I’ve been in a fascinating position the last few weeks of Cinematic Century, because I’m looking through movies that I have vivid memories of seeing in theaters, while also feeling like I’m about to be turned into dust with the realization that these films that feel like I saw them just a year or two ago were from a decade previous. And I’m getting quite a bit of this nostalgia this week, because I was apparently at the theaters quite a bit in 2011, and saw a whole bunch of movies that I really liked. It was a pretty difficult decision to make, and Steven Spielberg’s wonderful the Adventures of Tintin ended up winning out, as you can see, but there are really a lot of great movies from that year. I have a very specific memory of Drive, a movie I have not seen since theaters, and which I’ve always been scared to revisit. Me and a buddy went to the theater with no idea of what we’d be seeing, and bought tickets to the next available screening, and that movie ended up being Drive, and we absolutely loved it. But, my diminishing interest in everything else Nicholas Winding Refn has made makes me suspicious. Likewise, I was an absolutely enormous fan of Midnight in Paris when it came out, really one of the few of Woody Allen’s films that I have had any real appreciation of, but the less said and thought about that creep the better. I also really love the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which I feel like got a bad rap, and actually is a solid adaptation and fun Fincher movie. Similarly, I feel like people kind of don’t give Hugo the credit it deserves, counting it as a lesser Scorsese, while I really hold it in high esteem. Or, hey, I’m a huge fan of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, hands down my favorite of a series that really only started doing something for me at that point. And I can’t recommend Attack the Block highly enough, one of the craziest sci-fi movies of the last decade that doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves. And if you want to be absolutely bummed out, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a wonderfully rough time. But, I knew that I had to talk about Tintin, a movie that I liked well enough when I first saw it, but that has raised in my opinion every time I’ve seen it again, quickly becoming one of my all-time personal favorite Spielberg films.
And I think a major part of that is just how clear it is that this film was a passion project for Spielberg. He had the rights to make a Tintin film ever since 1983, shortly after Tintin creator Herge passed away. But, he and Spielberg were mutual admirers, and Spielberg began spending decades trying to get an adaptation off the ground. For a while it was going to be live-action, viewed as Indiana Jones for kids. But, around 2001 Spielberg started positing that the film could work as computer animation, essentially waiting for the technology to catch up to that goal. But, the technology just didn’t seem to be reaching the point Spielberg wanted, and ended up reverting to live-action, reaching out to Peter Jackson to see if his Weta Digital company could handle creating Snowy. And Jackson, a huge Tintin fan, ended up convincing him that motion capture technology would be the best fit. He made a short film to convince Spielberg, and the two ended up agreeing to partner on the film, the idea being that they would create a trilogy combining several of the books and trading off directing duties. They also created a group of popular British writers to make the script, leaning on Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish at various stages of the script’s life. They then began work on the actual film, using motion capture technology to bring the strange world of Herge to life, pushing the bounds of the technology to new heights. And, after all that work, it just kind of didn’t connect. It’s entirely possible that that’s because Steven Spielberg literally released two different movies on the same week, or that it was released on a packed Christmas weekend, but the Adventures of Tintin just didn’t really seem to land with people. It made some money, it got decent reviews, but it generally seems to have been forgotten, seemingly quashing the elaborate sequels that were promised. And, I think that that’s a damned shame. Because I love this movie so much, and desperately wish that we could get the rest of the series.
The film follows an intrepid young journalist named Tintin, and begins with him winding down after a wild recent adventure. And, he decides to treat himself at an outdoor market when he comes across a model of a ship known as the Unicorn. He buys the ship, and is immediately accosted by two different men, an American named Barnaby and a mysterious rich man named Ivan Sakharine, both of whom seem deadset on buying the ship from Tintin. But, he refuses and takes the ship home with him, where his dog Snowy promptly breaks it while roughhousing, not noticing that a strange metal cylinder comes out of the ship and rolls under a table. Tintin finds the whole thing very strange, and decides to hit up the library to learn the history of the Unicorn, finding that it had a very strange past, belonging to a sailor named Haddock that once owned an estate called Marlinspike Hall. So, Tintin and Snowy go to investigate the Hall, and end up finding Sakharine there with a second model of the ship. Tintin finds the whole thing very odd, which is made much more so when he return home to find his apartment ransacked. And, desperate for answers, he ends up finding that cylinder and locating a scroll seemingly referring to a secret lost treasure. Unfortunately, before Tintin can really dig into the scroll it’s stolen the next day by a local pickpocket. But, that isn’t even Tintin’s biggest concern, because shortly after that he’s abducted by some sailors and brought to a steamer called the SS Karaboudjan.
