Once upon a time, Steven Spielberg was the filmmaker I loved the most. I wouldn’t call it a sophisticated relationship, but it was deeply felt and ran like a golden thread through my childhood up until the dawn of adulthood.
However, as the years passed, that love cooled, giving way to disappointment and ultimately resentment. Could the director who’d so scared me with Jaws, thrilled me with Raiders Of The Lost Ark and touched my little heart with E.T. really be churning out such half-formed and woolly headed stuff as The Terminal and War Of The Worlds?
It’s therefore heartening to report that the Spielberg of my (and so many others) childhood is back, and firing on all cylinders for his maiden excursion into the worlds of both motion-capture and 3D filmmaking.
Paired with producer Peter Jackson on this much-anticipated adaptation of Hergé’s legendary comic book series, The Adventures Of Tintin finds Spielberg seemingly happy to indulge his childlike sense of wonder, without any of the ‘worthy’ trappings that have weighed down his work since Schindler’s List.
The collaboration with Jackson, unlike his awkward reteaming with George Lucas on 2008’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, seems to be a comfortable one, with both men adhering to an ‘entertainment first’ policy that absolutely befits the material at hand.
Ostensibly a fusion of three separate Tintin albums (The Crab With The Golden Claws, The Secret Of The Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure), the screenplay by Doctor Who supremo Steven Moffat and Hot Fuzz/Attack The Block pair Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish is as evocative, propulsive and witty as you’d expect. It also gives Spielberg and Jackson a huge amount to play with, visually.
While some may quibble about the use of motion-capture to create Tintin’s world (especially after seeing the stunning Hergé/Saul Bass mash-up stylings of the opening credits), on the whole it’s an inspired and successful decision.
Easily the best use of the process outside of James Cameron’s work on Avatar, the work that Jackson’s company, WETA Digital, bring to the table is both impressive for its stylization and also for its grounding of the more outré aspects of the source material in a subtler, more cinematic context.
Sensitively lit and moodily designed, there’s a weight and tactility to the work here that, sadly, makes Robert Zemeckis’ recent mo-cap efforts look even more inadequate in retrospect.
As for the cast, Jamie Bell is nicely understated as the eponymous boy reporter and Daniel Craig is suitably reptilian as the villainous Sakharine. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are pleasantly bumptious (though fairly unmemorable) as Scotland Yard detectives Thomson and Thompson, while Mackenzie Crook and Daniel Mays give lively support as villainous henchmen Alan and Ernie.
However, despite the film’s title, the real star of the show is Andy Serkis as Captain Archibald Haddock. The undisputed king of mo-cap acting, Serkis already has one brilliant performance under his belt this year with his role as Caesar in the similarly WETA-enhanced Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.
Naturally, playing Captain Haddock is a slightly different kettle of fish (ahem), but Serkis is no less brilliant, bringing real pathos to the larger than life figure of the washed-up sea captain, while also imbuing him with a definite sense of Pythonesque anarchy.
The film’s qualities aside, there are one or two minor niggles. The pacing of the film isn’t quite as smooth as you would hope. The first act in particular takes a little while to click into place, and Tintin and Haddock’s escape from the Karaboudjan is perhaps a tad long winded.
In addition, those looking for slightly more character meat on their digital bones may be slightly disappointed too. This is absolutely pulp-fiction-via-Ripping-Yarns, and makes no apologies for it.
But these really are just niggles and, in the final analysis, Tintin is easily Spielberg’s most purely enjoyable, accessible and entertaining film since Jurassic Park.
It finds the director not only taking full advantage of the new tools at his disposal, but also delivering some of the finest set pieces and most indelible images of his long and gilded career.