When I first saw a trailer for The Adventures of Tintin, my heart sank. Here was another beloved franchise from my childhood being slaughtered in the stumped hands of Hollywood. I was only just recovering from the Thundercats trailer, after all.
Tintin, a series of graphic novels by Belgian artist Georges Remi, (pen name Hergé), outlines the Indiana-Jones-like adventures of Tintin, a journalist with boy scout ideals. His main companions are his white fox terrier Snowy (or Milou in the French version), and his lovable drunk sidekick, Captain Haddock. Hergé published 24 graphic novels were between 1930-1976. He developed the character of Tintin when he himself worked for a Belgian newspaper, which was later shut down during the second world war. Hergé continued to live in occupied Belgium during the Nazi invasion, and reflections of the real world, as well as his changing ideals, shone through in his stories.
Political agenda aside, as well as some very, um, un-PC moments, I was intrigued as a child by the adventures and the characters that made up the Tintin universe. And I’m not the only one: there are Tintinologists—people who study the stories—tons of merchandise, movie adaptations, and even stamps and coins created from the series.
With as solid a following as the franchise has, I was wary to see Spielberg’s Adventures of Tintin. I have no qualms with Spielberg, and actually enjoy most of his movies, but I had a sense of snobbish fan indignation as to why they would make it 3-D and not 2-D animation, which would obviously best resemble the original graphic novels. As an animator myself, I realize how costly and time-consuming 2-D animation is, so if they were trying to avoid that, why not then make the film live-action? It seemed an odd choice, especially in a time where a lot of movies are 3-D just because they can be.
Entering the theater a few minutes late, hard-earned popcorn clutched in my hands, my doubts and reservations dissipated as I saw the opening title sequence. Flat like a comic, and reminiscent of old cut-paper Saul Bass titles (such as The Man With the Golden Arm), the design was minimal, interactive, and fun, and I was duly impressed with amount of work that went into the opening alone (they even used the same typeface as the Tintin comics). I saw that Andy Serkis (the voice and actor of Gollum from Lord of the Rings) and Daniel Craig were doing voices, but I forgot until I saw their names again at the end credits.
After the flat, AfterEffects-y design of the opening titles, we’re thrown into Tintin’s lush 3-D world, with a CG version of Hergé painting Tintin’s caricature. We get nice lingering shots of finished caricatures in the background, which are just Hergé’s 2-D illustrations of many well-known characters. The fact that Tintin’s comic face is shown within minutes of the movie is a good sign for me.
My previous guardedness over the 3-D characters also dissipates as I see just how nicely they’re rendered. It’s an odd mix between cartoon and realism, yet with enough detail and facial acting to move away from the smooth, polished look of most 3-D. The character acting is obviously done through ever-improving motion capture, and the heads are planted-on 3-D versions of their distinctive 2-D counterparts. I was fascinated to see the movement and hear the voices of characters that had until now been static cartoons to me. They had come to life from their flat comic panels.
There are plenty of references to other Tintin stories within the movie, including the emerald “O” on the banner for opera singer Bianca Castafiore (Tintin and the Castafiore Emerald), the crab tins (The Crab With the Golden Claws), images from the opening credits, and framed newspapers in Tintin’s flat. I was able to recall the panels of Tintin and Blackbeard walking through the desert from the comic as I saw it live on screen. As a fan, I enjoyed these little Easter eggs and felt satisfied that the people behind the film really knew and cared about their Tintin.
Spielberg, who has apparently had the rights to Tintin since 1983, has been a longtime fan ever since his film Raiders of the Lost Ark was compared to the Tintin stories. In fact, Adventures of Tintin was released in theaters on the exact same day as Raiders in 1981. He originally wanted to do the film as a live action, and he approached Peter Jackson about having Weta Digital create a CG Snowy. It was then that Jackson, also a fan, convinced Spielberg that live action wouldn’t do the series justice, and I’d have to agree with him there. Tintin’s characters and its world have such a sense of surreality to them, just like the graphic novels. It feels whimsical and I found myself comparing all of the stunts and slapstick to Buster Keaton films because I believed that the characters were live people.
Cinematography is a big thing that I pay attention to, kind of in a nerdy way. From the beginning, I was impressed with the variety and creativity in shot design, as well as the transitions between scenes. Because this is a whimsical world, there is a lot of fun and experimentation in the camera work. I found myself wondering what was going to happen next. We watch scenes unfold through magnifying glasses, bubbles, and whiskey bottles, and the money spent on seeing the 3-D theatre version is well-spent, especially during the action sequences. The fact that the chase sequence through the Moroccan bazaar is better than all four Pirates of the Caribbean put together should be a big enough indicator that this is an awesome movie.
The Adventures of Tintin is a success. Even newcomers to the Tintin franchise will be captivated by the story, its characters, and its world. The action is highly-entertaining, and the art design a gorgeous blend of realism and caricature. I’m reminded of a 3-D version of French animator Sylvain Chomet’s films (The Triplets of Belleville; The Illusionist). Where other attempts to revitalize older franchises have failed dismally (*cough* TRANSFORMERS), this film serves as a healthy boost that I feel will draw in a new generation of fans. It’s one of the few instances where I’ve actually looked forward to a sequel.