Steven Spielberg’s new film version of Tintin is trying too hard says John Newman
The oddest thing about the The Adventures of Tintin is not the motion capture movement but the relative lack of context. While we can guess at the date where the action is happening any insight into who Tintin is remains left to our imagination. It’s highly unusual these days for a potential movie adaptation franchise to leap in with no background information about its lead character. So, we don’t really even know how old Tintin is, how he came to be able to afford an apartment and car, how he manages to become a `boy reporter` etc etc. Normally people moan about over exposition in a first film but here while the plot details are extrapolated to the nth degree the only character we can really invest in or learn anything about, is Captain Haddock.
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As matters progress he becomes its focus; his attempts to sober up and do his family tradition proud by helping (and sometimes amusingly hindering) Tintin follow the clues to a lost treasure are given generous screen time and end up as the only aspect that moves Tintin further than being simply a kid’s adventure film.
You can tell it’s mainly aimed at younger audiences by the fact that it moves at the speed of light; in fact about half way through it starts to sag under the weight of a somewhat circuitous plot that more or less ends up where it starts. Every couple of minutes brings another outbreak of breathless action but the motion capture process makes some of it too clean, too precise. At the end of an adventure in which both Tintin and Haddock are hurled, dropped, kicked, hit, shot at, covered in water, sand and debris; there is not a scar on either of them. In the case of Tintin, not even any psychological ones.
While Haddock is delightfully flawed, Tintin remains a blank slate. His leaps of insight and dogged determination, his fearlessness are also untouched by normal pre- occupations meaning he is so virtuous and one dimensional he ends up in danger of becoming a device to move the plot forward. There isn’t even a girl for him to fall for. And, let’s face it, no teenager of considerable resources would put up with that annoying dog. Nonetheless Tintin and Haddock do strike up quite a chemistry that is always entertaining.
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Motion capture has certainly improved since the ghostlike faces of the Polar Express passengers but the process has yet to truly emulate the nuances of facial expression. So we rely very much on the dialogue to let us know how people are feeling and here the film scores with some sparky exchanges. The action is dynamically rendered with more than a hint of Steven Spielberg’s earlier glories. As often with Spielberg, the best action piece appears a little while before the end- a sizzling chase around an African town that is exhilarating and at times quite funny with it. The most amusing- and cleverest sequence- is when Haddock, Tintin and Snowy are trying to get some keys from a sleeping sailor without waking anyone else up.
Visually, there is richness in the places visited and little details, especially some delightful tricks used to move from one scene to another. The film does capture the bizarreness of Herge’s world well but you can’t help thinking though that the film, even with the current script, might have benefited more from being live action. The motion capture distracts as much as it enhances the adventure.
Like a lot of 2011’s big films The Adventures of Tintin tries a bit too hard to impress and is too frantic to satisfy all but the most undemanding viewer.