Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Adventures of Tintin

Lots of people might argue that legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg has lost his touch as an artist as of late, having not crafted a film to completely woo audiences since 2003, the year both Catch Me if You Can and Minority Report were released. His works since then, like MunichWar of the WorldsIndiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,  and even his most recent film, War Horse, have all been criticized for failing to capture the same magic of hisRaiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. days. While this certainly open for debate (Munich is an exceptionally well-made film), it is difficult to have lost faith in Spielberg with his new adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin. 
In collaboration with fellow director Peter Jackson, Tintin is Spielberg’s directorial debut in animation, based on the French comic book series created by the late HergĂ©. Of course, Jackson brought WETA, his special effects company, with him as well as Andy Serkis (who performed the motion capture for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Caeser in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, among others). It would be difficult for Spielberg to find a more fitting team for the job.
For those unfamiliar with Tintin (like I was), the comic series was first published in 1929, and is based on a Belgian journalist who, with his loyal dog Snowy, constantly finds himself involved in fantastical adventures, shrouded by mystery, fantasy, science-fiction, and more. While every issue might differ in terms of genre, what they all have in common is their slapstick humor and clever satire.
Tintin seems to be such a perfect project for Spielberg to take on, it’s almost as if it was created specifically for him. So one might wonder what took him so long to adapt it to the silver screen. Unsurprisingly, Spielberg, a long-time fan of the series, has been trying to get the film made for several years – 27, to be exact. The film was first optioned by Universal Sutdios in 1984, and has been tossed around between studios in development hell ever since, until its resurrection in 2006, when Spielberg and Jackson finally began pre-production on the film.
What is very unfortunate is that the United States never really got on the Tintin bandwagon,  so the franchise has always had a much stronger fan base overseas. The resulting box office numbers have only confirmed this. Domestically, Tintin made just over $77.5 million, compared to a $296.5 million everywhere else (combined). That’s a whopping $218 million difference. What was also a big blow to the studio was its lack of acknowledgement at the Academy Awards: Tintin failed to receive a nomination in all categories, save one, for Original Score.
Why this has occurred only boggles my mind, but the poor marketing for the film has resulted in a lot of potential viewers simply not being aware of its existence, and those that were seemed mostly not to care. The idea that the studio failed to bring in numbers with such an A-team behind it only baffles me. Did I mention Edgar Wright (of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) re-wrote the script? Seriously, if the line “Spielberg’s new Indiana Jones” was mentioned once or twice, that might have worked like gangbusters.
For reasons like these lacking of numbers, underwhelming reviews, and no prior knowledge of the Tintin comics or television series, I admittedly didn’t have very high expectations for this one. Spielberg isn’t the only one guilty of delivering a complete flop in recent years. However, despite missing out on seeing the film in 3D, and instead watching the film for the first time on Bluray, I was still blown away.
The film centers on the titular journalist, voiced by Jamie Bell, who stumbles upon a curious artifact in his possession, a miniature replica of the legendary Caption Haddock, who died centuries earlier. Only the ship holds a dark secret that others don’t want him to know about. Along the way, he encounters Haddock’s only living heir (Andy Serkis), and Haddock’s rival, Sakharine (Daniel Craig).
Throw in Simon Pegg and Nick Frost into the mix as FBI Agents Thompson and Thomson, and what we have is a product  that is exactly what anyone could hope for in a Spielberg and Jackson collaboration: witty, charming, thrilling, and seriously gorgeous to look at. The action scarcely stops even for a second, but when it does it is none the less exciting, because the WETA team has clearly invested so much time into every little detail in every frame, especially in its characters. Every “actor” in the film is so beautifully detailed, down to every wrinkle, whisker and freckle, that I was just as invested in them as actors in a live action movie, if not more.
Some might complain that, other than the groundbreaking animation, there is nothing new here: a young detective finds himself engulfed in a historical conspiracy, and the bad guys don’t like it. This is true – there is nothing revolutionary here in terms of narrative and storytelling. But Spielberg covers this ground so well that everything about the film feels fresh and enthralling, even though the director has reigned in similar territory three decades ago.
Althout the comparison between the two has been stretched out to death, I can’t help but feel that the experience of watching this film is similar to what I imagine the audience of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark felt – just bewildered with excitement and adventure. Every since released of Raiders, the film, and the sequels that followed, found themselves more and more compared to the Tintin comics, often labeling Tintinas “the new Indiana Jones for kids”, further proving my own investigation that the comic book series was intended specifically for Spielberg to adapt.
Although the films are incredibly different for many reasons, Spielberg’s Tintin will likely suffer a similar fate to that of Munich: vastly underappreciated and rarely discussed. Which is a shame, because I would recommend the film to just about anybody. Yes, it is somewhat predictable. Yes, the slapstick humor might fall short for some. Yes, some action set pieces are way over the top, but I ate it all up anyway, and thoroughly enjoyed it. If it is an option for you, I highly recommend checking this out on Bluray, it is truly a piece of art that deserved to be marveled at.
It might be a while until the sequel arrives, but I’ll use my extra time wisely to check out the animated series, now available on Netflix Watch Instantly.