[11 March 2012]
Adapting any well-loved characters’ story to film is always a perilous process. Whether they originated in comics, prose, a stage play, or music (i.e., The Who’s Tommy), their fans often have very specific ideas for how the movie should be handled, and odds are plenty of those fans will be disappointed in the outcome, in one way or another.
In the case of Hergé‘s beloved Tintin, several generations have grown up with the comic books and two animated incarnations of the intrepid teen reporter and his supporting cast. Personally, I only had passing exposure to the comics, and I hadn’t seen any of the animated TV shows until watching the first season of the 1991 series with my kids late last year.
So it was that we settled in to watch The Adventures of Tintin on Blu-ray, and we enjoyed ourselves. As director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson explain in the bonus materials, they’re both long-time Tintin fans, and it shows in their treatment of the source material. I can see where purists might be bothered by the motion capture animation, but Spielberg’s only other option was live action with heavy use of prosthetics, which was what he was going to use when he originally began developing a Tintin film in the ‘80s. I don’t think that would have worked nearly as well as the CGI in this film does.
Sure, there was a third option: traditional animation in the style of Hergé‘s art, like the two animated TV series, but that likely wasn’t a realistic consideration given what audiences expect these days. If Tintin was going to reach the big screen with a serious budget behind him, motion capture was the way to go. The technology has come a long way since its use in films like Polar Express, where it came off a bit flat; the end result in this film is a stylized look that feels grounded in the real world.
If you’re familiar with the comics, you know the stories The Adventures of Tintin draws from: “The Crab With the Golden Claws”, “The Secret of the Unicorn”, and “Red Rackham’s Treasure”. The plot largely uses the last two, with the first one employed for a few elements here and there. As in the comics, the story is set in motion when Tintin buys a model sailing ship at an outdoor market. When two other men try to buy the ship from Tintin, he suspects there’s something important about it. After the ship is stolen and one of the would-be buyers is shot in front of him, Tintin knows the model is key to a deeper mystery.
Eventually, he finds himself kidnapped and taken aboard a ship, the SS Karaboudjan, where he meets the infamous drunken Captain Haddock. The pair, along with Tintin’s tireless dog Snowy, escape and make their way to Morocco for the final stage of the adventure. The film’s ending feels incomplete, but it serves to set up the sequel that Spielberg and Jackson have both confirmed is in the works. There’s a fun underwater sequence in “Red Rackham’s Treasure” that isn’t in this film and will almost certainly appear in the sequel, given Tintin’s realization that the coordinates he has found lead to the ocean.
Spielberg says in the bonus materials that in 1981 he read a review of Raiders of the Lost Ark that kept mentioning Tintin, which prompted him to learn more about the character. There’s definitely some of that Indiana Jones flavor to Tintin’s adventures in this film, although two sequences in particular stuck out like a sore thumb and felt more like a videogame: Tintin’s attempts to catch a wayward cat in his apartment and his pursuit of a hawk while riding a motorcycle in Morocco. Both went on longer than they needed to and didn’t seem to serve much purpose other than show off the tricks made possible by motion capture, including camera angles that would have been very hard to pull off in live action. While the pursuit of the hawk is a key part of the plot, it’s long depiction could have been shaved down quite a bit.
The lone bonus feature on this Blu-ray is nonetheless a meaty one: a 90-minute-plus documentary by Laurent Bouzereau, who has produced excellent documentaries for many of Spielberg’s other films. Bookended by video clips from Spielberg’s traditional toasts when beginning and ending principal photography, this documentary covers all aspects of the film’s production. Spielberg and Jackson talk about their love of Tintin, screenwriters Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish chime in with their thoughts, the motion capture process is shown in intimate detail, composer John Williams discusses his approach to the score, and more. The only segment that I found useless was the one covering the creation of some collectible statues—it played like an advertisement, and it didn’t delve into the history of Tintin merchandise.
The package I was sent also includes the movie on a standard-def DVD, sans bonus features, as well as a code for getting the film onto a portable device. So if only have Blu-ray in one place, like I do, you’ll still be able to watch The Adventures of Tintin elsewhere.