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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Blu-ray. The Adventures of Tintin

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (Also 3 Disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy)  (Three Stars)
U.S.: Steven Spielberg, 2011 (Paramount)

The Adventures of TintinSteven Spielberg‘s second new film in release in 2011  (the other was War Horse, and both of them came out the same week) — shows us again that he‘s still a kid at heart and maybe always will be. Based on a French-language Belgian comic strip that was so popular throughout Europe that it became legendary and remains so decades after the 1983 death of its creator/writer/artist Herge’ (pseudonym of a fascinating figure whose real name was Georges Prosper Remi), the movie treats us to the non-stop exotic adventures of an intrepid young cartoon reporter/detective named Tintin (according to Herge, he was 14 or 15), who’s accompanied everywhere by his equally intrepid and darned well unstoppable white fox terrier Snowy.
Three of Herge’s original Tintin tales have been combined into the script for this movie — in which our daring boy sleuth and his resourceful pooch get caught up in the perilous treasure hunt and epic battle between the serpentine dandy of a villain Sakharine (voiced by Daniel Craig) and the likable but usually inebriated Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Both Sakharine and Haddock are chasing after a ship model and three scrolls which contain the clues to a fortune in gold that was secreted somewhere, back in the 17th century by Sakharine’s swashbuckling pirate ancestor Red Rackham (also Craig’s voice) and/or Haddock‘s ancestor Sir Francis Haddock (also Serkis).
All three of them (four, counting the dauntless Snowy), are constantly hurled into perilous exploits involving galleons aflame, crashing airplanes, scorching desert sand dunes filled with camels, sheiks and villainy, plus one of the most spectacular one-take car and motorcycle chases ever (a dam bursts just as the chase gets underway), and a climactic industrial crane battle (done, like the other action scenes, in what look like super-crane shots). That would be the high point of the usual action movie, but here it’s just one more tintinnabulation in another symphony of thrills from the indefatigable Spielberg.

All this exciting fast-motion cinematic action-painting is rendered in motion-capture, the real-life-to-animation process Robert Zemeckis used in The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol to meld a weird realism with dazzling visual technique. I actually don’t like motion-capture or performance-capture much — it makes the characters look strangely stiff and lifeless, like animated waxworks — but though I didn’t think the movie was a complete success, it certainly held my attention. It also made me eager to sample a Tintin tome or two.

Herge wrote and drew the strip for 54 years, beginning in Le Petit Vingtieme the youth section of a right wing Catholic Belgian newspaper, starting in 1929, when he was 22 or so, and continuing until his death in 1983. All of them became wildly popular throughout Europe, but not, for some reason, in the U.S.

This movie — a longtime labor of love for Herge buffs Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson — was assembled out of three Tintin tales from the 1940s: “The Crab With the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure” (but not the long-lost, probably apocryphal Swedish sequel, “The Girl With the Golden Crab Tattoo”). The two champion filmmakers plan to favor us with even more Tintin, a trilogy’s worth, with the next one to be directed by Jackson, if this one is a success.

I hope it is. I’d like to walk into a bookstore sometime and find a Tintin staring at me. A lot of them are on Amazon, but I havent seen any on bookstore bookshelves.  Or anything else mostly, since I ceased my own daily bookstore visits when the local Borders died,

Those original Herge-drawn comics were done in a style called “Ligne Claire” (or “clear line“), a two dimensional, ultra-simple black outline technique usually used for simple children‘s funny comics like Ernie Bushmiller‘s Nancy (and Sluggo) — or maybe like the color-filled line drawings Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff made for the French “Babar” picture books (which were popular stateside).

I suspect the movie would work better if it had actually been done in something closer to the Ligne Claire style — maybe like the wonderful recent French Kirikou cartoons by Michel Ocelot. But that’s a different arena, a different financial ball game.

The script — by Steve Moffat, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack fhe Block) — is a little thin and, I thought, light on wit. It pales next to the usual Pixar script. But the voice actors are fine (primarily Bell, Serkis, Craig, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thompson and Thomson, the bearded detective twins), and the Spielberg team (editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams) make their usual perfect-business-as-usual contributions.

Meanwhile, I say bring on the Tintin books, all 23 or 24 of them. Kindle ‘em, bindle ‘em, tindle ’em, whatever you want. Vive le Ligne Claire!  All those jillions of European Tintin fans had some reason to love this plucky boy scout of a detective/journalist hero, with his moxie and his pointy hair quiff. And Snowy too, of course.

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