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“Tintin” Euro-talkback

The press is beginning to report on the huge European opening box office figures for Steven Spielberg’s mo-cap adapatation of The Adventures of Tintin. The feature opened in many countries (including France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K.) this past weekend. Have any our readers seen it? How does it work as a film? How fluent in Hergé do you need to be to enjoy it? Is the mo-cap at the high level of Avatar – or sink to the Mars Needs Moms depths?

  • Pieter

    As a Belgian, i’m probably a little biased.

    Anyway, I must say I terribly enjoyed it. It has been said a hundred times before, but it really really has this Indiana Jones vibe and it’s probably Spielberg’s greatest film since the ’80s (apart from Schindler’s List) It’s tremendously exciting and funny (Haddock and Snowy will steal your hearts). The mo-cap is of course the biggest issue in this film. However, it hasn’t looked more beautiful ever since. Spielberg & Jackson really raised the bar on this one. So to all mo-cap non-believers: please, give it a chance and see it with an open mind. You won’t be disappointed.

    Tintin-loving Europe is of course going wild for this one and it’ll surely do well at the American box office because of this. However, I felt that maybe a little pre-Tintin knowledge (for Americans) would have done the story well. The story jumps from one location to another, Tintin solves every riddle in a second, without ever giving the audience a chance to solve it themselves. Europeans know of course the books by heart and won’t have any difficulty following all this, but Americans (or non-Tintin fans) will maybe have to take a closer look to get the whole story.

    Blistering Barnacles, the adventure film of the year!

  • Really enjoyed it! Not a huge Tintin affecionado, but it’s certainly a great action-movie. Some truly jaw-dropping setpieces, Spielberg back into old form! Visually stunning, great pace, and a lot of fun.

  • Most reviews in the UK range from indiferent to bad.

  • As a big fan of the comics I could think of quite a few ways in which this could have been better, but for the most part, I quite enjoyed the movie. It’s very true to the comics, and packed with exciting action set-pieces. There is a flashback sequence of a crazy sea battle that is positively jaw-dropping. I didn’t love the last set-piece involving cranes, though, and I don’t understand why they left out the underwater treasure hunt from the comic–I thought the film could have used another interesting location.

    Visually, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, although it certainly looks much better than any of Robert Zemeckis’ mo-cap films to date. Some of it looks really stunning and some of the characters (well, Haddock) are fairly cartoony and work really well, while others are too realistic, and look a bit stiff and artificial (Tintin himself, Snowy, and the villain). All in all, I think a less realistic, more consistent approach would have probably worked better. A few more exotic, visually interesting locales wouldn’t have hurt, either.

    Still, I hope the movie makes some money and Spielberg and Jackson get to make a second one. Despite my reservations, they did get a lot of things right and I would like to see them adapt some of the other great Tintin books. Maybe they’ll even find something interesting to do for some of the characters from the comics that made brief appearances in this one without contributing much at all.

  • Mac

    I saw this last week here in the UK and found it to be an enjoyable film. I’m not all that familiar with the original comic books so I won’t compare the film to those, but my extremely low expectations from seeing the trailer (I thought the film looked like absolute crap) were exceeded several times over. The pace was lively and there was a good mix of action, silliness and humour. There’s certainly the opportunity for an even better sequel which I’d be keen to see. I didn’t think the film was brilliant, but it was good fun.

    The thing that really put me off the film though was the mo-cap. OK, it’s no where near as bad as what I’ve seen from that awful Chrsitmas-train film where every character was Tom Hanks, but the mo cap was frequently off-putting all throughout TinTin. Certain movements and actions seem strangely awkward and the characters are often grotesque to look at. There’s the odd uncanny valley attempts at realism mixed in with a caricature which really didn’t seem to gel. Captain Haddock’s 6 inch wide nostrils, stuffed with realistic black hairs did not need to be seen in close up!

    The thing I find frustrating about about the visuals in this film is that they must have taken so much skill and talent to produce and yet so much of it looks so disgustingly ugly. There’s a scene early on in the film where TinTin is having his portrait taken by a street artist. The joke of course is that the artist is actually a caricature of Hergé producing images in his style. Having this on-screen comparison of the charming illustration style against the deformed realistic CGI zombies really highlights the drastic lapse of taste.

