The requisite cinematic rights long since acquired, Steven Spielberg’s beard has been stroked for no less than twenty eight years over how best to introduce Hergé’s legendary globetrotting journo and his loyal mutt Snowy to the silver screen. The fun of the eventual Tintin debut is thanks to the technological wizardy and directorial prowess garnered for the old master in that vast interim; it is an effortlessly charming affair which vindicates such procrastination.
The quiffed one’s adventures are eminently screenworthy; and here, for good measure, we are in fact treated to three separate comics rolled into one frenetic whizz. Our eponym (voiced by Jamie Bell) finds himself in deep waters after inadvertently procuring, with a model boat, a scroll pertaining to the whereabouts of sunken booty – technically the inheritance of his irascible new chum Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, who is of course no stranger to voicing shivering maniacs in pursuit of lost treasure). Also in contention for said loot, from London to the Sahara, is Daniel Craig’s villain, Sakharine.
An undemanding premise, freshened by a delightful aesthetic. Lest we forget, cinema has recently discovered the third dimension – but rather than harnessing the technology to propel us through lurching chasms or hurl bits and pieces at our faces, as is customary for such fare, Spielberg elevates the world of the 2-D comic strip with subtlety: opening up deep, knotty city labyrinths, and immersing the viewer amid the swirling, sweaty action. So dizzying is the pace of the spectacle, so cartoonish and bouncy the visuals (with a warm penchant for slapstick), that the overall effect is akin to sailing through a video game.
This is certainly no bad thing, although it’s difficult not to suspect that beneath all the splintering shipwrecks and thundering typhoons there lies deep-seated emotional vacuity. When it becomes clear that Tintin’s wholesomeness and Haddock’s belligerence will go uncontested, that there will be no pause for thought or dialogue, one wonders if the proceedings haven’t become a tad fanatical and monotonous.
At one point Haddock awakes uncharacteristically sober, and harrowingly demonstrates his alcoholism to be so profound that he can’t even remember anyone’s name. He isn’t very much fun, and nobody quite knows what to do until Snowy obligingly fetches some whisky. Two gulps later and all is again well; we are laughing, and – if doubtful that the film’s depth of vision and curiosity and depth of feeling match up – remember that this is comic book territory for goodness’ sake, and that perhaps we don’t really care if there is a sentient side to these beguiling swashbucklers anyway. Because Tintin is both a rip-roaring and a sympathetic animation of the enduring classics.
– James FitzGerald