Tintin and Snowy manage to free themselves from the brig of the Karaboudjan, and in the process meet the captain of the ship, Archibald Haddock, the only living descendant of the man who sailed the Unicorn. But, Haddock has been imprisoned in his own ship after Sakharine led a mutiny. However, Tintin offers the drunken captain some freedom, and the three manage to escape the ship, floating away in a small lifeboat. Sakharine wants them dead though, and sends a seaplane out to kill them, leading to a battle that results in Tintin and Haddock gaining control of the plane. They then attempt to fly to Morocco, where Sakharine was headed, and end up having a series of terrible misadventures before finally crashing into the desert. Which is where Haddock has a powerful hallucination after sobering up for the first time in years. At which point he remembers the tales he grew up on regarding his ancestor Sir Francis, and how he sank the Unicorn and its hold full of treasure after being attacked by an infamous pirate named Red Rackham. Haddock also remembers that Sir Francis gave his three sons models of the Unicorn, each hiding a clue to the location of the treasure. And, thankfully, Tintin also receives his stolen scroll from two Interpol friends of his, Thomson and Thompson, who caught the pickpocket.
Tintin and Haddock then head to the town of Bagghar, and learn that the reason Sakharine was headed there was because a man living there own the third model of the ship. So, they infiltrate an opera recital that the man will be attending, and find Sakharine laying in wait. He enacts a plan involving high-pitched singing to break the glass case that the ship was in, and steals the scroll. But, this instigates a massive chase between Sakharine’s men and our heroes as they essentially destroy Bagghar. Tintin was briefly able to catch all three scrolls, and revealed some of the secrets, but Sackharine ends up winning the day, leaving them behind. But, Tintin refuses to give up, and he and Haddock return home with Thomson and Thompson to capture Sakharine. This results in a battle where Haddock realizes that Sakharine is the descendant of Red Rackham, leading the two do finish the battle of their ancestors. But, our heroes win the day, and are eventually able to find that the hidden treasure was actually in Marlinspike Hall the whole time. And thus, with quite a bit of money to bankroll them, Hadock and Tintin decide to continue as partners, seeking out adventure for the rest of their lives.
It breaks my heart that they never ended up committing to the sequels to this film. I don’t know if the box office just wasn’t impressive enough, or if it was Peter Jackson getting too drawn up in the Hobbit movies, destroying his mind and the country of New Zealand in the process, but for whatever reason it just doesn’t seem like we’re getting more adventures of Tintin and Captain Haddock. Which, is a damn shame, because this movie is wonderful. Tintin has always been a characters I was tangentially aware of, but never the biggest fan of. I’d seen the old animated show, and perhaps read a comic or two before coming across this film, and it instantly sold me on the wonderful pulpy world of this intrepid journalist and his alcoholic buddy. Since then I’ve become more of a fan of the character, reading a majority of the books, and it really is a wonder how Spielberg was able to take the globe-trotting adventure of those comics and bring it to such vivid life, instilling Tintin with all the DNA of his best adventure films. The voice cast is fantastic, the way that it blends the comics together to one over-arching adventure works perfectly, and it’s frankly some of the most impressive animated action scenes I’ve ever seen. Yeah, you can argue that it’s less impressive to have a massive one-take action sequence when it’s in animation, but the Bagghar chase is still one of the most impressive sequences in film in the past decade. It’s a legitimate masterpiece and I wish that more people appreciated it.
But, sadly, we live in a cinematic climate where adventure movies just don’t seem to be that in vogue. And, it sucks. I suppose that there’s some inherent racism and colonialism in the typical adventure story, which has been hard to press out of modern takes on adventure stories, but the general scope of a pulpy adventure tale sending intrepid heroes on a globe-trotting treasure quest just seems like a naturally successful one. And yet, it’s apparently hard to pull off. But, as he’s proven before, Steven Spielberg just seems to naturally get that genre, crafting some of the finest adventure films ever made. I love the Indiana Jones films and he wasn’t kidding when he compared this to to Indiana Jones for kids. It’s a more family friendly way to introduce people to the world of adventures, the world of Tintin, and I for one can’t imagine people not becoming instantly enthralled by it. The world is a crazy place, full of mystery and intrigue, so taking advantage of that with a bunch of lovable character racing around the beautiful and exotic planet, getting into all sorts of shenanigans. It’s a simple formula, but one that pays off beautifully when it’s done right. And folks, The Adventures of Tintin gets the formula very right.
The Adventures of Tintin was written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish, directed by Steven Spielberg, and released by Paramount Pictures, 2011.
Categories: Cinematic Century