Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin

By Matthew Huntley

January 2, 2012

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When George Remi, working under the pen name Hergé, wrote the original Tintin comic book series in the late 1920s, it’s almost as if he had Steven Spielberg in mind to film it, like he knew Raiders of the Lost Ark was coming. Both have a lot in common, including a plucky young hero, grandiose action scenes, and a romantic, child-like tone. In fact, Tintin is the type of fantasy-adventure that paved the way for Raiders. Spielberg has supposedly been itching to make it for years, and given the director’s track record, it’s surprising it took him this long.

Unfortunately, he might have waited too long, because The Adventures of Tintin is somewhat a victim of bad timing. Even 30 years after Raiders, it lives in that and other films’ shadows. Don’t get me wrong - Tintin is fun, energetic and great-looking in parts, but overall, it feels like something we’ve seen before, and so it comes off as hackneyed and inconsequential, even though its technical ambitions are of the highest caliber. But these can’t compensate for the trite narrative. Yes, the Tintin comic series did come out long before Raiders, but the film comes at a time where we’ve already seen what the fantasy-adventure genre can offer, and I’m afraid Tintin doesn’t quite live up to the standard.


Like most adventure stories of this nature, the plot involves the heroes trying to uncover a mystery that leads to long-lost treasure. When Tintin (Jamie Bell), a Belgian journalist of an ambiguous age (he’s likely in his early 20s) purchases a model ship from an old man on the street, he’s unaware it holds a clue from a legendary pirate that leads to sunken gold. That is, until two suspicious men - a tall, lithe fellow named Sakharine (Daniel Craig), and another portly one named Barnaby (Joe Starr) - desperately try to buy it back from him. When Tintin refuses, his apartment is ransacked and he’s taken aboard the SS Karaboudjan. Luckily his loyal fox terrier, Snowy, is there to rescue him, which is more than can be said of Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost), a pair of clueless detectives obsessed with catching a local pickpocket.

On the ship, Tintin meets Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a perpetual drunk who’s also being held prisoner by Sakharine. Booze is both Haddock’s blessing and curse - it blocks and triggers stories his grandfather taught him about his ancestors that could potentially lead to the buried treasure. We learn there are two other ships like the one Tintin bought and each contains a hidden scroll with valuable information. Tintin and Haddock team up to find the other two, all while dodging bullets; jumping off ships; floating in the middle of the ocean; hijacking a seaplane; crash-landing in the Sahara Desert; and racing around the city of Bagghar on a motorcycle and sidecar in a monumental chase scene, which is presented in a single take. The latter is the movie’s most inspired sequence and reminds us why Spielberg is such a good choice as director. The man can choreograph action like no other in order to provide moments of pure rush and excitement. We just wish Tintin had more of them.

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