  • I’m european but I’ve never been a fan of Tintin. I’ve only read two or three comic books and I find it amusing, but didn’t fell in love with them. I’m reading that some fans find the movie too “spectacular” and less realistic than the comic books, but for the most part I had a great time. It has a lot of movement and the pacing is frantic. This is both good and bad. It’s like a really fun rollercoaster, but it lacks some quiet moments that could be useful to make the movie more memorable. I’s like a mixture of Tintin and Indiana Jones, so it’s not exactly one thing or the other, that’s why maybe some of the fans didn’t totally love it.

    Captain Haddock is really charismatic and some characters really resemble the ones of the comics, even with the mocap. In reference to the mocap it’s really well done and I found it pretty ‘natural’ for the most part, much better than Zemeckis’ in that department. However, even though I didn’t think too much about it during the movie, it still feels a little ‘colder’ than watching a life actor or a cartoon character. That happened with Thomson and Thompson. They looked great and their dialogues were fun, but they weren’t as cartoony as they could have been if they were hand drawn, and not as physical as they could have been if they were real actors.

    The visual language is great, especially the beautiful transitions between scenes, and the 3D is quite good, even though I’m not a big fan of the technique. The camera moves a little too much.

    I thought the beginning was perhaps a little more interesting than the ending. The climax includes these big action scenes that are good and spectacular, but maybe a little too big for the story and characters.

    Overall it’s a very fun movie, just not a extremely memorable one. However, it lets you with interest to see more adventures and the impression that maybe Spielberg should have hired Moffat, Wright and Cornish to write the new Indiana Jones.

  • I saw a preview screening here in the States. I was impressed with how far the animation has improved, but very disappointed with the storytelling. For the first thirty minutes I was bored: Tintin’s character never engaged me, and after watching the whole film I still don’t know who he is, or care what happens to him. Some of the scenes were spectacularly bad: who on earth thought it was a good idea to tell the backstory by having Tintin read a book out loud to his dog? I never read the original comics, but if this was an element of the original, it should have been left behind, as it did not work in the medium of film. The action sequences were loud and vivid, but ultimately meaningless: everything was staged too conveniently to support interminable sweeping camera moves, despite making no sense story-wise (e.g. Why would a falcon choose to fly through a building when it could just go up into the sky?) as a result there was no real sense of peril, no tension, and again I ended up feeling bored.

    I didn’t find the character designs as grotesque as I expected, and occasionally their faces were downright expressive. But about 95% of the scenes would have been better in live action, with the full expressive power of real human faces, and physical constraints that might have imposed a bit of a reality check on the most absurd camera stunts.

    I am really stunned that Jackson and Spielberg, two of my heroes, could have allowed so many terrible choices to end up on screen. What a train wreck!

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I suppose the real problem for Tintin is in the fact the character isn’t suppose to stand out at all (or have a personality), as he is meant to be somewhat of a self-insertion character the reader can view themselves in the story. If you could get past that, it might make things a bit easier, but certainly one that is hard to pull off successfully.

      • Hard to pull off, yes. But Spielberg and Jackson have both done it successfully many times in the past. (Who was Elliott in E.T. if not a self-insertion character for the audience?)

        I’d contend that making your protagonist a bland, know-it-all, goody-two-shoes who is inexplicably an expert marksman and fistfighter despite making his living as a reporter does exactly the opposite of making the audience engage with him. It makes him a bit of a freak, a strange object to be observed from a safe distance. Which is a shame, because Tintin himself was so nicely animated in those closeups!

  • jerome

    The great thing in the film is how Spielberg embrace performance capture to go crazy with his camera. I’m not talking about Zemeckis-flying-over-london crazy, I’m talking about breaking barriers of cinematographic language. He invents new way of making transitions, editing and narration that are beautiful, incredibly complicated technologically speaking and yet very simple and fluid on the screen (and I think it’s a great tribute to the art of storytelling of Hergé).
    The little problem for me was the screenplay. The marriage of elements from 3 Tintin stories seems too far-fetched sometimes and you’d also wish there would be more pauses in the story to let the emotion grow…

  • Hi there.

    I saw the movie last week at a preview here in England. I read Tintin as a kid but there’s certainly no reason to know the source material to enjoy the film just as I’m sure there was no need to know the source material to have enjoyed Jurassic Park or a movie like Beauty and the Beast, for example.

    For me the interest was ultimately much more in the fact that it was Spielberg’s latest movie and so it was interesting to see how his career-long aesthetic connection to animation found expression in performance capture (a medium that I am a fan of and keen to see continue to evolve).

    The visual design of the film is astonishing and there’s a tangible sense of ever-improving credibility to the performance capture technique. Incidentally, in watching the movie I was also reminded of how elegantly made The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol were. I know there’s a general kneejerk reaction around the ‘uncanny valley’ issue but I think there are other pleasures afforded by performance capture other than just a certain kind of visual realism.

