The Adventures of Tintin: Journey to the Uncanny Valley
I’m fairly certain I read some Tintin as a child… I remember there being a handful of Hergé books amongst the fairly slim comic pickings available at my local library, and I remember reaching a point where I’d read all of them, so I must have read some Tintin as a child… And there was that cartoon adaptation that was aired repeatedly on Channel Four, so I must have seen some more Tintin there… All of which begs the question of why, as I sat down to watch Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg’s new performance-captured digitally animated adapted amalgamation of The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, did I realise that I knew almost nothing about Hergé, his most famous creation, or even the story I was about to see brought to the screen..?
And that was, broadly speaking, my last coherent thought for the next hundred and seven minutes…
The effects are spectacular, even if the degree to which the character designs are faithful to Hergé’s artwork forces them to use some rather oddly proportioned figures. Still, as the similarities to life grow closer, so the discrepancies stand out even more and The Adventures of Tintin has decamped wholeheartedly to the uncanny valley, with Haddock’s hands drawing particular attention. The modelling on the hair is also odd, it often looks fake, but in such a way as to seem like real fake hair, rather than CGI, and the backdrops and inorganic materials move and interact more convincingly than in any previous effects work I can bring to mind. Snowy, Tintin’s canine better half, is the only character that is traditionally animated, and there’s a slight stiffness to his movements, but given how behaviourally anthropomorphised he is I’m not sure that a more organic performance wouldn’t have seemed more incongruous.
The cast is almost as impressive as the effects work, perhaps more so in Britain from where, with the exception of Gad Elmaleh, the entire pool seems to have been drawn. Andy Serkis is the stand out, the arc of his character’s story giving him more to do than Jamie Bell’s gleeful and wide-eyed but brilliant Tintin or Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the bumbling Thom(p)sons whilst Daniel Craig obviously relishes cutting loose as the film’s villain. The performances are rather mannered, but in a way which seems to suit the grandiose dialogue rather than undercut it, and it was actually this quirk, this matching of dialogue to performance, that tipped me off as to what the film was. Rather than being a period piece merely in setting, which it is, it harkens back to the adventure films of the thirties and forties, the kind of work that actors like Errol Flynn were best known for, in its broad-strokes storytelling and bombastic action.
I’m told, by sources who remain reliable until the opportunity to make me look like a berk are more significant than the benefit of keeping me accurately informed, that there’s a fairly rich critical seam to be mined when dealing with the Tintin books, and that they’re remarkably accommodating for those academics and theoreticians who care to turn their hands to the oft-overlooked narrative form of comics, but little evidence of this depth seemed to be on display with The Adventures of Tintin. It’s by no means bad, and more than manages to fill its running time with ample amounts of both swash-and-buckling drawn together by Spielberg’s most confident direction in years, but it seems to be heavily focussed on entertaining a rather young audience. It’s a perfectly valid choice, but it means that the film is best enjoyed vicariously, in the company of someone young enough to be carried along with the rather breathless energy of it all.