Sunday, 26 February 2012

Film Review: The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

'Plucky Belgian journalist seeks lost treasure with drunken seaman in swashbuckling adventure'. While this might sound like a salacious advert pulled from the naughty section of Craigslist, I can assure you that it is the plot for a new film involving one of the most recognisable childhood heros of a generation. That film of course is Steven Spielberg's incarnation of The Adventures of Tintin.

Tintin has a particularly unique effect on its audience, as is faithful to creator Hergé's male detective who possesses as much childlike wonder and naivety as he does the real-world acumen and perspicacity of an adult. And yet he has no discernable age. This is because Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, is a blank slate onto which we project ourselves; inoffensive and vacuously presentable, yet reacting to extraordinary situations in ways we might imagine should such events befall us. Tintin consequently appeals to the whole spectrum of ages watching it.

This is a theme which extends throughout the film, set in locations which, for example, may or may not be Paris, at a time which could be anywhere from the 1920s to the 1960s. It poses a strange paradox, almost like a dream in that Hergé's creation is both so rich in details, palpable to the senses and instantly recognisable, yet equally blank and unfurnished to the point where Tintin's setting is there and nowhere at the same time. But this is the magic trick, to create a vessel for our own imaginations.

To describe The Adventures Of Tintin as an endless, 'action packed' roller coaster would be a gross understatement in what is literally scene after scene of action set pieces. Admittedly everything looks mighty impressive in glorious CGI and everything is incredibly well choreographed, but it does get old and leaves our human protagonists disappointingly bare-boned. Nonetheless it will no doubt delight children, however to say the film is childish in its themes would also be a misjudgement. Perhaps surprisingly for a PG film, death is alluded to throughout as is the very real sense that bullets actually mean business. While gore is never visible, invariably scenes involving guns or sword-play end with some glimpse of fatality.

Moreover, take one Captain Archibald Haddock (Serkis), a drunken sailor from whom most of the film's humour stems from. We have here a man who thinks it prudent to stop off in the ship's galley and load up on bottles of whiskey while a bunch of goons with guns chase him and Tintin. Yes, stumbling about in a drunken stupor doing stupid things is funny, but Haddock's situation is so pathetic that it's almost pitiful. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but while it's all fun and games to restart a a piston engine by belching alcoholic fumes into it, it is perhaps not so funny when your alcoholism continuously endangers you and your friend's lives. Throughout, I was never quite sure what message Tintin was sending to children. Was it a warning to the dangers of alcohol? Or was it more an advertisement, as if to say 'hey, getting drunk is pretty fucking funny!'. Unfortunately despite the best efforts of our Captain, The Adventures Of Tintin is never outright hilarious. Sure I grinned, but it never evoked so much as a bawdy laugh from yours truly.

Tintin is nonetheless a true Spielberg film, sporting elements of Indy (and even shades of the Uncharted videogames) with the heart to match. Like with most of Spielberg's films this implores you to invest in Hergé's ensorcelling world, dazzlingly realised in gorgeous CGI. For the kid in all of us this is a high-spirited effort which has the capacity to delight. However, it is also somewhat disappointing that there isn't much fat to chew on here. A break for pause to catch one's breath would have been most welcome in places, but overall this is a fairly spunky and charming tale which is capriciously realised.