The Trouble with Quibbles: The Adventures of Tintin

Two new Steven Spielberg films were recently released. War Horse was one, and Rosko has decided to join me in discussing the other, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Based on one of the most popular comics in the world, Tintin marks Spielberg’s first animated film as well as his first 3D film. Tintin is well-known in all parts of the world but is very much like soccer or the metric system to us Americans. That being said, Rosko and I are lifelong Spielberg fans and I couldn’t think of a better film for us to discuss.

BRYAN:  First off, did you see it in 3D?

ROSKO:  I did. Figure if Spielberg is going 3D, I’ll give it a shot. Otherwise I don’t go 3D. ESPECIALLY not post converted 3D.

BRYAN:  You’d think that’d go without saying, especially after what Scorsese did with Hugo, but yeah. I did 3D as well. I think the 3D was fine, but not as necessary.

ROSKO:  I don’t think you have to see it in 3D though. Not Tintin. Animated is totally different to me in 3D. Saw Toy Story 3 both ways and preferred 2D. I hardly notice on CG animated movies. One thing, though, about Tintin’s 3D, is the dust. Spielberg makes particles in the air pop out. Sand, rain, dust, all stood out to me for some reason.

BRYAN:  The 3D had its moments, like what you’re saying, but after Hugo, I kind of wish he used it a little more aggressively. But other than 3D, what did you make of the film?

ROSKO:  I could tell it was faithfully adapting something I had no prior knowledge of. I noticed things that I’m sure were pieces of Tintin books that fans of them would really enjoy, and most of the time it worked for me, someone new to the whole character’s world. I thought it set up a good series if they go that route. This one was about bringing the hero and sidekick together. I know Peter Jackson is supposed to have one too.

BRYAN:  Okay, so you knew nothing of Tintin before either

ROSKO:  Yeah, only vague bits and pieces. I did know of Tintin well before the movie was in development, but only that it was “big in Europe”

BRYAN:  So, as much as most Americans and me. I didn’t feel like there was anything in here that couldn’t be understood. It does do a nice job of getting the hero and sidekick together, as you say.

ROSKO:  Yeah, they introduced Tintin and Snowy quickly and efficiently. Right away you get him, the world, and that you’re watching a cartoon, not something trying to be animated reality. But that was my first problem. The story was cartoony enough, they didn’t need to go photo-real. It was really, really distracting.

BRYAN:  I don’t have a problem with the look. I don’t know why he didn’t just go full on cartoon, but the look works fine. I mean, I did have the feeling that they spent a lot of time and money on something so slight.

ROSKO:  Yeah, the whole time I was thinking they could have gone for an Incredibles look and lose nothing in regards to story and spectacle. And I think the performance capture would have been more fun if the look was more cartoony.

BRYAN:  The look is still stylized. I dunno. My whole thing with this movie is that its best asset is also the biggest problem. It’s very, very rushed.

ROSKO:  Well, the big reason I wasn’t ok with it was because it was distracting me almost the whole way. I was looking at their clothes and teeth and hair and pores and not paying attention to the narrative. It is stylized, but only in broad features. They looked like Dick Tracy villains.

BRYAN:  I didn’t really have time to soak any of that in, so it didn’t distract. But this is also a good thing. This movie blazes from action scene to chase to chase to explosions to action scene.

ROSKO:  Yeah, after a time. I thought the 1st act really dragged, even though there were some action bits. But after the 1st half hour or so, ZOOOOM! Bang! Pow! Daniel Craig!

BRYAN:  But even in the beginning when you get all this exposition, they sprinkle in chases and such. I mean, a lot of films drag, but this thing just moves and moves. However, that also means there is like no time for character development, or any real sense of pace.

ROSKO:  Yeah, it was a mixtape of action scenes. The only developed character was Haddock. And he was great.

BRYAN:  Even with Haddock, I was wondering why he was where he was when we were introduced to him, but then we were off to the races again and it didn’t matter. BOOM! Kablamo!

ROSKO:  Yeah, very true. That is why I felt a little like it was made for people who at least have some base knowledge of the books. For them, they don’t think about it, they already know everyone. But for we Tintin newbies, here’s some quick intros and explosions!

BRYAN:  I’ve heard it compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark a lot. And people saying that film was slight and all about the chases and whatever, but I think there are a few key differences. For one, Indy is not nearly as bland a hero. Tintin is what? Smart and old-fashioned, that’s all I got.

ROSKO:  He’s a journalist because he told us he was. And he went in on this quest so head first I had a hard time buying it. Spielberg played out of the Raiders playbook a little too much. The airplane sequence and motorcycle chase were a little too familiar territory. Good scenes, sure, but too heavily borrowed.

BRYAN:  That didn’t irk me. I just think with Raiders, you have better characters–of course, as you said, Haddock is the exception–and you had bigger stakes, which make the action more thrilling, and most of all you had more memorable scenes and dialogue. So, Raiders is slight, yes, but it draws you in more.

ROSKO:  Well, yeah… that’s why Raiders is Raiders and there hasn’t been one like it in 30 years.

BRYAN:  Of course, but don’t get me wrong, I liked Tintin. I had a lot of fun with Tintin. These are merely the things keeping Tintin from being amazing

ROSKO:  Yeah, big time. It was good, but by no means great. And I’m not exactly on pins and needles for the next one. However, if you’re just curious about what Spielberg does with animation, I can’t stop thinking about how awesome the pirate flashback segment was. That was the best part in my opinion. And proved to me why they felt the need to go animated instead of just make a live action Tintin movie.