    Actually, during a fairly astonishing chase sequence in Tintin I was reminded of that terrific scene in The Polar Express where the train ticket goes off on its own nocturnal adventure.

    Ultimately, Spielberg’s new adventure film is absolutely worth seeing and is very much a movie ‘cousin’ (rightly so) to the Indiana Jones movies, particularly The Last Crusade.

  • I really enjoyed this movie, I’ve not been a big fan of the performance capture movies but this was by far the best movie in this technique for a long time. I couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement and energy. The visuals were fantastic and the pace of the action didn’t let up I really felt like a 12 year old again, this is what I love Spielberg for, being able to take me back to those Saturday morning cinema trips.

    It has great little flourishes of humour in the background as well as solid acting through out. But its the fact I forgot I was watching a performance capture film that is the main thing, in the end it doesn’t matter what the technique of the film is as long as you can get swept away and be entertained.

    Spielberg out Spielberged himself!

  • I’ve never really read any of the Tintin books before, so, obviously I can’t judge fully. But, personally, I loved it; Spielberg and Jackson did a fantastic job, it really was an animated Indiana Jones film (an idea I’m sure George Lucas has toyed with before), but so much better, wittier and more beautifully animated than I imagine that would be.

    Just generally a fantastic film!

  • Meh. I thought it was boring… Spielberg uses too much sugar on his movies to me. I can’t see anything that he experiments with. None of the characters are his, nor the ideas. Just computer… sorry, neither of the captures-moments have told me anything new. I find much more original and felt, the toys trying to open the automatic door because they’re too small, in Toy Story 2 than Haddock burping to make the aeroplane work. And yes, the mo-cap put me a bit into my nerves. I mean, I think of beautiful caricatures/references out there of famous people, and… this is all they could think of. Nope, sorry. Tintin by Spielberg is too dry for me. I can’t find any inspirational/creative juice from him.

    Some people commented how great the action scenes were… could you explain me a bit more? Sincerely speaking, I’d really appreciate it. I still can’t find anything enthusiastic or passionate about Spielberg, but I want to learn.
    i found those moments kind of normal. I mean, I found more exciting ad¡nd different the persecusion of the wolf and Po in Kung Fu Panda than the Morroco climax.


    • *Sorry, my English went down the toilet… stoopid Spanglish… I meant to say “pursuit” not “persecusion” X)

  • Jonathan

    THE GOOD: Incredible use of camera. Don’t-blink humor. Great voice-acting. True “fun” from beginning to end.

    THE BAD: Weak story hinged only on non-stop (but fantastic) set pieces. An ending that didn’t quite pay off. And why mocap?

    THE UGLY: Tintin himself, both visually and emotionally. The movie could have been more-appropriately titled “Haddock.”

    Is it perfect? Of course not. But despite the mocap challenges, this is an adventure that lives up to its creators’ reputations, and does so with panache.

  • I saw the premiere in London and disliked it intensely. I’ve loved the comics since I was the age of the target audience, and I’ll concede that if I were still that age I would probably have had a good time (as much as at, say, Pirates of the Caribbean.) I doubt it would’ve been as formative or memorable as, say, Indiana Jones or Star Wars, but that’s just a guess.

    But as a grown-up fan of the comics and of animation, I found the film awful. Motion capture has finally advanced to the level of sophistication where you can no longer put your finger on why it looks so grotesque, but grotesque it is. The characters are neither human nor cartoons — Scott McCloud’s theory that reader identification with comic characters is inversely proportional to their realism certainly applies here. Further undermining realism, the camera never stops swooping around. I recall an interview with someone at Pixar who cautioned against the temptation in CG to do things that normal cameras can’t do, and to rely on tried-and-tested techniques — these filmmakers clearly didn’t heed such advice. Especially regrettable as Tintin’s graphic style has always been marked by restraint.

    The film is filled with visual spectaculars that seem to have no other purpose than to top those of the previous summer blockbuster their jaded audience has seen. Most stretch credibility beyond breaking point, even for kids’ entertainment. A pirate ship boarding not exciting enough? Have one ship swing from the mast of the other! Swordfights old hat? How about a sword fight with cranes? Or the a falcon chase where the bird obligingly follows the ground. Or a heist scheme hinging on a soprano shattering the bulletproof case (which is immediately obvious to Tintin.)

