If you can believe it, Tintin creator Herge first gave his blessing for Steven Spielberg to produce a film based on his beloved Tintin comic book series back in 1983. And here we are in December 2011, nearly three decades later and the boy adventurer has finally arrived on the big screen.
After years in film development purgatory, the Tintin script that was eventually selected by Spielberg was a screenplay written by Joe Cornish (Hanna, Attack The Block) that melds The Crab With The Golden Claws and The Secret of The Unicorn. Although they are the 9th and 11th books in the series respectively, they make a sensible starting point for a film as it serves as an introduction to Captain Haddock who would become an integral character in the series.
We begin our story at a flea market where our heroic investigative reporter Tintin is posing for a portrait by a street artist. The artist sketches his tuft of hair, a little ‘c’ shape for the nose and black dots for eyes to reveal…the Tintin we are all familiar with from the comics. Although done as a gag, I believe this scene is also there to help audiences adjust from the comic book art form they are familiar with to the cinematic approach Spielberg has chosen to go with – an interesting blend of hyper realistic texturing and motion capturing that is then applied to caricatured faces. It’s certainly a unique visual style that I’ve not seen before and works out rather effectively. No one I know has exited the film complaining about uncanny valley.
An interesting and presumably conscious choice by Spielberg is the decision not to put a date or location to the film. Instead he has opted to give the film the broad appearance of being set somewhere in Europe in the mid 20th Century. The world of Tintin is populated by top hats, canes, classic cars and cobblestone streets. Whats notable by their absense is any sign of technology. There are no mobile phones, no televisions and no Internet. It gives the film a very distinct setting compared to your run-of-the-mill children’s adventure film.
So does it work? Sort of. Mostly. I believe Spielberg has nailed the key ingredients for what I would want in a big screen Tintin film. Let me explain. What I didn’t want was a frame-for-frame adaptation of the comics that used the exact same art style as Herge. The reason I don’t want that is because it already exists. The Ellipse animation company produced a series called The Adventures of Tintin in 1991 that does precisely this.
Tintin is very much a product of its time and I was pleased that Spielberg didn’t neuter some of the elements that would seem uncommon in a children’s film today. Tintin does use a firearm. Captain Haddock is a full blown alcoholic when we meet him. The only consession that I can see is that his love of tobacco seems to be cut but I can appreciate that this is probably due to a classification system that would not allow children to see the film otherwise. Thinking about it, it seems odd that over time, a hero in an All Ages film firing a gun is passable but smoking a pipe is a no-no.
What I did want from a Tintin adaptation was a film that captured the essence of the series – its exhuberance and love of adventure – but left room for the director to make it their own and this is exactly what I got. There are memorable scenes from the comics such as Tintin and Haddock’s desperate battle with a seaplane but many of the funny one liners and high octane action set pieces are entirely of Spielberg and Cornish’s own doing.
So what doesn’t work? The pacing. The film suffers a bit from Pirates of the Caribbean syndrome. It’s about fifteen minutes longer than it should be and an over-reliance on action scenes can fatigue the viewer so that by the end of the film, when Tintin and Captain Haddock are fighting with the villanious Sakharine inside two cranes, the overwhelming feeling is one of exhaustion rather than exhileration.
Having said that, I’m not going to complain too much here. It’s a big budget Tintin movie made by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. As a big Tintin fan, I should be so lucky. Having made a quarter of a billion dollars at the box office, a sequel seems assured and rumours online appear to suggest that a third film is being considered too. I just hope at some stage the creators get a chance to adapt The Seven Crystal Balls & Prisoners Of The Sun, which are my personal favourites in the Tintin series. As it stands, The Adventures Of Tintin isn’t flawless but its not too shabby either.