After the disappointment of Super 8, Watchingcattle gave Steven Spielberg a second chance to see if he could redeem himself with The Adventures Of Tintin. Spolier alert: He didn’t.
“You know? for kids !“ Norville Barnes, The Hudsucker Proxy
I reviewed Super 8 a few months ago and suggested that perhaps Steven Speilberg, the man that was my film idol when I was a kid, had gone off the rails completely of late…that he felt really gosh darn awful about raping Indiana Jones with his crystal fucking skull and had become a kind of self obsessed parody and was now producing other peoples homages to himself. Well here’s your chance to redeem yourself Steven with a lovable character from my childhood, out and out childrens’ film a la the Goonies (my least favourite of his 80’s output by the way) and it’s in 3D. What could go wrong?
Firstly, kids films are great. Sure you look like a lunatic when you’re queueing to see Up and you’re thirty, childless, 6’4 and have a beard the size of a ten year old. Sure the whole family behind you in the queue makes adjustments to their seating plan so that the father sits next to you and gives you filthy looks throughout. That’s all fine but still, a good kids film is a good film full stop and the best place to see one is in the cinema. Well, the cinema at either 12 at night or 10 in the morning when there are less kids and more alcoholic parents who couldn’t give two fucks either way because they only have to spend one day a week with the kids anyway and the cinema’s great cos you don’t have to change into your good pyjamas or your clean wife beater vest to go there. I digress.
Tintin should be Spielbergs return to form on his familiar stomping ground. A kids adventure film, c’mon, it’s fucking made for him. He should be flexing those considerable film making muscles and delivering something along the lines of Scorseses The Departed styled in a way that says “I’m having a fucking blast so you will too“. It should be great. It really, really should be.
Tintin should work on every level. It’s produced by the team behind Jurassic fucking Park plus Peter Jackson for christ sake. It’s written by Edgar Wright (and features Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) and Joe Cornish who’s Attack the Block was a joyous little slice of b-movie fun and everyone who’s involved seems to genuinely love the comic. They’re nerds and they are very clever and have all produced pacey, well-rounded entertainment in the past…although some of them are on the wain of late
Well herein lies the problem. Tintin is just too fucking fast. The credits, which are a blatant rehash of the excellent credit sequence from Catch Me If You Can (Spielberg’s last genuinely all round entertaining film for my money) all spruced up for the 3D world, have barely started when major problems begin. Where most first installments of comic book adaptations begin with the development of the character, an “origins” story lets say, Tintin just jumps right in. Bang he’s Tintin… he’s a go getting journalist who is driven by… eh….curiosity. I suppose. Perhaps he just couldn’t give two fucks about his personal safety because he’s bipolar. Who knows? Just jump in, quick flash of cuts round his flat and yup that’s the intro he’s just a gun toting journo. Grand so, he’s Paul Williams is he? Fine then.
The origin story is probably something that the team behind this are trying to get away from because, yes, I’m sure it is tedious to write but there is a reason for it. It’s expected that the audience hasn’t read every single issue in a comics canon. You can pick one up somewhere in the middle of the run and get something out of it, but this doesn’t work with film simply because comics, as with any printed fiction, allow you to interpret the character a certain way. For example: for me Tintin will always be a young Poirot. In my head he always had an outrageous accent and was a quirky kind of lad. Why? My cousin told me the guy who invented him was Belgian. Done. Simple, that’s why. In a film you have the character, but now there is a face, a voice, an accent, a way of moving etc. to go with it. I mean at least pay me lip service. Lets say you introduce a new Bruce Wayne, this is his face, voice, his mannerisms, this is the actors take on your beloved lad. No he’s not who you had in mind but get fucking used to it, he’s signed a three picture deal and the contract’s iron clad, and so have the nipples on the bat suit so you’ll just have to put up or shut up you snot nosed punk. Ease it in is all I’m saying. It’s a brave move to jump straight in mid way and hope that we all just get on board with the CGI/Billy Elliott Tintin but, for me, it doesn’t pay off.
This lack of an intro means that you really have to know Tintin the cartoon or comic before you see the film. No one here wants to get bogged down in characters and as a result this is what the film so sorely lacks. Tintin is (in spite of the 3D… ha ha) a completely 2 dimensional kid. He does heroics because he does heroics, that’s it. The sea captain is a piss head because he’s a piss head and the bad guys might as well be the ensign on Star Trek that gets beamed down to the planet with Spock and Kirk cos who gives a fuck anyway. About 20 minutes into this film I started to believe that Tintin was simply Snowy’s sidekick and in fact Snowy is the best out and out character. I gave up waiting for any human characters (likeable or otherwise) to emerge and just accepted that everyone in the film is just a walking catch phrase. And good lord do they over use the catch phrases. Suffice to say no one gets anything interesting to say. Ever.
The problem isn’t just lack of characters – the tone is all over the place. Tintin is basically a one dimensional tough boy scout who dresses for golf and that’s okay, but there are glaring problems here. Everyones’ comic timing is off, Spielberg doesn’t seem to know how to do British humour so everything seems rushed, the writing team are clearly going for cheesy puns and corny gags but there’s no time or space in here for cleverness so instead of being funny it’s just groan-inducing. The plot is very, very thin and you never feel any kind of tension, which is a disaster in a kids film as all the best ones scare the living shite out of kids under 10 and the memories haunt you ’til you’re senile and still afraid for the shoe that Christopher Lloyd kills in the vat of cartoon killer (Damn you Roger Rabbit, you owe me many nights sleep).
However, it has to be said that it’s not all bad. The film looks quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. Tintin looks exactly like Ole Gannar Scholskar which is perfect, the villan looks like Steven Spielberg which is kind of fitting considering he was involved with turning Transformers into a visual abortion three fucking times (you cunt Micheal Bay you fucking CUNT) and the sea captain looks like at least one of your uncles. It takes a bit to get used to but after a few scenes you really get a feast for the eyes. It is, to be fair, consistently “awesome” to look at, but I’d imagine it’s the kind of thing which looks dire in 2D. Spielberg is having great craic doing dissolves in which boats in high seas turn into puddles and swinging his camera around like a loon, so visually it is good fun. The pace which strangles the characters does ensure that you don’t get the chance to think about the the silliness of the plot so it doesn’t completely derail the film. And there are some spectacular set pieces, one car/bike/dog/falcon/hotel chase scene is bonkers enough to almost save the whole middle of the film, but that’s just the problem…it’s almost good enough. It’s great to look at and under eights will probably love it because it’s on and it’s pissing rain. But unlike a film in which Christina Hendricks tries on gloves for three hours while Eva Green gives you disapproving looks straight to camera, the visuals just aren’t enough to make up for the flaws.
If you want to see a masterclass in breakneck film making and what Spielberg used to be the king of, then try to find the pilot episode of Pinky and the Brain. It’s about 25 minutes of the most rip roaring and complicated things I’ve ever seen, well, ever seen while eating endless corn snacks and hunting for rizzlas that weren’t wet. It introduces its characters perfectly and has a plot so complicated that Christopher Nolan will one day base a trilogy around it. Its 2D and it’s probably free on youtube.