It can be very easy to underrate what Steven Spielberg does, because he has certain visual tricks that he loves, because he has certain character obsessions that he comes back to time and time again, because he surrounds himself with top-rate talent and most of all, because he makes the difficult look so damn easy.
But make no mistake about it, adapting Tintin to the big screen was not easy, in fact it was so difficult that Spielberg has been grappling with the task for more than thirty years – he first acquired the rights to adapt Tintin in 1983. The challenge is pleasing Tintin’s fans all over the world with a faithful adaptation (Hergé’s 24
Spielberg reassures fans of Tintin right off the bat, first with an astonishing animated credit sequence that is filled with Easter Eggs of Tintin’s adventures that reminds fans – and introduces non-fans to – how awesome and influential Tintin is: he was the world’s favourite spy before James Bond; the world’s favourite explorer before Indiana Jones; the world’s favourite comic-book detective before Batman and the world’s favourite red-headed kid reporter before Jimmy Olsen.
While the film uses motion capture animation similar to the type introduced by Robert Zemeckis in The Polar Express, it manages to avoid the uncanny valley effect of that film and Zemeckis’s Beowulf and A Christmas Carol by giving the characters faces that are based on Hergé’s drawings rather than on the actor’s faces. Spielberg also walks a delicate and successful tightrope between allowing the motion capture performances to give the animation dramatic weight and more traditional slapstick cartoon physics.
It should hardly be surprising that the standout performance is Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock. Since Serkis essentially helped invent motion
The rest of the cast are quite good, with Jamie Bell as Tintin and the great comedic duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost playing the bumbling detectives Dupont and Dupond Thompson and Thomson. In a smaller role, opera singer Kim Stengel brings life to the extremely politically incorrect Milanese Nightingale, Bianca Castafiore.
The not-so secret hero of the Tintin books is Milou (or as you Anglos call him, Snowy) and this is honoured in the film. A running joke in the books is Milou/Snowy figuring out who the bad guy is ages
Spielberg put together a murderer’s row of writers for the film. Steven Moffat wrote the first draft of the script before leaving to be Doctor Who‘s show-runner and his script was tweaked by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. Some might argue that all the three men did was stitch together the best bits from three Hergé books, The Crab with the Golden Claws which first introduced Captain Haddock, The Secret of the Unicorn which revealed the hidden past of the Haddock family and Red Rackham’s Treasure, the sequel to The Secret of the Unicorn.
The genius of The Adventures of Tintin is that it translates the very individual experience of reading Hergé’s books into the more universal experience of seeing them on screen. In the process they manage to capture the slapstick comedy of Dupont and Dupond Thompson and Thomson and the rollicking adventure of Tintin, Haddock and Milou/Snowy including a pirate sequence that makes this the best pirate film since The Princess Bride.
Especially good are the scene transitions like the Unicorn rising from the sand dunes or an outstretched hand turning into a desert being crossed by two camels or bouncing back between the flashback 17th century Captain Haddock fighting pirates and the present-day Captain Haddock deliriously fighting the French Foreign Legion.
The only misstep of the film is the 3D. While never offensively in the way, it is not necessary to enjoy the movie. Save your money and see the standard 2D print. That version is highly recommended as one of the best films of the year, whether you know who Tintin is or not.