A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

The Adventures of TinTin

March 13, 2012

The Adventures of TinTin

When I saw the early previews of this movie I was unconvinced. I have fond memories of reading the TinTin books as a child. My friend John in grade school had many of the books (probably all of them) and I remember waking up early whenever I spent the night at his house and devouring them in the silence before any of his family woke up. I loved the crazy characters and the high adventure. I loved the slapstick humor, the exotic locales and the great illustrations. When I heard that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were teaming up to make a pair of motion capture based animated films based on Herge’s books I was intrigued. I figured they would try to make the movies look like an animated comic book, and I wanted to see what it would look like.

Then I saw the previews and the character designs and I was filled with despair. What the film makers have created is a photo-realistic world with characters inhabiting it that are some kind of strange hybrid of realistic human and comic book caricature. They looked, to my eye, more creepy than funny and it made me fear that the film itself would be unable to capture the spirit I remembered of the books.

What amazed me when I put the movie in to watch this afternoon is how almost instantly I was able to become accustomed to the strange characters and accept them as the well remembered friends from those childhood days. Part of it is the opening credits, which are much more along the lines I at first imagined with an animated adventure that looks almost like the books come to life. Part of it is the clever way that Spielberg and company insert Herge himself into the film at the start, showing us clearly that the odd looking mutant with the hair horn and wide eyes really is the European boy reporter and adventurer from the books. Most of it, however, is seeing the characters in motion.

It’s in the performances and in the motion capture and in the animation. There’s a whimsy to this movie that is so very true to the source material. From the first moment Jamie Bell begins to speak I completely bought the character. There’s also some inspired casting here. I would never have spotted Thompson and Thomson as being Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (they completely inhabit the characters and are utterly unrecognisable) but knowing that it’s them adds something to the strangeness of the film.

The thing it took the longest for me to get used to was Andy Serkis’ performance as Captain Haddock. I never pictured Haddock with a Scottish accent, for one thing. For another it almost feels like Serkis is too good an actor for the role. Captain Haddock is a big, blustery caricature, but here Serkis manages to make him a nuanced, almost tragic figure at times. It’s a combination of the writing, the direction and the portrayal I suppose. It seems odd to me to make a drunken and bombastic tough guy the emotional core of the film, but that’s the way the film makers have gone. Perhaps if I were not familiar with the books at all I would not find it so jarring.

The plot itself is a mish-mash of familiar moments from several books. It involves a lost treasure, a mystery from the past and of course a lot of globe hopping adventure. There’s a nefarious bad guy, clues to be discovered and figured out, and it’s all somehow related to Haddock’s family history. A family history he cannot remember because of his constant drinking.

It’s not a terribly complex plot, nor does it need to be. It’s swashbuckling adventure, and in the deft hands of Steven Spielberg that’s enough for a fun adventure. There are some truly astonishing action pieces in this film. Indeed I want to go back and watch the motorcycle chase scene again because I think it is one long insane swooping, flying shot from the establishing areal view of the car and motorcycle leaving the palace to the eventual arrival at the port below. This is of course much easier to do in an all digital realm, but choreographing such a monumental action scene into a single shot really shows off just how astonishing Spielberg is as an action director.

I watched this in 3-D on Blu-Ray and found myself often distracted by how absolutely gorgeous the film is. It is just so technically amazing and full of intricate detail. Compare this with even a recent Pixar film like Up and you get a sense for just how quickly the world of digital film making is jumping ahead. (I got much the same sense from watching Rango.) The environments, designs, effects and animation are all astonishing. I’m so glad I got to see it in 3-D too, because although it doesn’t have the level of storytelling through filmic technique that Scorsese brought to Hugo it is nonetheless far more immersive for me to see it leap and dive in and out of the screen.

In the end I found that I really enjoyed this movie. I loved seeing these familiar characters re-created in such a dynamic way. I loved the animation and the performances. I absolutely loved every scene with Snowy, who completely stole the show for most of the movie – which is exactly as it should be. Most of all it made me look forward to seeing what Peter Jackson will do with the sequel. Would it be too much to hope for Professor Calculus to show up? He was always my favorite comic foil when I first read the books about thirty years ago.

March 13, 2012 Posted by | daily reviews | Leave a comment