Thursday, 13 September 2012

FILM REVIEW: The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

Steven Spielberg's take on Hergé's creation is a poor imitation of the director's best work

The opening credits of Steven Spielberg's big screen, motion capture adaptation of The Adventures Of Tintin are an absolute delight. Deliberately cartoonish and visually inventive, they successfully capture both the joy of reading Hergé's books for the first time and the director's true potential. They're then followed by a snappily paced opening that's as good as anything co-screenwriter Edgar Wright has ever done (see: Nicholas Angel's memorable introduction in Hot Fuzz). It's enough to make you believe that you have a minor blockbuster classic on your hands. Unfortunately, that's as good as it gets.

For the movie slowly dissolves into a typical "treasure hunt" with our titular hero (Jamie Bell), his dog, Snowy, and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) trying to uncover the mystery surrounding a sunken ship from years gone by. Cue chases on both land and sea, some genuinely funny moments, pauses for exposition, a scenery chewing villain (Daniel Craig) and so on. Essentially, it's exactly what Spielberg intended it to be: "Indiana Jones for kids", except without the thrills, humour or iconic moments that place Raiders Of The Lost Ark above just about every single one of its imitators. The movie is, alas, a poor imitation of the director's best work.

Spielberg and the usually dependable Peter Jackson (or is he? The Lord Of The Rings trilogy aside, there's little in his resumé to kick up a fuss about) have, in the end, concocted a routine adventure that's also a proponent of some of the worst things about cinema today. Like motion capture itself. Some see it as revolutionary; I see it as bland and lifeless. Not forgetting the utterly pointless 3-D that does nothing to the film except make it an eyesore. (And yet the 3-D craze is continuing to this day.)

If there's something I was obviously reminded of when watching The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn, it's that not every iconic comic strip character is suited to the big screen. None of the Asterix* films, animated or otherwise, have captured the joy of reading the comics. And the Garfield live action film was a watered-down imitation of its source material, Bill Murray or not.

I wasn't a die hard fan of Hergé's Tintin, but the few books I did read (like "The Blue Lotus" and "Tintin And The Picaros") were at least both funny and lively, not to mention engrossing. What the live action film does is show off the worst of the two Hollywood bigwigs involved, not the best.

Occasionally we get breaks in the exposition and the monotony of the adventure for the odd moment of visual majesty. Some of the transitions between scenes are marvellously clever. But, like the final four Harry Potter movies, the film really is a cornucopia of missed opportunities.

The chance to build a really compelling "opposite sides of the same coin" dynamic - a la Indy and Belloq, Schindler and Goeth, or even John Anderton and Danny Witwer - between Haddock and Daniel Craig's villain is wasted. Craig's character gets a wholly unsatisfying denouement. Spielberg's hand with slapstick humour is still clumsy – there's moments where we're clearly supposed to laugh, but we don't. We also get a typical Spielberg moment where we think the leads are dead and then they somehow turn out to be alive. Once enthralling, it's now wearing thin. And how could Thomson and Thompson end up being so superfluous?

Even the most enthralling and amusing moments have been done better elsewhere. Alcohol mixing with fire? I think I'll just watch Friends again. Captain Haddock and Tintin being chased through dusty roads? Now, where's the box set of the first three Indiana Jones films? Ultimately, the colour, heart and soul have been drained out of Tintin until we're left with something that's as hollow and mechanical as the motion capture it uses to tell its "story". Seeing films like this one reminds me of everything Spielberg's detractors dislike about him, and that he hasn't made a near-great film in nearly two decades.

At film's end, when Tintin asks Captain Haddock if he's in the mood for another adventure, I'm in no mood to join them. Whether you are or not, well, that just depends on how much you expect from present day entertainment.

(Originally written on November 23, 2011.)

* * *
*Some, in fact, argue that Asterix would have been a "better movie bet" for Spielberg, though to these eyes, the satirical side of the comic book doesn't lend itself well to the director's sensibilities.