Being completely unfamiliar with Hergé’s popular illustrated stories, I came to this movie as a blank slate, with no expectations. After an imaginative opening title sequence (scored by John Williams in a sprightly mode reminiscent of Catch Me if You Can), I was enveloped in the spirit of a rousing, old-fashioned adventure yarn. I only wish I felt the same way when the movie concluded.
Director Steven Spielberg and his producing partner Peter Jackson have said that they wanted to recreate the look and feel of Hergé’s work, to the point that one could freeze any frame of the film and find its equivalent in one of the Tintin books. That’s a key reason they chose performance-capture technology, in order to transform Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis and other actors into the familiar characters drawn by Hergé, with all their visual oddities intact. I don’t know how Tintin aficionados will react, but it took some time for me to acclimate, especially to the oddly-proportioned Captain Haddock, played by Serkis.
Still, the ingredients for mystery and adventure are neatly laid out, as Tintin’s purchase of a model ship makes him the target of a bad guy who desperately wants a map hidden inside the model. This leads Tintin and his loyal pooch Snowy into one fantastic exploit after another, as our hero is kidnaped. He winds up allying himself with the drunken Captain Haddock, whose seagoing ancestor hid a valuable cache of treasure hundreds of years ago.
I was primed for adventure laced with humor, and got just that for a while. It would have been nice to learn a bit about Tintin, who is something of a cipher, as opposed to the instantly-endearing Snowy. But I was utterly unprepared for the second half of the film, which turns into one gigantic action sequence—a propulsive, nonstop videogame-like experience without letup. As a feat of moviemaking it’s impressive, but merciless; it overtakes the film and overwhelms the characters, not to mention us in the audience, trapped behind our 3-D glasses.
By the end of the picture I was exhausted, not exhilarated. The Adventures of Tintin drained me. Part of the fun in this kind of story is feeling that you—the reader, or the viewer—are partaking in the venture yourself. I never felt that way watching this film, which is especially odd since 3-D is supposed to be an immersive medium. Instead, I felt a curious remove. Some of that feeling may be due to my unfamiliarity with the characters and their world, but that doesn’t account for my overall indifference to the picture. Spielberg is a master storyteller, but it seems even he was engulfed in the spectacle of his film. It is, perhaps, not insignificant that Hergé’s stories were short, and not meant to sustain the length of a feature film.