BRYAN:  Okay, well I saw lots of reasons to be animated, just none as to it being mo-cap. But I was about to say there are two memorable scenes. One flat-out classic, which was the motorcycle single take sequence, and yeah the other was the pirate flashback, which is almost classic. The film really needed like 2 more scenes as good as those and I think it needed to be a little more clever. For instance, I can’t remember a single line of dialogue. Can you?

ROSKO:  Only the quip about “Someone’s been shot on the doorstep!” “Again!” Ugh, NO. The single take sequence was cool. But it’s animation! No way classic.

BRYAN:  I know it’s not as impressive cause they could fake the single take, but the way they used it was fantastic and thrilling. That’s the clever stuff I wish there were more of.

ROSKO:  AND not a hint of dirt or blood or bruises were on Tintin afterwards (Spoiler: he survived the chase). That bugged the shit out of me.

BRYAN:  It’s a cartoon. Come on.

ROSKO:  Don’t “come on.” For a cartoon and with all the crazy stunts and all of that, the characters were just a little but TOO overboard on being indestructible.
Tintin took more “damage” than John McClane.

BRYAN:  That’s a you problem. I’ll tell you what did bug me about that scene, and it goes back to the rushed problem. It’s like this amazing 10-min set-piece that brings the house down. And then 2 min later another huge set-piece happens, the crane fight. I barely was able to catch my breath and realize where we were in the story and we were on to another big scene.

ROSKO:  Yeah, totally. But with all the running around and with everything else looking so real, the movie and characters would have benefited greatly from some sweat and dirt. Just let us know it’s as big a deal to them going through it as it is for us watching it. Boom! Pow! Bang!

BRYAN:  I guess. But again these are all small complaints in a film that does accomplish what it sets out to do which is entertain the shit out of you.
BANG! BANG! POW! For those that seek non-stop action and want to turn their brain off, I definitely recommend Tintin over crap like Transformers and what have you. Come ye all that seek adventure

ROSKO:  I like attention to detail. Especially in such a “hyper-detailed” cartoon. Indiana Jones sweat, bled, bruised and took a crazy beating. This movie is Spielberg telling me Tintin is tougher than Indy. Grade: C+

BRYAN:  Or is it “all ye”… Fuck it… BOOM! Kablam!

ROSKO:  Kablam indeed. Kablam that debit card in a redbox!

BRYAN:  I’m not gonna be so harsh cause I would rewatch the shit out of those two scenes, and as the first of a trilogy, maybe this is laying the groundwork for better stuff to come. Plus, BAM! BOOM! GREAT SNAKES! Grade: B

ROSKO:  Oh, oh! Biff! Pow! Andy Serkis! Goodnight!

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5 responses to “The Trouble with Quibbles: The Adventures of Tintin

  1. I am a European who grew up watching Tintin on TV in England. I liked this movie version – if you ask me, it’s a damned sight better than Spielberg’s somewhat lame ‘War Horse’. I do agree with most of what you guys say though – it tries too hard to be exciting and doesn’t spend enough time developing characters (except Captain Haddock). Some of the chase scenes were good, but I would have liked to have a bit more time between each one to catch my breath, so to speak.

    I didn’t mind the motion capture – they avoided making the faces too weirdly human (which is always a risk) and I didn’t mind that Tintin came through everything without a scratch. The fact that there was so much gunplay and virtually no one got shot was very politically incorrect, but very much a part of the cartoon version, so I felt this was kind of an homage to the old TV show.

    I think maybe Spielberg has lost his edge and is trying to compensate for his lack of creative vision by catering to the Michael Bay crowd and hoping for the best. He was a great filmmaker, and maybe he’s got more good films in him, but he needs to get back to doing what he’s best at instead of trying desperately to capture the modern zeitgeist – the desperation shows just a bit. In some ways, Tintin and War Horse each miss aspects that the other film has too much of – Tintin fails to have much nostagic feel to it, whereas War Horse gets that, but War Horse fails to have any compelling action scenes, whereas Tintin has them in spades. Both could have done with taking something from the other, as well as a better script and a bit less earnestness. Maybe releasing two films in one year was a bit too much for Spielberg – maybe he needs to pace himself a bit, because I feel a little more focus might have made Tintin into a better film.

    Don’t get me wrong – I liked it, but I feel I should have loved it.

  2. Well, I feel I have to stick up for Spielberg here. First off, the guy has proven he can multitask. This is like the fifth time he’s had 2 movies in the same year. And really, he did Tintin long ago and has been working on the VFX for 2 years.

    I just think with Tintin he wasn’t going for anything more than what we got, so it’s kind of a success. We want more and maybe sequels will give us more, but this is what we got.

    I don’t think this is anything like a Michael Bay film. Bay’s problem isn’t too much action…it’s incoherent and meaningless action. This has nothing to do with character development but a simple understanding of what is happening within a scene and why. Like in Tintin, I knew he was chasing the bird with the scroll. I might not know who Tintin really is but I understand this chase.

    Where as in Transformers 3, some guys are jumping out of a helicopter but I have no idea why.

    And with War Horse, well, I really dug it as my soon to be posted review will attest.

  3. Not sure that Tintin’s flaw is ‘too much action’ per se: I think the problem is ‘too little downtime’. We never catch enough of a break to get to know the characters or to get a feel for their world.

    • Now that I do agree with. I tried to explain that in the piece. Lots of action is good, but there needs to be balance.

  4. Pingback: 2012 Oscar Checklist – Part 1: The Links | Shooting the Script

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