Based on the timeless Belgian comics by Hergé, directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) and brought to life using the same motion capture technology popularized by Robert Zemeckis (The Polar Express) and perfected by James Cameron (Avatar), The Adventures of Tintin bears, in theory, all the promise of a cinematic event. Not so in execution. Part gumshoe mystery, part animated Indiana Jones, for all the abundance of talent involved, the initial chapter in what many might have hoped would be the Tintin movie franchise is astoundingly middle of the road. Inoffensive and mildly entertaining at best, and thoroughly underwhelming at worst, Spielberg’s first animated film is hampered by a fan-pandering script, and is dragged down by a boring hero who would have been better served remaining on the page.
In our first glimpse of Monsieur Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot fame), he appears as we’ve always known him: rendered in the simple but endearing 2D strokes of Herge’s original artwork. It’s a cheeky little moment, and is sure to bring smiles to the faces of Tintin aficionados. More to the point, it demonstrates both the affection and the obligation Spielberg, Jackson and the rest of their collaborators feel towards Herge’s beloved material. The script for Tintin’s big screen 3D adventure is based on three of Herge’s graphic novels (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure), and sees its hero – a baby faced investigative journalist with unwavering determination – contend with pickpockets and pirates in a race to locate a mysterious sunken treasure.
In his first foray into animated filmmaking, the inventor of the blockbuster proves himself adequately equipped. Unlike Zemeckis or Cameron, Spielberg isn’t striving for photorealism with his use of motion capture; his characters all possess the same exaggerated features of the cartoons on which they are based. There’s great technical procession on display here, and it’s clear that thousands of hours were invested. Still, with the exception of one spectacularly unlikely “one-take” chase sequence through the animated streets of Morocco, the animation, as well as the pointless 3D, is decent and yet unremarkable; detailed and lacking in any obvious flaws, but containing little of vibrancy or artistic ambition of 2011s other animated films. When compared to Rango or Kung Fu Panda 2, Tintin seems unimpressive and lifeless.
But what really kills Tintin is Tintin himself. Noble, clever and handsome (in an Aryan kind of way), few protagonists in living memory are as uninteresting – and before long, as irritating – as the hero of this film. Spielberg and his screenwriters – a normally talented trio of Englishmen consisting of Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) and Steven Moffat (TVs Doctor Who) – retain the comic book trope of having the character speak his every thought and deduction out loud. It’s a technique that passes on the page, but proves cringe worthy when adapted for the screen. What’s worse is that Tintin is never wrong. Infallible is just another word for boring, and without any danger that Tintin might make a mistake or suffer an injury, there’s never a corresponding sense of peril or excitement.
Attempts to please fans create additional problems. The brief appearance of Thompson and Thomson – a pair of bumbling detectives voiced, unnecessarily, by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) – may amuse some, but their recurring subplot soon hampers the films pacing. Other supporting characters fare better; Daniel Craig (Quantum of Solace) brings some much needed flavour as the dastardly villain Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine, while the energy of the picture picks up considerably once the boisterous Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis; Rise of the Planet of the Apes) arrives on deck. But none of them can make up for the androgynous protagonist, who is a bland character, played blandly, and to who even the thicket 3D lenses cannot add dimension.
Ultimately, The Adventures of Tintin is an earnest but misguided effort. Spielberg and Jackson have attempted to introduce a character they love to a new generation of moviegoers. But in doing so they have captured only a fraction of the excitement, the mystery or the joy of his print bound adventures, and failed to realize one very important fact: what works in one medium does not always work in another. Their film is by no means terrible, and is certainly eventful and colourful enough to serve as adequate fodder for children. But it’s hard to imagine generations of Tintin fans – or your average adult moviegoer – being satisfied with that.