    Tintin solves every clue within seconds, the humour is perfunctory and often flat (the detectives discovering the wallet hoard was funnier in the book.) The movie constantly feels like it’s rushing you from scene to scene, never letting the audience work something out for themselves.

    The best I can say about it is that it is visually spectacular, and you can enjoy it for the state of the art CGI. (Although it’s in the visually simple scenes such as the sea or desert that it looks best and closest to the style of the books.) Merging Secret of the Unicorn and Crab with the Golden Claws also makes sense, and was done about as successfully as possible.

    Ruefully, I can see why Spielberg and Jackson approached the film this way. As true animation, retaining the style of the original (whether 2 or 3D), it was never going to appeal beyond a niche, or interest people who have never heard of Tintin. It wouldn’t have made money. They couldn’t go live-action either, because this entire project will have been conceived as a franchise from the start, with the potential to run for longer than Harry Potter. But as a result, they ended up with generic children’s action fare that captures absolutely none of the charm of the original.

    • Finally! Someone I can agree with. Agreed with the camera swooping around and the tools Spielberg uses to tell a story (a boat, a desert, cranes? I mean, come on, if Spielberg es soo amazing, why can’t he come up with something much more original?)

    • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

      couldn’t have said it better. exactly what i felt about it.

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    I recall an interview with someone at Pixar who cautioned against the temptation in CG to do things that normal cameras can’t do, and to rely on tried-and-tested techniques — these filmmakers clearly didn’t heed such advice.

    That may have been Brad Bird who said that.

  • Tom

    Thought it was great! Grew up in Belgium reading the comics, and the movie stayed incredibly true to the stories. Even with the new material the writers put into the screenplay, you could take any shot from the movie and imagine it playing out the exact same way in Herge’s style. I was practically giggling with joy throughout the opening credits, what with all the references to the other books.

    I thought the mo-cap was a mixed bag. I think Tintin himself worked the most successfully because he had the biggest eyes of all the characters, so he had a higher range of expressions. Haddock was great, but, as with many of the other characters, his eyes were too small, so his visual emotion was tougher to make out. The action scenes were over-the-top amazing, destroying the very language of cinema… but in a good way. The pirate sequences especially were fantastically done.

    The physics were off in the animation, and some of the characters felt a bit too floaty. Work on that, Weta! Also, John Williams is great, but his score was underwhelming. No iconic theme this time round, just some very average adventure music. That was probably the most disappointing part of the film for me. Also, the movie runs out of steam in the last 20 minutes.

    It’s a tough call to make for the mo-cap. If the characters were live-action, then the incredible action scenes wouldn’t work as well, since they’re very over-the-top… but that over-the-top style works so well for the character’s world. It’s all a string of coincidences and lucky breaks.

    Overall, I’m incredibly happy with it. I would have seen this even if it was animated using sand on glass. The fact that the film-makers respected the source material, and chose not to bastardize the franchise makes me pleased enough. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn good time at the movies.

    I also got to see a preview screening in LA, so I’m glad I didn’t have to wait another two months for my most anticipated movie of the year to come out.

  • I never read the comics so that might have affected my reaction. For the most part I enjoyed it. The chase sequence really impressed, even though it’s damn hard to impress me with CGI anymore. I think the motion cap worked. All the characters looked well, rather than just one or two of them like in A Christmas Carol. Probably would have been much better without it though. Voice acting was great. None of the HEY LISTEN, IT’S THE CELEBRITY YOU LIKE malarky. Main complaint was it was getting a bit boring in the last 15 minutes. But all and all, a neat wee adventure.

  • oerd

    I thought it was great, I really enjoyed it. The only thing is, there’s something about mo-cap that’s bothering me; I’m not sure it’s the eyes or something, as much as it worked in Avatar, here (as in the Zemeckis films) it lacks something in the expression, the characters just seem to look a bit beside where they’re looking…does anyone know what I mean? I talked about it with some animators at work and they feel the same way…
    As I said, besides that it’s a great film and true to the spirit of Hergé (although I still think the books are better).

  • I have to say that I really enjoyed it, and have seen it now three times and found something new in it each time.

    While I see the train of thought in criticism based on “it doesn’t look like the comics”, I can’t agree that the art is the be all and end all of the books.

    Yes, Hergé is undoubtedly a graphical genius, and should be celebrated for the advances he made in the form: but that is surpassed in my eyes by his ability as a story-teller, and crafter of characters.

    His sublime pictures were used to bring us high drama, low humour (look for where Snowy pees in the comics, and you will see that Spielberg has in some cases actually been more restrained than the master!), melodrama, cliff-hangers, outrageous coincidence and impossible magic.

