I was not jumping up and down with excitement hen the news broke, some years ago, that Peter Jackson would produce a Steven Spielberg-directed 3D motion-capture film based on Hergé’s Tintin comic books. I’ve never been much of a Jackson fan, my opinion on 3D is probably well known to regular readers here, motion-capture still suffered from the dead-eyes syndrome and Tintin. Well, I actually did not know much nor cared a lot about Tintin. The only good thing in that press announcement was Steven Spielberg. And I thought he’d better spend his time doing something else.
The first images that were released weren’t very promising either. The shoulders and arms of the animations seemed to be all over the place. But during the last year, as teasers and trailers hit the web, The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn started to peak my interest. So I set aside my problems with Jackson’s style (baggy plots, lack of character), read up on my Tintin – which gave my some unexpected pleasures – donned my 3D glasses and set down in a Sunday afternoon screening.
A cinema filled with parents stuffing their loud offspring with chocolates, crisps, popcorn and that most obnoxious of multiplex snacks: Nacho’s. It should have been hell. And although my pleasure of the film was once or twice interrupted by undisciplined small fry, it wasn’t hell. I enjoyed myself. Immensely. Because the film was really entertaining.
The first good thing about the film was that it did not give me a headache, and the 3D work was – if unnecessary – reasonably done. Which reinforces my argument that it is better suited for animation in the first place.
The second good thing about the film is the writing. Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish have tackled the problem of Hergé’s episodic, meandering narratives successfully: they combined elements from three books “The Crab with the Golden Claws”, “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure” into one thrilling adventure: Tintin comes into possession of a model ship that is sought after by others as well, as it contains clues to the location of a lost pirate treasure. Teaming up with his new friend, the alcoholic sea captain Archibald Haddock, Tintin then tries to find the treasure before villain Sakharine. Haddock’s family history appears to be a vital part of the story. Very exciting indeed.
The third good thing in the film is the casting. Motion-capture has really made some big steps forward over the last few years, giving actors now the chance to not just move about the recording stage, but give actual physical expression to the characters. Jamie Bell does a fine job as Tintin, in what is probably the least interesting character in the film (Tintin is traditionally the empty character with whom readers could easily identify). Daniel Craig has a lot of fun as Sakharine, playing fully against 007 type. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost get a little too little to do as Thomson and Thompson. But it is Andy Serkis, a veteran of the trade, who has a field day as Haddock, although his accent is maddeningly eccentric.
Last and best thing about Tintin… : Steven Spielberg. The 3D may not be that interesting, but the absolute craftsman of cinema has reinvented himself with animation. Spielberg uses mirrors, reflections and odd perspectives that would never be possible in live action cinema to switch between locales and scenes. That is the most important thing about this film; it enriches the vocabulary of narrative cinema. One film like this every year, and the art remains alive.