This week I finally had the pleasure of watching the screen adaptation of Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin, and I really can’t believe how much I enjoyed it.

I’d been waiting for it to be released for over a year-and-a-half, after hearing the exciting news that Steven Spielberg would helm the project, teaming up with Peter Jackson to use the new motion-capture process to make a grand CGI flick. And boy, did it not disappoint.

I know going into this review that the film had a lot of baggage, none of which was really the movie’s fault.  First, people seem to take issue with Steven Spielberg himself, because people either love him or hate him.

I listened for hours on end to pretentious voices in film school, who expressed their disdain for mainstream successes like Spielberg, and instead would relish the fact they were “cool enough” to know and like filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, Jean-Luc Godard or Andrey Tarkovskiy. So I know people love to talk guff about Spielberg, especially taking issue with his historical pieces, like Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan or Munich (though I personally thought that the trailer for War Horse had some of the greatest elements you’d find in an SNL skit). But they forget, or like to omit, that he has directed and created some of the best films of modern cinema, including the Indiana Jones  trilogy (yes, I’m leaving the last one out!), Jurassic Park, Jaws, E.T., and Close Encounters of the Third Kind; let alone produced such classics as the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Gremlins, The Goonies, Young Sherlock Holmes, Poltergeist, and Batteries Not Included. And that doesn’t even touch on his creative input into animated TV franchises and cable miniseries. So whether you like him or not, let’s face it: he’s doing something right.

Back to Tintin. First, the motion capture used for this film, in this author’s humble opinion, looks amazing. Derived from the technology Robert Zemeckis pioneered for Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas CarolTintin is the best to date. You can even forget you are watching animation, and instead fall right into the story. Much like how Robert Rodriguez implemented a perfectly realized style for Frank Miller’s Sin City, Spielberg uses the “mo-cap” magnificently to fully realize the world of Tintin.

Actors Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Toby Jones, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and Mackenzie Crook are completely unrecognizable inside the characters they play because of this modern rotoscoping, which one could look at as remarkable, and some can even predict that this may be the future of acting in cinema. I am from the school of thought that if done right (and it is in this case) it greatly liberates the director and the actor from traditional constraints like characterization, makeup, and setting, as a means of exploring a story.

The film itself is a fantastic, fast-paced adventure, which starts right out of the gate at the opening credits, and does not stop until the final line of dialogue, and even leaves you with a cliffhanger ending—which I sadly suspect may never be answered, because of the poor box office return, which I will address momentarily. If, like myself, you are a fan of the original Tintin comics (here’s a plug for the amazing boxset I own), or the serial adventure format in general, or even the Indiana Jones films in particular, you’ll be downing the popcorn at a staccato-like pace.

Tintin has quite a few direct references to the Indy films, and if you are well versed in them, you’ll pick the nods right out. I thought it almost felt like an extension of the Indy legacy, having all the elements that make a good pulp/serial genre film: exotic locations and set pieces, magnificent action scenes, great characters, and an enthralling mystery. It is a faithful adaptation of the original source material (that’s right, I’m calling out Michael Bay and others who muck with source material!) but completely satisfies the newcomer as well.

But as always, it is rare that all the stars align and end with a resounding success. Tintin sadly was a flop domestically; the studios instead threw all their cash into the other Spielberg film released last Christmas, War Horse, and pretty much abandoned any kind of advertising for Tintin‘s DVD release. I think it did well overseas, but for me that is not the point. While dining with an old friend the week the film was opening, I confessed how excited I was to see it. His response turned out to be quite prophetic and summed up the whole problem: “Sadly, America doesn’t care about Tintin, Dion.” And he couldn’t have hit that nail any straighter on the head than that.

In my opinion (one I think is the consensus of the people I’ve spoken with who are fans of the material or have seen the movie),  the studio completely and utterly failed in their promotion of the film.

Of course American audiences aren’t going to care about Tintin because truthfully, American audiences don’t know who the hell the young ginger-haired reporter Tintin even is. He’s a Belgian comic book character who first saw print in 1929, and whose globe-trotting adventures were published, successfully, until well into the 1980s. So you have a built-in market and audience in Europe, but here in the U.S. of A. the average PS3/Facebook/Twitter/TMZ/reality show-obsessed kid who listens to shitty hip-hop or badly over-produced auto-tuned pop music isn’t going to know or even care who or what Tintin is, let alone have any interest in the 1930s-40s era in which the film is set. Overcoming that lack of interest falls on the shoulders of the studio; they have to market and advertise it so people take an interest in it, and then want to go see it.

If you’re going to spend that amount of dough to make the damn thing, you should at least have the foreknowledge that you’ll have a large task in schooling your American audience about who the character is. And this seems to be a current problem that Hollywood hasn’t bothered to tackle yet. Want further proof? Look at the now record failure of Disney’s John Carter, a film based on one of the pioneering properties in the serial genre, created by the icon Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is a topic the Podwits have sadly discussed before (in this podcast), and seems to be something Hollywood doesn’t seem to want to address.

Again, you would think with the amount of money they are willing to drop on making a film, they’d want to take the time to properly educate the audience on what it is before releasing it. And this sadly affected the box office take of a really well-made film.

So, if you want to see a great action-adventure that brings you back to your youth and makes your marvel at the astounding achievements in technology, check out The Adventures of Tintin.

Like I said, the ending leaves you hanging, much like the best Spielberg-related franchises do; and this Podwit really hopes the poor domestic performance of the film doesn’t hinder a sequel, because the movie really leaves you jones-ing for another (no pun intended).  Messrs Spielberg and Jackson, since I know you’re frequent readers of the site, please feel free to indulge the fans with a follow-up. I think you made this film so good that it begs another. And you can’t let a great piece of work down, can you?

 

*UPDATE*–  According to BBC News, a sequel could be on the way!

 
So that means my dreams may been answered, so in the words of Kermit the Frog: “Yeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!”

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