The Adventures of Tintin cheerfully makes every misstep you could imagine it making. The plot is sloppy, the tone is inconsistent, the theme is forced, the characters are miswritten, and the action is rote. There are only two things I’ll say in the film’s favor, and the first is more in the line of damning with faint praise than an actual compliment: At least producer-directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson seemed to want to make a better movie than they did. Their enthusiasm for the source material is obvious, and the film is peppered with little cameos and continuity nods that only Tintin enthusiasts will get. It could be that this roughly ninety years old franchise simply cannot be easily adapted into a modern blockbuster–and while that doesn’t excuse the films flaws, it does make me a bit more sympathetic, a little glad that they even tried.
The second point I’ll concede–and this is a shocker–is that the film looks good. It’s animated with motion-capture technology, which has consistently underwhelmed me in every film that has utilized it, but Tintin gets it right–or at least, does better than its predecessors. There are still some kinks–they just can’t get the faces to look right, it’s all hyper-realistic facial pores matched with bulbous cartoon noses–but the characters are well designed otherwise. They look like Herge’s illustrations brought directly to life, and they move in a way that is subtle and expressive while still staying true to those designs. The settings are huge, elaborate, and colorful in a way that suggests the entire adventure is taking place in a cleverly disguised toyland or fantasy world of some kind, which is the perfect feeling to evoke for Tintin and Co. (and which suddenly seems inappropriate whenever the film starts channeling Indiana Jones, but I digress). It’s easily the best-looking motion-capture film I’ve seen so far.
And unfortunately, that’s where my admiration ends. The film sloppily combines the plot of three of the most famous stories from the comic (“The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn,” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure”). These stories were originally published over a four-year period with one other, different story coming in between “Crab” and “Unicorn,” and by the time you condense that to an hour-and-a-half long movie you’re left with an unrecognizable mess. A minor character from one of the stories suddenly becomes the main villain, due to an improbable bit of plot manipulation. Captain Haddock appears to go from drunkard to competent ally overnight, instead of the subtle character arc we got in the comic. Newcomers to the franchise will be confused by all that is left unexplained while aficionados will be enraged at the number of iconic scenes that have been left unadapted.
Much has been made, by Spielberg especially, of the similarities between [Tintin and Indiana Jones. I personally think the resemblance is being over-stated; there is one particularly damaging difference that no one behind the movie seemed to detect: The Tintin comics were children’s stories. Sophisticated children’s stories. Brilliant children’s stories. Children’s stories that can easily be enjoyed, for what they are, by adults. But children’s stories nonetheless. They took themselves seriously, but there was always an element of fun to even the “darkest” scenes. In Spielberg’s Tintin the dramatic moments are treated as genuine life-or-death scenarios, and the slapstick feels forced and out of place. What we have are cartoonish caricatures in a film-noir atmosphere jumping around like they’re in an action movie, which is an extremely odd and discomfiting tone for the movie to take. The whole affair doesn’t feel genuine to me, a problem which is not helped by the actors. Jamie Bell plays an unconvincing Tintin; he says “Great Snakes!” a couple of times, but I don’t think he means it. Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig are terrific as Captain Haddock and Sakharine (the aforementioned bit-player-turned-antagonist), respectively, but they just highlight the imbalance between the film’s light and dark aspects. Haddock is a complete zany while Sakharine is a brutal villain.
In what is no doubt an attempt to emulate the comics’ frantic pacing, The Adventures of Tintin is chock full of chase scenes. Indeed, they pop up at the oddest of times: events as mundane as Snowy chasing a cat or Tintin encountering a guard dog instantly lead to Blue Sky-style rollercoaster sequences. (If you viewed the movie in 3D I’m guessing the cat and dog fly out at you every now and then). This is ineffective (the pacing of the comics had to do with a constantly shifting plot, not fast action), unbelievable, and uninspired.
In a period that has proven exceptionally ripe for remakes, retreads, and revivals of all kinds, The Adventures of Tintin will likely be remembered as just another failed attempt at updating a beloved property. I advise you to stick with the comics.