There’s a regular lament among film critics – and filmgoers – that there are no new stories anymore. That there are too many remakes and too many reimaginings that empty their bladders over familiar tales and fond memories – and yes, I’m looking at you, Burton.
So how to greet the news that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson – perhaps the two finest, most imaginative directors of their generation – were uniting to put their own (motion captured) spin on Hergé’s adventures of boy journalist/explorer Tintin? Joy that it was in such safe hands? Ambivalence to a revamp of tales already 80 years old? Dismay that childhood memories were about to be Burtoned? Abject horror and nightmarish thoughts of the blank-faced animated “actors” of The Polar Express?
Well done if you took the first option for you can now be supremely smug: The Adventures of Tintin is an absolute belter. Whether you’re coming to it fresh, are a Hergé-quoting addict or, like me, just have fond memories of the animated series during summer holidays, it’s an absolute belter. It’s slick, exciting, laugh-out-loud funny, sympathetic to its origins, superbly voiced and leaves you wanting more and when was the last time you felt like that about a movie?
After a superb opening credits sequence, the story unfolds at a cracking pace (albeit still with time for some affectionate hints at the original illustrations via a convenient caricaturist). Tintin (Bell) spies a model ship for sale in a market. As he purchases it, a passing American tries to buy it off him, with a warning that the model brings great danger as a mysterious “they” will stop at nothing to get it. That’s swiftly followed by a similar offer from Sakharine who, you suspect – given that he’s played by Craig – is probably the “they” in question. And you’d be right.
The ship, you see, is a model of the Unicorn, a vessel once captained by a man named Haddock. There’s a legend attached to the ship, the model contains a clue to well, something, and Sakharine will indeed stop at nothing – including the kidnappings of Tintin and the last known member of the Haddock family – to uncover the secret.
And thus begins a series of joyous set pieces, thrilling fights and exciting escapes as Tintin, Captain Haddock (Serkis) and Sakharine chase each other around the globe in a rip-roaring tale of piracy, treasure and revenge. The 3D is superb but not over-the-top (although it’s great to see a little bit of “pointy stick out of the screen”) and the motion capture is stunning: everything feels real yet remains firmly in the world imagined so beautifully by Hergé. The jokes are funny (even the slapstick of the Thompson "twins", thanks in no small part to the work of Pegg and Frost), the background detail is jaw-dropping and there appear to be a lot of well observed in-jokes and Tintin references for those that like to hunt for such things. It’s also a reminder of just how great a director of action Spielberg can be: several sequences here are on a par with Raiders, while a couple probably surpass it.
It’s charming, funny, edge-of-the-seat exciting, affectionate, just a whole heap of good things. Go and remind yourself what cinema is made for.