Belated Review: Tintinny

Save us from things Peter Jackson loves. First he brought King Kong to its knees after his direction of the Lord of the Rings films allowed him to do whatever he wanted, and now Tintin. The Adventures of Tintin, the new motion-capture film produced by Jackson, written by Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), and directed by Steven Spielberg is not Last Airbender awful … just irrelevant, pointless, and ultimately boring (when it wasn’t being frustrating).

The reason why is a textbook example of Hollywood hubris and tunnel vision. Tintin is the hero of a series of two dozen graphic novels from 1930 to 1986, written and drawn by Georges Remi under the pseudonym Herge. Now, although they were some of the most popular comics of the 20th century, published in 50 languages, and sold more than 200 million copies, I bet a bunch of you out there have never read one.

Jackson, Spielberg, and company seem to disagree. Tintin is presented full force to the audience with no backstory or raison d’etre. Even though Batman’s and Superman’s origins are rebooted ad infinitum, a character as tofu as this gets no rooting interest created by the filmmakers. So, in order to move the overstuffed, inconsequential plot along, Tintin spends a lot of screen time talking to himself and/or his white fox terrier, Snowy.

But that’s hardly the film’s fatal flaw. No, that would be the motion capture technology — for a number of reasons. Usually I eschew these things, which I call Pod People flicks, since the eyes of the human characters are usually dead. Motion capture has worked great for Sméagol and the Planet of Rising Apes, but has always failed to convince in human terms. But even that’s not the problem with Tintin.

The problem with Tintin is that the filmmakers decided to adapt Herge’s unique comic characters into human form. In order to do that, they would have had to make every character in Herge’s large cast into believable people, but the film veers wildly in its presentation. Tintin himself might be a real live boy, but Captain Haddock looks like he’s wearing a rubber nose, and not a very good one at that (although in several massive close-ups, his nose hair plays a supporting part).

This dichotomy essentially rips open any credibility throughout, but gets absurd at a climatic concert which is filled with what appears to be a badly made up roadshow cast of Tales from the Crypt. Because the filmmakers want to have Herge’s caricatures and motion capture too, the whole thing looks like a movie cast with mutations – or worse, a film filled with some regular performers sitting amidst actors inexplicably given facial distortions by the makeup department.

But even that was not the major thing that turned viewing into a bore. No, that would be the filmmakers’ insistence on characters that have no discernible weight and exhibit no pain. In a cartoon, that’s tolerable, but in a film as hyper-real as this tries to be, it’s a fatal flaw.

Throughout, Tintin and Captain Haddock respond to repeated bone-shattering, internal organ-rupturing incidents like the hollow puppets they are, eradicating any believability they might have possessed. At that point, nothing they do carries any meaning, point, or purpose. They survive repeated vehicular collisions and even plane crashes like … well, like Indiana Jones surviving a point blank atom bomb blast in a fridge.

The final nail in the (unsurprisingly unnecessary) 3D coffin is the story itself. Based on three of the graphic novels (1941’s The Crab with the Golden Claws, 1943’s The Secret of the Unicorn, and 1944’s Red Rackham’s Treasure), it shows its diffuse origins in a wide-ranging but uninvolving lost treasure plot that plays out with increasing disinterest.

Although “only” 107 minutes, it seemed like 170, if not 701. Because no one was made real or even credible, I didn’t care, because I knew nothing that happened would make any difference in this weird real-fake world they spent 130 million dollars to create. Really, if you’re going to waste that much on motion capture, why not just animate the film in Herge’s style or do a good live action adventure with real live boys?

As for the audience? Spend the $12-$15 you would have squandered on the film to read any of the books below.