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The Adventures of Tintin: Tag-Team Movie Mini-Review
Posted by Thurston McQ on Monday, November 21, 2011
The Adventures of Tintin hit European theaters in October. Atrejub and I went to see it on opening weekend. Here are our individual takes on it.
Thursty and I went to the English-language movie theater here in Munich so that we could hear the advertised voices. (Simon Pegg! Nick Frost! Daniel Craig!) We were limited schedule-wise, as most of the shows are for the 3-D version, and I unfortunately am physically incapable of watching 3-D movies. We attended a special "Kids-Club" show (Sunday noon showing at reduced price), and therefore were in a theater with a good number of the target audience. The kids were really cute--as the Amblin Entertainment logo appeared, multiple children said, "E.T.! E.T.!" The kids seemed to really enjoy the film, particularly the pirate flashback scenes.
I have never read the Tintin comics; I only knew of the character from European friends and a few references in German comedy films. ("We were an awesome team. Like Tim and Struppi... ") I knew that Tim, as the Germans refer to him, was called Tintin in English, but I didn't know what Struppi's name was. (It's Snowy.) I knew that Tintin was a journalist, but I knew nothing about the other characters, like Haddock, or Thomson and Thompson. I therefore cannot speak to how accurately the movie reflected the characters (a major concern among German reviewers).
That said, I really enjoyed the movie. As I mentioned to Thursty on our walk home, I really miss seeing good action scenes like the ones in Tintin. When you see a Michael Bay movie, for example, the action is filmed with very fast cuts and camera movements, so that the audience can't actually see the action. A Snyder movie, on the other hand, emphasizes the individual movements to such a degree that it no longer feels like action, but like a series of paintings. [A series of soulless, brainless, totally lame paintings. -- Thursty] Spielberg knows how to do action. You can follow along, but it is never unbearably slow, and the action unfolds like a carefully choreographed Rube Goldberg machine. I wish that other directors would approach action like Spielberg.
The biggest concern I had about Tintin was the animation. I am not a fan of the hyper-realistic, motion-capture animation Zemeckis has made famous with The Polar Express--the more human they attempt to make the characters look, the more I'm turned off by a sense of uncanny offness. In Tintin, the characters are very human, but most of them have exaggerated features (particularly the noses), which helps. I never felt distracted by the animation. The characters' eyes are emotional and realistic and do not have the same dead look typical of Zemeckis's work. The only thing that really bothered me (and only occasionally) were the mouths--they were not as expressive as the rest of the characters' faces. Finally, the opening credits were beautifully animated in the traditional, 2-D style, and playfully referenced various Tintin comic covers.
I'm still hoping that Rango takes the next Best Animated Feature Oscar, but I won't be sad if this film wins instead.
Review Score: 90 / 100
Jubbers wrote the above almost a month ago. I've been sitting on my review for a couple of reasons. The primary one is laziness, but the secondary one is that she already covered much of what I wanted to say. We discussed the movie on our walk back home, and wound up embedding elements of our planned mini-reviews in one another's psyche. To the timelier reviewer go the spoils, I suppose.
In the wake of her having beaten me to the punch, I decided I would take another tack, read the three books (Crab with the Golden Claws, Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham's Treasure) from which the movie's major story elements were drawn, and see how that might help inform my review.
I was less a Tintin virgin than Jubbers. I read a couple of the books back in the nineties, and I read Tintin in the Congo back in 2007, after I heard about the move to ban it in the UK. In both cases, I was in Germany, and in both cases, I read the German translations. I enjoyed most of what I read, though I remember being put off by some of the dumber gags.
This time around, I read the books in English. A lot gets left out, naturally, some details get shuffled, and one supporting character gets recast as the main villain, but it's all done in a way that made me appreciate the movie's script even more. Moffat has a knack for adaptation (Sherlock is evidence of this) and Edgar Wright has a knack for tying things together in clever ways (repeat viewings of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz bear this out). I can't say with any honesty that I know for sure which of the two was responsible for what, but it works. I know Wright is responsible for bringing Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to the performance-capture fold, and for that I am grateful.
After reading the books (I can find time to read 190 pages of Tintin, but I can't find time to write a 500 word review), I decided not to waste everyone's time with some sort of lengthy compare/contrast piece. The books are their own thing, and I recommend them to anyone who winds up enjoying the movie, wants more, and can't wait for Peter Jackson's sequel. The books are a breeze to read, and the movie made from them is as much a breeze to watch. It's a shame the books aren't as well known in America, and I imagine the movie will be a harder sell there because of it. If it sells at all, it will be because of the names attached.
This is as it should be. The characters and scenarios may be Herge's, but the movie is dyed-in-the-wool Spielberg. Once the first action domino drops, there's no question whose finger pushed it. It's high-order, eighties-era Spielbergian adventure comedy, and I didn't know how much I had missed it until it grabbed me by the collar and ripped me off my feet.
The John Williams score helped. No one does incidental action music like Williams, and when you hear it it's hard not to be transported. Unfortunately, Williams doesn't really provide a strong major theme for the movie, so the incidental action music is all you get. It's enough, though.
I've always felt like the opening scene of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade primed me to expect something very specific from The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and I never felt I got it from the series. Here, more than two decades on, is the Young Indiana Jones I always wanted. A couple of the gags are real eye-rollers, but more works than doesn't, and you're liable to forget you're watching a cartoon and find yourself hanging from cliff to cliff alongside Tintin and Snowy.
Review Score: 86 / 100
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