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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Blistering Belgian Barnacles!
by Donald Levit

From director Steven Spielberg co-producing with Peter Jackson, small wonder that The Adventures of Tintin is Indiana Jones adventure episode piled upon episode, in RealD 3D and IMAX 3D on top of the latest digital technology. Beloved in the rest of the West, Hergé’s topknotted redheaded cub reporter gets his first silver screen adaptation.

The screenplay actually is a combining of aspects from three of the twenty-four bandes dessinées, or comic strips in album format aka manga and graphic novels: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. In this, it captures the far-flung locations of the originals. Other characters appear, but its three heroes are as Boy-Scout resourceful, truthful and virginal, i.e., female-less, as their originals. Heroes plural, for somewhat into the hour-forty-seven minutes, the titular one (Jamie Bell) hooks up with his forever-after companion, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and is throughout seconded by Snowy, the Fox Terrier brave and smart as his master even if here no cartoon bubbles reveal canine cogitation.

Hergé -- Georges Remi (1907-83) -- relied on meticulous research and an immediately recognizable style of ligne claire (clear line) for uncluttered, almost storyboard pen drawings with bright watercolor wash. The film’s 3D is not taken advantage of, is in fact unnecessary and not worth the glasses, and the general palette is too dark to be faithful to the printed strips.

A more failed visual difference lies in the performance-/motion-capture technology, instead of the clear drawn animation of yesteryear that would have been truer. A simplified explanation is that a “virtual camera” is employed to pick up reflective pasties on live actors so as to be “instantly interpreted into a 3D virtual moving picture,” with faces of those helmet-wearing actors digitally altered to resemble the drawn characters’. Frankly, less (technology) would have been more.

The adaptation does avoid modern gadgetry in creating a ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s that is yet unmoored in any concrete time. And while the live performers are credited and their real voices heard, there is none of the degrading with-it wisecracking so puzzingly popular nowadays; even to the “salty” oaths of the old salt Captain, the dialogue is clean as a whistle, leading one to wish that the “animation” were as well.

A Robert Louis Stevenson yarn for children and the child in grown-ups, this one is a mystery-crime and quest-search built around coded messages and treasure maps from long-ago pirates. One of three scrolls which must be united for an X-marks-the-spot is rolled inside the mast of a model of the Unicorn that Tintin innocently buys at a Brussels street market.

Smarter than his clueless local Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee detective counterparts, Thompson and Thomson (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost), American Barnaby (Joe Starr) warns the young purchaser, whose flat is ransacked and the essential scrap of paper seemingly carried off. The trail leads to ancestral Marlinspike Hall, deserted but at the moment housing villain Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

Further along the trail, Tintin will make the acquaintance of whisky-sodden Haddock when both are prisoners on the captain’s freighter, commandeered by Sakharine and his thugs (Daniel Mays, Mackenzie Crook). Treasure had been undeclared cargo aboard the Unicorn, captained by Sir Francis Haddock (Serkis) and sunk in an encounter with flamboyant buccaneer Red Rackham (Craig). The chase takes Tintin, Snowy and Haddock to an capsized drifting lifeboat, into the air, to the Sahara and to arias and motorcycles in fabulous fictitious Moroccan Bagghar.

Beside his comrade-in-arms Haddock learns to leave the bottle and, like Dorothy’s in Oz, to value his own courage, heart and brain. In a fine conceit, “an old-time sea-fight” later transforms into a twentieth-century encounter, descendants of the sword swashbucklers now duking it out with loading cranes.

Hergé’s white-man’s-burden paternalism -- the works came this close to being banned following the war -- is absent, for no indigenes are present. Even so, this Adventures is not light enough for the kiddies. Nor is it really Hergé, nor as good, certainly not visually. With twenty-one other, untapped volumes in the series, it may spawn a continuation or two, actioners for those with a thirst for technological not-quite-live action.

(Released by Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment; rated “PG” for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking.)

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