Great Snakes! (or Why does it have to be Great Snakes!?)
Way back in the 80s, not long after Raiders of the Lost Ark was released, director Steven Spielberg was told how like Hergé’s Tintin
comics, er graphic novels, Raiders was and he had a look himself. Reportedly his PA ordered in the French versions, but Spielberg still greatly enjoyed them, and set up a meeting with Hergé to explore film rights. Although Hergé died the week they were meant to meet, his widow still granted the rights, having been told by Tintin’s creator long before that Spielberg would be the ideal person to realise Tintin’s adventures. Interest in making a Tintin film waned, however, and much of his adventures pilfered for the exuberant television series The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones.
Fast forward to the last decade and Spielberg tried again, at first assuming to film in live action until, on asking for help from Peter Jackson on animating Snowy, he was convinced to go full motion-capture animation with the sets also completely animated, making this his first fully animated film. He was handheld throughout the production with Jackson as ‘2nd Unit director’ and visits from film auteur’s Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher and James Cameron, who have all transformed the use of computer generated effects in film. Of interest to all this, if we rewind back to four years after Raider’s release, is that the first use of ‘3-dimensional’ computer generated character in a film was achieved by a Spielberg produced film, Young Sherlock Holmes, with much of the work supervised by John Lasseter, the champion of CG films.
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn conflates the stories of Hergé’s The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, along with scenes and characters from other stories. It sets up the meeting of Tintin and Captain Haddock and provides for many grand action sequences, some of them containing sly nods to the first three Indiana Jones films. For people who found the fourth Indy film to have ‘nuked the fridge’, Spielberg’s Tintin is the Indy film they were hoping for. After a ligne claire style opening credit sequence, we are then shown the spitting image of Hergé drawing Tintin from ‘life’ in a market in a timeless European town. From there we are introduced to the pseudo-photorealistic versions of our intrepid reporter, his dog, and quite precise representations of Thomson and Thompson.
I have to admit that I came to watch this film aiming to be let down. The animation of the characters as I’d seen in the trailers was off-putting, and if I couldn’t get beyond that sort of ‘uncanny valley’ creepiness I knew that it would inhibit my enjoyment. Added to this was Tom McCarthy’s excoriation of the film in a Guardian piece which ends with that lily-livered bandicoot begging people not to see it. Also, that last Indy film just wasn’t Indy enough: had Spielberg lost that sense of fun and drive to astound the audience?
I needn’t have worried. It’s a blast. The story is Hergé with a bit of Spielbergian schmaltz and oodles of action. The characters are as annoying and boorish and clueless and silly as they ever were. There’s still the boozing and smoking and pratfalls and blistering barnacle bumbling we all know, and Snowy is… well, just like Neville Longbottom is the real hero of the last Harry Potter film, so we know that if it weren’t for Snowy, Tintin would be dead in the first panel. I opted for the ‘2-D’ screening, and I’m glad I did, being able to focus on the sumptuous background (with tons of little stories going on) and the way the director was able to manipulate his virtual camera.
Having been starved of really fun films lately, it’s nice to have this feast for the eyes and soul. On leaving the theater, I watched as kids and parents and couples chatted and laughed to each other about the film, something I remember doing after the first 3 Indy films.