Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

I have fond memories of Tintin but certainly would not presume to position myself anywhere near the level of fandom that many possess. Although I do think the original stories are wonderful  and eagerly watched the television series as a child. Tintin is a much loved fictional character so it is safe to say that there was an awful lot riding on the much anticipated big screen debut of Hergé's infamous journalist and his faithful dog. 

The film itself has clearly divided opinion in a dramatic fashion. Like the much overused example of marmite, it has either completely captivated its audience or thoroughly offended them. It is easy to see why there is such a split in the reaction to Spielberg’s attempt to bring the character to life. On the one hand, the plot contains plenty of excitement and fun that many would associate with the original material but, at the same time, the film lacks the passion and soul that is associated with Hergé's characters.

Spielberg’s decision to use motion capture is one of the major culprits for this important lack of heart. There is a great deal of emotion and heart tied up within the original artwork which has not been brought to life using this modern technique. It is, arguably, only the motion capture veteran Andy Serkis who is able to bring any amount of feeling to his animated portrayal of Captain Haddock. Serkis may be forced to spout several trite and painfully sentimental speeches about “breaking through walls” but he does so with the perfect balance of feeling and downright ham.

For the most part, the rest of the cast (each brilliant actors in their own right) seem to flounder when faced with this method of filming. We just need to look at the final showdown between Haddock and his archenemy Sakharine (played by Daniel Craig) to the see the stark contrast. This supposedly villainous counterpart to Haddock is decidedly flat. Craig shuffles through the role as if he were simply providing a voiceover. There is never any real show of passion that explains his hate-fuelled mission.

The plot, written by three British screenwriting legends Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, is made up of the plots of three separate Tintin stories. The titular Secret of the Unicorn, The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham's Treasure. This results in a fairly mismatched adventure that is fairly clumsily put together. The rushed subplot of the pickpocket, whilst interesting in its own right, is included mainly for convenience and could perhaps have been replaced in order to better set up the main narrative of the film.

The script itself often seems clumsy and awkward. The obvious and almost out of place speeches where characters are forced to state exactly what is happening and why are far more frequent than should perhaps be necessary. Although, there are some outstanding moments and one-liners (mostly courtesy of Captain Haddock) and more than enough double entendres to keep the older viewers satisfied.

This being said, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the film. From the gorgeous opening titles and the tremendous introduction of our hero (briefly uniting the Tintin of old and this modern reincarnation) the film captured my imagination. The action never slows and it is constantly apparent that, despite taking the long way round, the plot is always moving forward.  Yes this fast paced approach may be at odds with the more laidback feel of the books but it was a necessary evolution for the move to film. As much as I may hate to admit it, we live in a modern age where the Tintin Hergé created no longer fits. It was a necessity that his adventures captured the imagination of a modern audience, even if this was perhaps at the expense of the true fans.

Yes, Tintin may not be exactly as we all remember him but this is to be expected. He fights his way out of tricky situations in a manner that would have impressed the likes of James Bond. Modernising the hero was something that was bound to happen and should have been embraced as openly as the recent reincarnations of Sherlock Holmes. He is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but he is good enough. If I may quote Commissioner Gordon here, Hergé’s Tintin may be “the hero we deserve, but he is not the one we need right now”.

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