Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin: A Must-See

Because I am a European, I was raised on Tintin. Americans, in general, haven’t a clue who Tintin is and could care less. This makes for an interesting scenario regarding Spielberg’s latest blockbuster, The Adventures of Tintin: will his name and the massive promo campaign actually bring American into the theatre to see what all the fuss is about? 

Critics have fallen on either side of the fence on this one — purists unable to acknowledge any alteration in Hergé’s original vision and style, especially that from the page to the screen — and those who think the transition has been made admirably, preserving the heart of the story and characters in CGI.

I have to admit, I too was a skeptic; I didn’t really want to hear Tintin’s voice or see him move around in anything other than cartoon frames. But I saw it today, and have come to two conclusions: this film is great not because it handles Hergé’s legacy well, but simply because it is a great film — and because gawdammit, the three-dimensional, walking talking Tintin has been done really really well.

For one thing, the film does not follow the books’ plot to the letter. It combines and embellishes, but in a way that makes sense to the plot and is tremendously entertaining. Tintin and Haddock are genuinely funny, and there are enough nods to the Tintin genre and inside audio / visual jokes to satisfy any Tintinophile. While the action sequences are mostly reminiscent of the first Indiana Jones movie, with pretty much impossible feats of human endurance and flexibility (not to mention not being nicked even once by a thousand bullets), the animation is truly breathtaking. These figures have delicate down on their skin; the right muscles move when they speak; you can even see the insides of their mouths. Importantly, they also resemble their graphic counterparts very closely. Haddock’s evil first mate, Alan, is immediately recognizable; less so but just as accurate is the pickpocket from The Secret of the Unicorn. It is a delight to see Hergé himself in the opening sequence, in a cameo as a street artist who produces his classic portrait of Tintin known the world over. Other characters stay true to form, too; Bianca Castafiore, who cannot get a name right, calls Sakharine “Mr. Sugar Additive.” That’s funny.

I’ve taught Tintin books in my literature and writing classes for years, and anyone who has taken a scholarly interest in Tintin would have spent time thinking about the role Haddock’s alcoholism plays in the books, as well as his pathos as a comic sidekick. Both are played up full volume here, the booze adding to the plot in a way some might find a little too much for young children to appreciate.

As for the speech, Tintin is definitely an English boy, and Haddock a Scot. Ain’t nobody Belgian here. But there aren’t any Americans so that’s a plus.

If you’re unfamiliar with Tintin, go see this movie. You might find yourself seduced into wanting to find out more. If you’re already a Tintin fan, go see this movie. You’ll fall in love with him all over again.

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