The Review: Come closer, come right in, and I’ll tell you a tale. A tale of a youngster and his faithful companions on an epic adventure, which has been in the hearts of millions for many, many years. A tale of how a newly discovered map could prove crucial to success or failure. A tale of an attempt to recapture former glories and past treasures. There’ll be highs and lows, and familiar faces in unfamiliar situations. Yes, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have teamed up to bring Tintin to Hollywood for the first time, and to hopefully find him a position in cinema for many years to come. It’s famously renowned that Hergé himself said that Spielberg was the best person to adapt his tales for the big screen. With Lord Of The Rings director Jackson on board as well, what could possibly go wrong?
First then, to the tale of the youngster and his companions. That youngster is Matt Smith, and his adventures in Doctor Who for the past two years were what drew original screenwriter Steven Moffat away from Spielberg and back to Blighty. But the most recent series of Who has not been without its critics, especially of the Moffat-scripted story arc episodes; many find them too dense and too complex, filled with set pieces and big moments but a little lacking in heart and soul at crucial moments, or indeed time to just stop and breathe occasionally. Tintin suffers a little from the same flaw; it’s set-piece after set-piece, exposition often delivered on the run, and the pace is so frenetic at times all you can do is cling on and hope things continue to make sense. After Moffat left, Spielberg brought in two other Brits (and why not – who knows Belgium better than, er, the British?), Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. There’s a whole host of witty asides and in-jokes which will be picked up which feel in tune with their writing style, but it cranks along in top gear for a little too much of the running time. You can’t help but feel that the decision to attempt to condense elements of three Tintin novels into one story was maybe one too many.
What then, of the map? Yes, this particular treasure is not gold or jewels, but believable motion-capture animated characters, and according to the map they can be found on the other side of the uncanny valley. If you look at the lines on the “map” to the left, you’ll see two upward curves. Apparently, we humans feel more responsive to something the more human it looks, but there’s a gap – if you look just short of believably human then that becomes more disconcerting to the viewer and we actually find ourselves repulsed. Problems with earlier mo-cap from the likes of Robert Zemeckis suffered from dead-eyes; the eyes are right here, but it’s the faces that are wrong. Somehow, Tintin actually falls into a double uncanny valley and it’s one the film unfortunately calls attention to. Not only do the facial expressions, and also the shape of Tintin’s head, feel just slightly wrong, but an in-joke of Hergé’s original drawing makes you realise that there’s a Tintin valley at work here as well, the character looking generally right, but whenever the camera settles on him in close up, you can see it’s not quite Tintin and not quite human; doubly freaky, in fact. Consequently Tintin works better whenever the camera is set back and the characters are mid-set piece, which is where the cranked-up pacing starts to work to the films advantage, keeping the number of character close-ups down to a minimum as events progress.
There are familiar faces, although they often don’t relate to the voices in question, one of the joys of the technique. Those that work best at creating a believable character include, somewhat unsurprisingly, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, who practically steals the entire film, a Nicholson Joker to Jamie Bell’s somewhat bland Keaton Batman. Oddly, Daniel Craig seems more animated here than he normally does in real life, somehow finding liberation but still retaining an edge; other than that, the voices could have been pretty much anyone and you may not have noticed. In particular, the third collaboration (of sorts) between Edgar Wright and the Pegg / Frost combo suffers from Simon Pegg seemingly not settling on one particular voice for any length of time, with random levels of gruffness affecting his performance. And the former glories and past treasures? Those are being sought by Spielberg, who was the master of this type of thing for much the Seventies and Eighties, but has lost his lightness of touch in recent years and many feel he still has to atone for the last Indiana Jones film. This shares a spirit with the likes of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, but where that’s pacing and storytelling perfection, this feels over-egged and over-enthusiastic, and doesn’t quite hit the same marks. Overall it’s a brave attempt, and it’s a lot of fun if you’re prepared to just sit back and cling on for the ride, but the problems mean that Tintin’s first Hollywood adventure doesn’t quite come up with the goods.
Why see it at the cinema: It is a visual feast, and you couldn’t ask for more in terms of the visual spectacle. You might actually ask for a little less, if anything.
Why see it in 3D: If this was made entirely with 3D in mind, it doesn’t show. There’s a few “wave a giant stick in the face of the audience” moments, but the editing isn’t always with 3D in mind, and the vertiginous shifts and sweeps of the opening titles could leave the odd person feeling seasick in 3D. So 2D will be fine if you fancy it.
The Score: 7/10