Published Mar 10, 2013One of the most famous comic series in the history of the medium (particularly in Europe), The Adventures of Tintin was an ideal match for the talents of Steven Spielberg. With his populist sensibilities focused on the construction of a rollicking adventure rather than pandering doses of nauseatingly saccharine grandeur, the often pompous director was able to stick to what he does best: broad entertainment.
It's probably for the best then that the man who directed some of the most successful family films of the past thirty years elected to skip Tintin's early political phase and jump straight into the dashing escapades that creator Georges Remi wrote to skirt Gestapo attention while Belgium was occupied by Nazi Germany.
The historically-minded swashbuckling exploits that typified the middle of Herge's (Remi's pen name) career are an obvious influence on Spielberg and George Lucas's Indiana Jones series. Drawing from a trio of stories about the plucky ginger-haired Belgian reporter, a screenwriting dream team of pulp enthusiasts comprised of Steven Moffat (Dr. Who), Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) stitch together a perfect platform for Spielberg to pay homage while simply nailing the kind of classic straightforward adventure movie that has become unfortunately scarce in modern cinema.
By assuming a general familiarity with the property, the filmmakers avoid the trappings of an origin story, confident enough to plunk viewers down directly at the start of Tintin's latest caper; peripheral information fills in any knowledge gaps and actions take care of basic character development and motivations.
After an opening credits sequence that playfully gives a tip of the hat to Tintin's 2D roots, the scene opens on a beautiful CGI rendered Belgium where our hero purchases an old model boat from a street vendor.
His timely acquisition sets into motion an elaborate series of events chock-full of viscerally staged action and intrigue. With the aid of his faithful dog Snowy, he of the blue sweater and perpetual cowlick chases down a mystery that introduces him to his most beloved human companion, the alcoholic seaman, Captain Haddock (wonderfully performed and voiced by Andy Serkis).
With stunning contributions from co-producer Peter Jackson's Weta Workshop for the impressively nuanced motion capture animation, Spielberg and a very game cast, including Jamie Bell and Daniel Craig, with Nick Frost and Simon Pegg providing backup as bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson, capture the energetic spirit of Herge's high-concept shenanigans.
The mandate to entertain rather than emotionally manipulate the audience not only forces Spielberg into some of the best work of his later period but it also coaxes out the most invigorating and least predictable score John Williams has written in years.
We'd all be better off if these two heavy-handed, quintessentially American artists more regularly had their syrup cut with a little French dressing.
The Adventures of Tintin screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Comic Book Heroes retrospective at 1pm on March 12, 2013. (Buena Vista)