My exposure to Tintin, the Belgian reporter/hero, first started when I was in the third grade. There was a kid's digest magazine that serialized The Secret of the Unicorn, and I read that story a lot. And I knew there was more, because that story ends on a cliffhanger, and the class had the first part of Red Rackham's Treasure (the sequel). After many (many) trips to the library, and a bunch of other Tintin books being read, I was finally able to see how the story played out.
I grew up reading comic books, and Tintin was no different, except for the fact that I immediately loved the stories. Whether it was the excitement, the danger, the humor or the art (or all of it together), I read (and reread) the stories. I have my obvious favorites (Tintin in America, The Black Island, Tintin in Tibet), but topping the list was (and always will be) The Secret of the Unicorn. So, imagine my joy when I found out Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were going to be making a movie adaptation of one of my favorite books. If anyone could bring the action and excitement from these stories to life, it would be these two.
And last week I saw The Adventures of Tintin.
And it might be the most disappointing film I've seen in the last ten years. I'd like to say that my expectations were too high, and no film could've lived up to them, but I can't believe it. The plot cribs from two Tintin books - The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, and, tragically, it doesn't even take the best stuff from them.
The main plot of the film is that Tintin (with no real introduction to speak of) finds a model ship, buys it, and then finds out that there's a number of other people who want it. Apparently there's a message about a secret treasure hidden inside the ship. After being kidnapped, Tintin awakes on a ship, meets Captain Haddock and the two of them team up to beat the bad guys to said treasure. Oh, and Haddock is basically a (semi) functioning alcoholic, who's booziness both helps and hinders them on their journey.
It's frustrating watching the film, because there's no dynacism or real coherence to the story. I mean, from the very first scene, when Tintin buys the model ship, he's offered insane amounts of money for it, and he turns it down. Is he a collector? Is he waiting for a better offer? No. He just keeps it, because that's what the story demands of him. At least in the comics, he doesn't want to sell it, because his friend, Captain Haddock, would love it. Well, he hasn't even met the captain yet in the film.
Then there's the action... which is pretty non-existent. All the positive reviews I've read for the film talk about comparing it to Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don't see the comparison at all. There's two really great set pieces - one involving a pirate attack on the Unicorn, and the other involving a chase with all the characters going after the parchments. They're exciting scenes, but the pirate attack involves a sequence that, visually, is interesting, but makes no sense in any sort of universe. It takes you completely out of the film.
Tintin has always been a cipher in the comic books, but as you read them, you never mind that lack of characterization, because he's such a force of nature, that you get more involved in the adventure than in his character. But the film has such lags in the action that you spend so much time wondering what Tintin actually does. The movie (and the books) say he's a reporter, but what's the story he's after? Is it simply buried treasure? At least a couple of the characters have a revenge/history thing going on. And then there's Captain Haddock, who's such a jerk in the film. Here's a character that we're supposed to find funny and compelling, yet throughout the film, he hinders Tintin at every turn, because he's always drunk. Here was the perfect opportunity for the film to deviate from the comics, and make Haddock a stronger and more likable character, and I think they made him even more unapproachable.
Whenever a film is based off a book I've read, I try to separate the two of them, and I think I did that with Tintin, regardless of how much I've compared the two. I wanted to see a film that brought me back to being eight years old. I wanted a film that had high adventure and non-stop excitement. This was not that film.
Should it have been done as all live action, or all animation, as opposed to the motion capture? Possibly, but I don't think the film's flaws would have been masked by a change in filming style. It's not a bad film, but it commits the worst offense by being boring. I think everyone (the filmmakers, the audience) would have been better served if they had just Sin City'd it and filmed directly from the comics.
I can only hope Peter Jackson's adaptation in a few years is better.