pay tribute to Hergé’s comic books in a way that will make all devoted “Tintin” readers smile knowingly.
However, the film does commit one crucial, though not fatal, sin: it assumes that the viewer is already familiar with Tintin himself. Considering that “Tintin” is much more popular in Europe than in America and this is subsequently perhaps the first time that people even heard of “Tintin,” the film should put forth an effort to develop Tintin as a character, reveal his background and give him a nice personality.
Unfortunately, the most that you’ll ever learn about Tintin is limited to what’s shown, not told, in the first act. The only hints at his background are shown briefly in newspaper clippings framed in his room, and all you learn is that he and Snowy have been on many, many adventures that have warranted public admiration. Since his character is hardly developed beyond the first act, he will come across as rather dull for those unfamiliar with the comic books. If anything, “The Adventures of Tintin” is less concerned with Tintin than it is with Haddock, who himself is handled exceptionally well in the story.
It doesn’t help that the first act is extremely rushed. It feels as if the story moves immediately from one event to another without almost any transitions. Though the film does eventually move at a much improved and steadier pace, it hurts to know that the film would have been better as a whole if more effort had gone into developing Tintin in the first act.
The entire cast should be proud of themselves, as their voice performances definitely fit their respective characters from the comics. Barring Tintin’s lack of development, Jamie Bell surely has the ideal voice for the young reporter. Andy Serkis is pitch-perfect when it comes to bringing out Haddock’s charismatic personality. Daniel Craig, known for his distinct voice, is unrecognizable as the ominous Sakharine. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are so spot-on as the bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson that it’s a shame they’re not featured much.
A performance capture film, “The Adventures of Tintin” takes advantage of the boundaries of animation and CGI to bear fantastic results. The rendering of the images are gorgeous due to the amount of detail in each frame; you can see the individual hairs on Tintin’s arms and drops of water on Haddock’s cap. Equally impressive is the cinematography for the action sequences, as the camera stays focused on the characters and moves, almost dances, around them. This is utilized to great effect in this one specific chase sequence later in the film, as it is one single take that lasts for over two minutes.
John Williams’ score is the best work he’s done in years. His use of stringed instruments in particular syncs perfectly with the images and guides the viewer through this enthralling journey. If you listen carefully, you can even detect influences of his past soundtracks for “Star Wars” and “Catch Me If You Can,” which enhance feelings of excitement and playful mystery at certain points in the film.
“The Adventures of Tintin” is a spellbinding adventure and a nostalgic trip to the past for the avid “Tintin” fan, as long as you can forgive the rushed first act and its relatively dull titular hero. It’s definitely not the “Tintin” film I’ve been waiting for, but I can appreciate it nevertheless. Besides, there’s two more in development to look forward to.
Rating: 4 out of 5