One of the most egregious lapses in our nation’s culture (the other being our disregard for the metric system) is the obscurity of Hergé’s indelible creations, Tintin and Snowy. Everywhere else in the world, the comic books chronicling the escapades of the baby-faced reporter are a prescribed dose for childhood, but in America, only a few can distinguish Tintin from the German shepherd with the similar moniker. Good thing one of the few is Steven Spielberg, who recognized the sensational thrills and ingenious whims of Tintin’s tales and joined forces with Peter Jackson (“District 9”) to make a motion-capture masterpiece in “The Adventures of Tintin.”
The Adventures of Tintin
At Quality 16 and Rave
The film is a mash-up of some of Hergé’s finest stories, patching together elements of “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “The Crab with the Golden Claws” to create a new narrative. Like the comics, it’s an adventure in the purest sense — sleek, swift and trimmed of all flourishes that don’t get the pulse racing (no character development, no problem). A jazzy, giddy, “Catch Me If You Can”-esque opening credit sequence starts the festivities, and soon Tintin (Jamie Bell, “Billy Elliot”) gets hot on the trail of a sunken treasure.
As always, Tintin is joined by his intrepid, exceptionally intelligent canine Snowy, who saves his arse on more than one occasion and is capable of taking on even the fiercest of fellow mutts. The bungling detective duo Thompson (Simon Pegg, “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”) and Thomson (Nick Frost, “Attack the Block”) also get their moments of hilarity — to be precise, they are only hilarious momentarily — leading a silly subplot that eventually ties into the main narrative.
But “Tintin” doesn’t hit its stride until the rambunctious, persistently inebriated Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) stumbles into the picture. Armed with a bottle of Loch Lomond whiskey, Serkis gives a stupendous portrayal of Haddock, a pro-alcoholism PSA that excels in pratfalls and insults — billions of blue blistering barnacles, he’s funny — but when duty calls, he becomes the bravest of them all.
From start to finish, “The Adventures of Tintin” bursts with Spielbergian zeal — the zeal of incredible spectacle, of taking cinema to daring new heights and making audiences quiver with amazement. It has been 50 years, but Spielberg hasn’t lost an ounce of the vigor he had as a kid making movies with a Super 8 camera — now, he just has new toys to tinker with in motion capture and 3-D technology.
“Tintin” first flashes its razzle-dazzle during a flashback of pirate action with more swashbuckling swagger than the entire “Pirates” franchise, redeeming the director against all who claimed “Hook” faltered. But it’s a mere herald for the galvanizing, mesmerizing chase through Bagghar — a nearly five-minute continuous shot, with motorcycles, tanks and Snowy fighting a falcon, that stands among the hallowed halls of cinema’s greatest achievements. Computer-generated or not, Spielberg has laid down the gauntlet, slapping the entire Directors Guild across the face with a white glove and challenging them to top that. You just got served, James Cameron.
Spielberg’s drive to make superlative cinema is as unquenchable as Tintin’s thirst for adventure (and Haddock’s thirst for whiskey, for that matter). And this film isn’t just about the stunning set pieces — Spielberg’s love for the material pours through in the most minute of details, from newspaper headlines to Snowy’s ancillary interactions with his surroundings. Critics have complained that the Almighty Bearded One has lost his wizard status in recent years, but clearly he has reclaimed his position as Headmaster of Hogwarts because “The Adventures of Tintin” is a sight to behold.