Like a million people across the globe, I have grown up, spending summer vacations going to the local library with the pocket money of the week and renting out the adventures of Tintin comics. They were always a special summer treat. When one heard about the film version of Tintin being made by the God of such movies, Steven Spielberg and the Lord of New Age Technology, Peter Jackson, I was excited.
Spielberg, is known for masterful action flicks like the Indiana Jones series, Jurrassic Park etc. he does have a knack of deviating from that and ruining certain projects, all in earnestness, may I say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull being one such recent example, Stanley Kubrick’s A.I. being another.
Tintin (Jamie Bell, King Kong) buys a model ship from the local flee market, from what seems to be Paris, (since there are both English and French signboards) called the Unicorn, only to have it stolen from his apartment later. His undying quench for adventure and a ‘story’ takes him to Marlinspike Hall, now owned by Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who wanted to buy the model from Tintin. Soon Tintin is kidnapped and sent on a ship, where he saves and befriends a sizzled, Captain Archibald Haddock (Andrew Serkis).
Thus begin the adventures of the duo, along with faithful mutt, Snowy, which takes them through the palace and souks of Morocco, the sands of the Sahara and across several choppy sea and air journeys.
Shot in Motion Capture technology, (Polar Express), the film does do a great amount of justice to the works of the great Herge. Adapted from 3 comics, The Secret of the Unicorn, The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure, the film is a fitting tribute to Herge.
The opening title sequence takes us through the printed history of Tintin in a very real and tangible way. Tintin’s intro scene introduces the character sitting for a portrait by an artist who looks suspiciously like Herge, eventually holding up a painting which shows the audiences the ‘real’ Tintin. This is the moment where the ‘real’ world of Herge merges with the virtual world of Spielberg / Jackson with Jamie Bell, seeing the portrait.
Mixing and matching elements from a number of stories, the screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish is loaded with items that will delight long-time fans.
It is very old-fashioned in storytelling terms, thus sticking to its origins, but yet stylised in its presentation.
Spielberg working with Jackson, reminds one of the earlier collaborations of maestro with long time ally, George Lucas. Deploying technologies with subtle finesse throughout, and exploiting the current favourite 3D’s potential enough to make the action scenes that much more effective, Spielberg and Jackson present mo-cap in a new avatar, making one feel at times that it is the actual actors with a good usage of prosthetics.
Spielberg uses Jackson’s WETA studios, to create some exhilarating action sequences. The best being the motorcycle chase through the streets of Morocco, all shot in one shot!
The European detail of vintage automobiles, dusty shops and rain-slicked cobblestones is lovingly rendered, and there are moments of wit and visual surrealism to please adults as well as children.
This is the reason why , I guess they went for motion capture rather than shooting with direct individuals. The biggest example being Snowy, Tintin’s mutt! Trying to get the same performance out of a real dog in the middle of a film also involving stunts and special effects would have been a nightmare. This makes Snowy an integral part of the film and hence a star with the toddlers.
Yet, mo-cap has still not been able to capture the essence of the eyes, something where Polar Express and Beowolf both failed. There is never an emotion in anyone’s eyes, which I guess will work out in time.
In terms of performances, everyone unanimously feels that Bell’s Tintin is flat, emotionless and too weak in his characterization. Whilst that holds good for this particular film, one also needs to add that in the original series, Tintin has no back story, no deep character flaws nor and any deep issue like Batman / Spiderman which leads him on a revenge mission. He is just a reporter with the hunt of a story. Bumbling bowler-hatted detectives Thomson and Thompson played by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, have limited scope in the story and come across more as an independent track for comic relief.
Anderw Serkis (“The Lord of the Rings,” “King Kong” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), now a master of the use of mo-cap, takes Haddock beyond the written material. He evokes the feelings of sympathy, anger and love in an uncanny manner, with his alcoholism used for both, to tickle the funny bone as well as to stir the emotional chords of the heart. His Captain Haddock is a marvel, a man tortured by the idea that he lost his family’s legacy and has no idea how to restore it, a man who has decided that the only way to cope with his pain is with drink.
Daniel Craig as the mysterious Ivanovich Sakharine, is brilliant.
Full marks to Spielberg and Jackson for presenting this humor filled film. Do not miss the intro shot of Haddock. All in all, it might anger the purists a bit, but the film is definitely worth a watch. Needless to say, the kids will love it!