THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Voiced by: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Joe Starr, and Daniel Craig. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Rated PG (Action violence). 107 min.
This animated, computer-generated film is based on a comic book series, “The Adventures of TinTin” created by Belgian artist, Georges Remi (under the pen name, Herge), who died in 1983. Specifically made for 3D, but also distributed in other formats, it brings together the talents of Steven Spielberg (as Director), and Peter Jackson (as Producer). The entire film is photographed in “performance capture”, the digital process that gave us the extraordinary photographic realism of “Avatar” (2009), and was employed in the Lord of the Rings series to create Gollum.
The film focuses on the 11th. of Remi's 24 books, "The Secret of the Unicorn", but borrows from three. It shows great affection for detail, and Spielberg and Jackson have obviously experienced great pleasure in making it. Described by Spielberg as “Indiana Jones for kids”, the film is filled with action, adventure, comedy, and episodic suspense, and all of it is reasonably child-friendly. Packed incidents come at you in serial-like fashion, though this dissipates some of the tension of the whole.
In a flea market, TinTin (Jamie Bell) buys a replica model of the Unicorn, a famous ship of the 17th. century, that lies somewhere on an ocean bed. Two strangers, Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and Barnaby (Joe Starr), try to purchase it off TinTin, but he refuses. The model hides one of three scrolls, and three of them tell where gold treasure is hidden. Sakharine, who is after the treasure, kidnaps TinTin and holds him hostage on the SS Karabourdjan, a steamer which is commanded by Captain Haddock (wonderfully comically acted and voiced by Andy Serkis), who Sakharine keeps permanently drunk. TinTin and Haddock escape in a lifeboat, and after hijacking Sakharine's sea-plane, which they crash in a desert, they arrive in the fictional city of Bagghar in Morocco, which is the location of the third scroll. Throughout the movie, they are ostensibly aided by two clumsy Interpol officers named Tomson and Thompson, voiced respectively by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg.
Suffering from an absence of alcohol and water in the desert, Haddock has an hallucination, which reveals that the treasure was hidden by his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock, on the Unicorn, which was attacked by a pirate ship under the command of Sakharin's ancestor, Red Rackham, and sunk deliberately. Through devious means, Sakharine obtains all three scrolls, showing the location of the sunken ship, but he is outwitted finally by TinTin and Haddock.
The film is full of clever conceits, and comic moments. Spectacular effects are enhanced by the film's format and the digital marvels of “performance capture”. The film creates extraordinarily realistic effects. The ships firing cannon-balls through mountainous waves at each other are amazingly life-like, as also the images of TinTin himself, and Sakharine’s hawk screaming down to steal the third scroll.
But there is a problem. TinTin is a beloved fantasy figure which needs to stay secure in the make-believe sections of our minds. The process of “performance capture” makes him too real. The spirit of the comic-book series is captured faithfully and well, but the movie is an animated film that seems to be constructed to look as if reality counts most, and that at times takes some of the make-believe joy out of TinTin and his beloved dog, Snowy, as imaginary comic book characters. But for a high adventure ride in real-fantasy land, however you describe it, the film is impressive.
Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out December 26, 2011.