Steven Spielberg's motive behind The Adventures of Tintin reveals itself as an exuberant burst of nostalgia. What is the boyish reporter of Hergé's beloved comic series — trotting the globe in pursuit of mysteries — if not a continental cousin of Indiana Jones, his head capped with a quiff instead of a fedora? Within the first few pages of “The Crab with the Golden Claws” — one of the books that sourced this film; the others are “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham's Treasure” — Tintin hastens from his home in the city to a drug-running ship, after which he is found adrift in the middle of the ocean, from where he commandeers a hovering seaplane and crashes into a North African desert.
In short, The Adventures of Tintin, with the hero and his cohorts on the trail of treasure from a sunken vessel, could just as easily have become an Indiana Jones movie: Raiders of the Lost Barque. And it has. This is more Spielberg's Tintin than Hergé's.
But that isn't altogether a bad thing. If The Adventures of Tintin looks like something Spielberg could have done in his sleep, that's still a lot more entertainment than what most other directors can manufacture while wide awake.
From the moment we glimpse Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) through a recently drained bottle of whiskey — what better way to show off a souse? — Spielberg demonstrates that he still has in him the sense of play from the days he was wrestling with a malfunctioning model shark. The action set pieces, especially, are a joy, combining cliff-hanger scenarios with delirious slapstick.
The performance-capture technology, which uses the movements and expressions of live actors as the basis for computer-generated simulations, is just right. Early on, we see each strand of hair in Tintin's (Jamie Bell) quiff catch the breeze and come alive, waving like stalks of wheat in a golden field, and as he walks past a shop with mirrors, his reflections are exactly how they would be from those angles. Yes, this is the technical team showing off, but no more than a ballerina balanced on a toe with supreme poise. They do it because they can, and we watch transfixed. Some of the transformations made me quibble — Nestor isn't as perpetually pained as I imagine him (he comes across as stolid), and surely Bianca Castafiore's High Cs sprang from a more cavernous bosom — but the artistry is breathtaking to behold.
There is so much to enjoy in “The Adventures of Tintin” that it's a shame the film adds up to little more than a collection of set pieces. When Tintin and Co. aren't swooping into thunderclouds or plunging into oceans, we are left with leaden time, and it's because the characters are mere triumphs of technology. They have no spark, no soul. We never get a grip on Tintin, who remains a blandly eager cipher. Hergé solved this problem by letting us hear him think — we followed his intuitive processes through thought bubbles. But here, the din of action drowns out all thought.
Far more tragically, Captain Haddock is just a man with a huge honker. (The honker, however, is exactly right.) A large part of the comedy in the comics comes from his insults — the result of inspired crossbreeding between marine life and made-up languages — and we imagined them as spittle-flecked ejaculations. But here, a mouth-watering put-down like “yellow-bellied lily-livered sea slugs” is delivered like a dramatic declaration, as if it were a wan line of dialogue. If there's going to be a sequel, as the last scene promises, they'd do well to fill this sailor with spirit.
The Adventures of Tintin
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell, Simon Pegg
Storyline: Tintin and cohorts go after a fabulous sunken treasure.
Bottomline: Nicely staged action, though the characters deserved better.
Keywords: The Adventures of Tintin film review