Before I could buy beer, or my own movie tickets, I was getting drunk on sequences like the above: in a funny way, it’s probably fair to say that Hergé’s panels better taught me how to read movies than most movies. Nevertheless, when word was officially disseminated that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were making the new Adventures of Tintin, I winced: it’s unfair for them to team up on him like that, after all, because he’s just a boy.
I was wrong, sort of. Two visits to the mondo-plex (one with 3D, one without) have left me with the impression that this project is more good than bad… but tussling with its inherent, inevitable compromises. They’ve taken classic mystery comics and given them bulging CGI muscles – imbued throughout the story with awe and respect, but ultimately showcased as in the climactic miliseconds of any commercial for any new XBOX game. Moreso than ever, Tintin is a warrior, a Hardy Boy snowboarding through the Middle East on a breathless quest for knowledge, an action hero for kids. (The author of the UK’s extremely popular, more-than-a-little-neoconservative tween fiction Alex Rider series has been tapped for the sequel.)
I have to assume these acts of willful souping-up are more commercial than creative. The above is taken from the main thoroughfare of the film’s climax – a Spielberg wet dream, a roller-coaster single “take” too bonkers and difficult to shoot, now or ever, with flesh-and-blood actors in a physical location, flawlessly emulating the third-person perspective of, let’s say, Tomb Raider. Turns out if you drop Tintin, he bounces. This is an era when it’s not okay to briefly dangle the kid actor playing Harry Potter upside-down for an SFX shot, so maybe this springiness is the boy reporter’s best shot at contemporary hearts and minds.
Lack of gravity, both literally and thematically, is what justifies the movie for today’s audience. Avid fans of the comics will despair, but it makes sense; the source material suggests a fascination with due process and colonialism that is only culturally acceptable to today’s children when delivered in the guise of nostalgia – in this case, nostalgia for a synthetic, politics-free version of the 1930s. Hergé wanted his books to work as a riff on contemporaneous world affairs, but he cut his teeth nearly a century ago – when reading the newspaper was less of a leisure activity. The “reality” of Spielberg’s celebrated motion-capturing today is much more…. virtual.
As always, aggressively upping the ante is this type of movie’s mandate; the much-balleyhooed quote from Tintin’s creator citing Spielberg as the only director up to the task of adapting his books was spoken a few months after the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark; if Spielberg had taken it on then, maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But the movie’s less insecure sequences, like an elaborate subplot in which Thompson and Thomson are on the trail of a pathological wallet-snatcher, combine an old man’s wisdom with a kid’s peppiness, starting with the movie’s very first frame – crime-solving as an artist’s life, as epicureanism.
The actors, particularly Jamie Bell, behave in their digital skins as though they’ve read, analyzed, and consciously interpreted these characters as people; they have the least to do when shooting, dodging and swooping. So in total, your options are either A. state-of-the-art set pieces which have essentially nothing to do with Hergé, and/or B. insightful smaller scenes that speak to a much more dutiful collaboration with the long-dead master. Not a bogus recipe by any means, but it’s not a bad time to remember that any of the original books probably costs roughly the same as a movie ticket – assuming you’re seeing it in 3D.