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More Spielberg Than Hergé
on February 14, 2013
I'm afraid I'm going to have to dare the ire of the fans. Because I was, it seems, less impressed by this film than most.
But first, the positives: the CGI was genuinely amazing. It successfully bestrode an intriguing middle ground between the cartoonish and something very, very close to photo-realism. From the waves on the ocean to the expressions on the characters' faces, the animators were extremely successful in creating a world that is solid, real, and compelling. It most definitely draws us in.
It is, as stated, more Spielberg than Hergé. The quiet, the stillness, and above all the restraint that were such hallmarks of Hergé's work are nowhere to be found. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Filmic interpretations do not have to be slavish copies, and this one certainly wasn't. I'm sure that many fans will be quick to point out that this is a film that almost constantly pays homage to the visual side of Hergé's work - particularly in some of its most iconic and best loved panels. And it's true: the film does do precisely that. However, the similarities are all on the surface. For those who look deeper, and compare this film's intricacy of detail, and above all its relentless, ceaseless motion with the minimalism of Hergé's famous "ligne claire" style, it is at once apparent that at a certain point Spielberg made the choice to go his own way. Indeed, the film tacitly admits as much at the very beginning, when this movie's "Tintin" has his portrait drawn by an artist at a market stall. The artist closely resembles Hergé, and the drawing the original vision of Tintin. We are being politely but firmly told that this will be a film that respects the original, but does not feel so beholden to it as to be nothing more than a carbon copy.
The true artist must have scope for interpretation.
This film also gave us not just one but two stand-out performances. Jamie Bell, in the titular role of Tintin, and Daniel Craig as both Sakharine and Red Rackham. Each actor brings a level of reality to their characters rarely to be found in animated features. This fits perfectly with the film's visual approach: it's that whole "intriguing middle ground" between the cartoonish and the photo-real that I spoke of earlier.
I was less impressed with Andy Serkis's performance as Captain Haddock, which was certainly more overtly cartoonish, and just plain less interesting. But it is worth stating that some of the minor characters were exceptionally well rendered, and very much in the spirit of Hergé's original versions. I'm thinking here particularly of the pickpocket, played by Toby Jones, and a two-bit thug by the name of Tom, played by Mackenzie Crook. I'd like to think that Hergé himself would've approved of both these performances.
Yet despite all the good stuff, I did feel that from a grown-up perspective, this movie let itself down in the writing. Particularly in terms of pacing, it's more like a bad Indiana Jones movie than anything else. Certainly so far as depth of characterisation goes, all the heavy lifting is done by the actors and the animators. The writers contribute almost nothing. The main problem is that after a promising start, the film rapidly degenerates into little more than one long action sequence, with only very brief, unconvincing, and ultimately uninteresting pauses along the way. At times the relentless action seems to exist as little more than a showcase for the animators' virtuosity. And as outstanding as the animation is, technical brilliance for its own sake does not a good film make.
Earlier I spoke of Hergé's work as possessing a certain restraint. Indeed, I would even go so far as to say that I consider that restraint one of its defining stylistic features. This holds true not only on a visual level, but also in terms of story. Hergé knew when to give his readers time to think. A quiet moment here and there to reflect on what had happened and let it all sink in. Such moments are, I feel, sorely lacking in this movie. This film is all about the spectacular. It's a joy to look at and is without doubt a rollicking, two-fisted rocket-ride through adventure. But it's not a whole lot more than that.
Which is where, I believe, it really has let Hergé's original vision down.