    There is no orthodox way to read Tintin, no set manner in which it has to be approached: if you want to find satire, it is there; if you look for daredevil stunts and improbable action, it is there; if you love subtle humour you will be able to find it. You could find them all, or you might get the greatest joy from one.

    I’ve yet to see an adaptation of Tintin which hasn’t been enjoyable, because each has let me see how that adaptor interprets the text. I’d rather see an honest version than a cod Hergé, and I feel that what we are seeing with the film is one great artist being interpreted by another.

    Hergé saw something in Spielberg, so I have to take it at face value that Spielberg is honouring that trust, and that his interpretation is a valid one.

    Spielberg makes the choice to channel the kinetic, runaway physical adventure, combined with Tintin’s uncanny problem solving ability (this is in the books too), and that’s fine by me.

    I’m not saying I think it’s perfect: although as you say the grafting of the disparate books is handled well, the script is fairly leaden, and verbal jokes fall flat as often as they take off; the motor-bike chase is more impressive than the crane fight which is meant to top off the movie, so it can only be anti-climactic.

    I’m not sure about the trapped ship swinging through the air, but mostly because it is difficult to see what is going on. As Hergé was happy to have people survive rolling down mountains in the form of giant snowballs, or falling out of an open plane only to fall back in as the plane loops below them, I can’t rule it out as non-Hergéian.

    By the way, I’m slightly skeptical myself of the notion of ever just sticking to the “tried and tested”; CGI is too new for anyone to know it all, and indeed wouldn’t even exist if someone hadn’t ventured forth and said,“let’s see what this does!”

    No one will ever know what the boundaries of an art form are until they have tested them, and the ability to do what you couldn’t do before is surely just the mark of a pioneer, and someone who has a range of tools should be allowed to try them. Because someone failed in the past, doesn’t mean that someone else shouldn’t try again.

    But thank you for taking your time to express your position so clearly, and without any of the rancour and bile which has spouted from the press in the U.K. It’s always good to read a reasoned argument so eloquently put!

  • Absolutely incredible, a new Spielberg’s classic. I’m happy.

  • beany

    Loved it! It was entertaining and totally delightful. I think the British voices help sell it (to an American viewer) so you’re not seeing Brad Pitt or Jack Black in the characters enabling you to get into the characters more. I had no idea what to expect and was leery of all the great reviews I read (usually that means it doesn’t live to your expectations after reading them) and I have no prior knowledge of Tintin – didn’t know he had a dog – the comics art work remind me of Little Orphan Annie style (that was all I knew). So glad the mocap worked in this one – after a while you forget it’s mocap. Very well done.

  • As a huge Tintin-fan and a motion capture-hater, I had my doubts. I loved the opening titles and I could’t help thinking that it would have been much cooler if they’d used this style to make the film in.

    However, I was amazed with how much love and care Tintin’s world was remade in 3D. Making it start with Georges Remi himself was a nice touch. Moreover, it had a distinctly European feel, and every character, up to the most obscure sideman, was instantly recognizable from the book. Add an excellent Haddock and some favorite scenes, and the joy is complete.

    But I have some criticisms, too. Tintin himself never became a believable human being, and I thought that the adventure unneccessarily had been made bigger than the original stories. Part of Tintin’s charm is the extreme likelihood of his adventures, the broad humour notwithstandig. Not so in this film, which is full of improbabilities, reaching rock bottom in the wild chase in Bagghar.

    The film makers even break character, in making Tintin give up. Tintin giving up! How improbable is that?!

    Nevertheless, I thought it was a nice, pretty faithful classic adventure that often made you forget you we’re looking at a completely animated world.

    I’m curious how they’ll put up with the treasure hunt, though, for this is one of the most understated of all Tintin’s adventures: there is no villain, and the whole expedition is quite a big flop, until the amazing discovery in the very end, a scene that is already used in this film.

    • Tom

      I think they won’t go with a treasure hunt in the next film, it’s seems like something they’d do between the events of this movie and the events of the sequel. I think the ending is just to imply that Tintin and Haddock will continue to have adventures together.

      Also, unless I’m mistaken, the writers were deciding between Prisoners of the Sun and The Seven Crystal Balls for the follow-up.

  • Lizzy

    My brothers and I can’t wait, over here in the States. Sounds like it should be fairly decent; having high expectations after reading Tintin books in French & English as a child when living overseas. Wouldn’t it be great if they did Seven Crystal Balls & Prisoners of the Sun?!