Movies: The Adventures of Tintin

I don’t know when I first saw a Tintin cartoon or read a Tintin book, but when I first saw a Tintin book in Europe when I was a college student, I was sure that I had a previous acquaintance with the stories. I could almost – but not quite – hear Captain Haddock’s alliterative rantings in my mind.

I have since read all the Tintin books I could find, between those I purchased in Europe (in French), and those in the local library here (most in English, but also some in French). I don’t know how much it is for the pleasure of the books themselves, and how much some sense of nostalgia for an element of my childhood. But I do enjoy them.

When I first learned that a Tintin movie was being made, I was pleased. Then I read that it would use motion capture, and initial samples that had been released did not seem overly promising. I wasn’t planning to go see it in the theater.

Then I read a very positive review of the movie by Frederica Mathewes-Green. (I am on the emailing list for her newsletters.) Plus we still had money left on the movie theater gift card that Al had won for his Ent costume at Halloween (even after going to another movie – going to matinees saves a lot of money).

On the whole, I would say that I am “underwhelmed.” It certainly wasn’t a bad movie – on the whole it was reasonably entertaining. But I didn’t leave the theater with any particular eagerness to see a sequel (which is strongly hinted at in the ending), or any sense of wonder over what a remarkable movie I had seen. I certainly didn’t replay scenes in my mind as I do after movies that really impress me.

It’s hard to put my finger on where I think the movie falls short. It doesn’t particularly bother me that it does not follow the original storyline very faithfully. (The Adventures of Tintin actually combines elements from three Tintin books.) I was surprised, at the beginning, when Tintin did not take the model ship he had purchased to the home of his friend Captain Haddock. But that was the last time that I noticed a detail that seemed wrong to me, rather than something I simply didn’t remember being in the book.

I don’t think I’m bothered by the motion capture effect, though I don’t think it adds anything much to the story over traditional animation. On the whole, scenes seem remarkably realistic, and sometimes I found myself marvelling over intricate details, such as in the sheikh’s home. (I suppose, though, that my attention wandering from the story to the visual details shows that the story wasn’t exactly gripping.) Characters’ faces looked as they should, if not quite how I remember them from the comics.

Perhaps it is the fact that so many details are filled in, compared with the relatively simply line drawings of the comics. I have heard since I was growing up that one of the drawbacks of TV is that children do not use their imagination the way they do when they read books. Comics such as Tintin are visual, but they still require a fair amount of filling in details by using one’s imagination. And the characters of Tintin and Haddock in the movie simply did not either match how I had imagined them, or provide a good alternative depiction.

I read a lot of very positive reviews at imdb.com. I wonder if perhaps some people had imagined Tintin and Haddock more like they were portrayed in the movie, and that therefore the movie met their expectations better. But there were also a number of neutral or negative reviews, so I am not alone in feeling that the characters in the movies do not do justice to the originals.

Perhaps it is that the movie was nearly all action, with little humor. I did not find the Thompson and Thompson duo nearly as amusing as in the books. Though, again, some viewers thought the bumbling detectives were just right and that the movie as chock full of humor.

Even the positive reviews did admit that the action sequences were somewhat overdone. The Tintin stories were full of action, some of it fairly improbable, but they did not have the extended chase scenes that seem to be the province of action movies. Those scenes are Tintin as he would have been if Spielberg created him, rather than Tintin as  Hergé created him.

Perhaps I’m being overly critical. I don’t put down a Tintin book with a sense of wonder either, or replay its scenes in my mind as I do after reading a really good novel. I simply enjoy it – but then I do look for another one to read next.

Perhaps the movie will get more people reading the Tintin books. Perhaps the library will get in some additional Tintin books I haven’t read before. That would be a good sequel to seeing the movie.

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