The Adventures of Tintin (2011) – Directed by Steven Spielberg – Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Tony Curran, and Toby Jones.
I don’t have much history with Hergé’s Tintin, so I come to this movie rather clean – no preconceived notions, no emotional history, no expectations of any kind. I have so little history with the character that if you had shown me a picture of Tintin, I could have told you his name, I could have told you he was a Hergé creation, and … that’s it. I knew so little about Tintin that I didn’t know the name of his dog. I didn’t even know Tintin was a journalist. Heck, I didn’t even know he was an adult; I thought he was a 15-year old kid or something.
So, yeah. I’m rather blank on this topic.
That said, it’s hard not to get excited about a project that features the combined talents of Steven Spielberg (director), Peter Jackson (producer), and Steven Moffat (co-writer), especially when all three men have plenty of other projects on their creative plates. Since they’re working with an established property, it’s a pretty easy leap to see that this project must have been a labor of love for them.
And that’s really what ADVENTURES OF TINTIN feels like to me – a love letter to a character and series. (Hergé and his drawing of Tintin even make an appearance in the film’s opening scene.) TINTIN is a beautifully rendered film and a completely satisfying adventure about a journalist (Jamie Bell) and his sidekick dog (his name is Snowy) who track down a missing treasure. What I love about the movie is how it manages to feel both large and small at the same time. For all of the globe-trotting and treasure hunting, it’s also a simple story about a dude and his dog who get caught up in something beyond what they had ever anticipated would come from buying a model of a 17th century ship at an outdoor market.
Tintin buys the model of the Unicorn and instantly one man (Barnaby, an FBI agent is disguise) tells him to get rid of it and another man, Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig), offers to buy it from him at any price. There’s no reason for Tintin to keep the model other than he likes it, but the efforts of these two men make him realize there’s something unique about the model. He takes it home to study it, but the ship is broken when Snowy and an interloping cat get in a tussle and tear through the apartment. A small metal cylinder falls out of one of the broken masts, but Snowy isn’t able to get Tintin to see it and it slides under a dresser.
After heading to the library to do research (with Snowy in tow) on the ship, Tintin returns home to find the model stolen and his apartment ransacked. Tintin’s response is to do the pure boy adventurer move – he goes to Marlinspike Hall, the country estate of Captain Haddock, the former captain of the Unicorn. There’s a great bonding scene between Snowy and the estate’s guard dog which allows Tintin to break into the estate, and once inside he is set upon by the estate’s butler and Sakharine. Tintin sees a model of the Unicorn and assumes it’s his, but then Sakharine reminds him that his model was broken, while the one before him is in perfect condition.
Upon returning home, Snowy is finally able to get Tintin to look under the dresser, where he finds the cylinder. Inside the cylinder is an actually a rolled-up parchment that contains a clue to a missing treasure. The FBI agent returns but gets shot by unseen assailants, and Tintin gets kidnapped and brought about Sakharine’s ship. The best part of this sequence is Snowy’s determination to not let the kidnappers get out of sight, and the loyal dog ends up sneaking about the ship and helping Tintin escape and partaking in the adventure.
On the ship, Tintin meets Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who’s kept in a state of permanent drunkeness in order to all Sakharine full run of the ship. A whole slew of adventures happen after this – on the ship, in a boat, on a plane, in the desert, on the docks … it all moves swiftly and effortlessly as Sakharine and Tintin compete to find the third model of the Unicorn for the final piece of the riddle. There’s an historical parallel at play in TINTIN: Haddock is the descendant of the original Captain Haddock, who sunk his ship so it wouldn’t fall into the hands of Red Rackham, who just so happens to be Sakharine’s ancestor. Eventually, Sakharine is captured and Tintin and Haddock find a part of the sunken treasure in Marlinspike Hall, and agree to keep looking for the rest, setting up a sequel that Peter Jackson has said he wants to direct.
ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is a wonderful film, fun and fanciful, full of life, energy, and brilliant color. TINTIN is Spielberg’s first animated movie (though he shot much of the film using motion capture), but the world he (and the digital artists at WETA) create is alive and beautiful. While I didn’t read the TINTIN stories as a kid, it feels familiar to the stories I did read. The adventure narrative is preposterous but the characters are grounded, and because they feel real it’s easy to follow along with them on this crazy ride. Despite all the darkness at play in the film with the near-constant threat of violence, a wondrous sense of optimism and permeates the movie.
I’ll be buying TINTIN for the collection and I’m already looking forward to Jackson’s sequel.