The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

'Billions of billious blue blistering fights scenes!'

The Adventures of Tintin:

Just another empty Hollywood promise

It's never a good thing when the best part of a movie is the cartoon that accompanies the opening credits. Sadly, such was the case with the first Hollywood film I have seen in a theatre in more than two years.

The Tintin books (the best of them, anyway) are among those rare childhood favourites that bear repeat visits as the years roll on. I've read all of the official albums, (most many times), the original black and white versions (including Tintin au pays des Soviets) that were later re-drawn for colour publication, and more than a few homages, rip-offs and admiring satires.

Hergé was a brilliant cartoonist, a children's story-teller with a keen ear for dialogue and wordplay, and a sharp eye for slapstick, who managed to transcend the genres in which he worked even as he (mostly) stayed within them. His bland hero, the boy reporter Tintin, was a blank slate surrounded by eccentric friends and dangerously crazed villains. The mystery and adventure was enough for smaller children, while the humour kept older readers coming back again and again.

Hergé's books were also very cinematic, and the trailer I saw for the film suggest that, this time, we might see that rare Hollywood adaptation that treated a movie's source material with the respect it deserved. I suppose I should have known better than to expect too much from Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, but hope (as they say) springs eternal.

To be fair, I think it is safe to say that, by their own lights, Spielberg and company did treat the original comics with respect. If the film's backgrounds and style owe as to Max Fleischer's Superman cartoons as they do to Hergé's, the performance capture animation does a brilliant job of re-creating the cartoonist's realistic figures with the outrageously exaggerated faces, and the movie is rife with references to other adventures and characters in the long-running series — there is even an early in-joke featuring (I am almost certain) a doppelganger of Hergé himself as a flea-market caricaturist who sketches the movie Tintin as he appeared in the books.

Yes, the film looks good. The motion capture animation is well-done; the characters look great; and the 3D is perfectly adequate (though it never adds much to the goings-on. Can someone tell me if I'm missing out by having watched it at a retro-fitted flat screen cinema rather than one of those curved IMAX screens?). But pretty pictures, even in 3D, don't make a movie. The problem with this mediocre film lies not with the intentions of its producers, but with a Hollywood that has forgotten what story is.

The Adventures of Tintin provides no reason to believe that, however highly Spielberg regarded Hergé's art, he had little or no appreciation of his writing.

The original albums were dense as children's comics go, layered and complex, with careful pacing that balanced drama and adventure with characterization, and slapstick humour with all manner of wordplay (and also, a coherent world that grew more sophisticated with each story). Despite that richness, The Adventures of Tintin is (loosely) based not on one, but on three of the original albums and, more, re-makes a minor character into a major villain with his own back-story and (nonsensical) motivations, thus making something already too complicated even more so.

And yet ... despite that complicated background, there isn't much there there in The Adventures of Tintin. The mystery is confusing but unconvincing; the characterizations are mostly gone and all of Hergé's brilliant pacing has vanished. Instead, we are "treated" to fight scenes and chase scenes, followed by more fights, more chases, and more chases and more fights, ad blistering nauseum.

If what you ask of a night out at the movies is a competently constructed series of thematically pointless action set-pieces, The Adventures of Tintin might be what you're looking for.

But me? If I want Tintin, I'll pull out of the books for a dose of the real thing. And if I want a cartoon that will fill my eyes with beauty while also respecting my brain, I think I'll re-watch something by Hayao Miyazaki.

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I don't believe that Hollywood has forgotten to write a story for the movies. It's possible that the screenwriters of this particular movie may have forgotten. Have you considered this?

Three excellent writers...

On the lead up to this film's release I was actually really excited BECAUSE of the writers. Edgar Wright ("Spaced", "Hot Fuzz"), Stephen Moffat ("Sherlock", "Coupling", "Doctor Who") and Joe Cornish ("Attack the Block, "The Adam and Joe Show"). With Moffat in particular at the helm I couldn't really see how it could fail.

What I didn't realise was that the script wasn't a collective effort from these three masterminds, but was rather something shoved from one to the other, most likely fairly unceremoniously. What's more, all three of them have had other projects which will have taken up most of their time this year. Joe Cornish was putting an awful lot of time and effort into his directorial debut. Meanwhile, Moffat actually had to limit how many Sherlock episodes he released because the BBC were concerned that his work was over-crowding their channels.

Apparently the end product makes it kinda obvious that it is the work of three different scriptwriters shoved together haphazardly. :(

Re: Three excellent writers...

Moffat is the only one of the three with whom I am familiar. I confess, after his two years running Doctor Who, I know longer consider him an excellent writer, though I would have three years ago.

I agree with you about the script, though; granted that I was a aware it was a fix-up, I still think someone who didn't would still be able to smell the taint.

Re: "Tintin"

You might well be right; in truth, I don't see enough movies to pretend I have my finger on Hollywood's sluggish pulse.

I do know that when I do see a movie with a real story to it, it's usually an indy film. For example, Hard Candy, or Kick-Ass or Juno, as opposed to overblown, all explosions, all the time! tripe like Star Trek.

I don't doubt that there are good Hollywood movies out there, but neither do I doubt that the ones that come my way usually seem to have forgotten about the importance of writing.

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