Will Europeans like Spielberg's 'Tintin' less than Americans?
The initial reviews for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” are trickling in. Tintin, a sleuthing boy reporter with a trusted dog named Snowy, is a cherished Belgian comic book character, and conventional wisdom heading into the film's release has been that the movie would be an easy sell in Europe (where Tintin’s built-in fan base is strongest) but perhaps tougher in the United States, where many people aren't familiar with the character.
Yet so far, it seems like critics for U.S. trade magazines are slightly more enamored of the 3-D motion-capture animated movie than are critics for British newspapers.
The film will roll out in Europe at the end of October before hitting American theaters just before Christmas. Tintin is voiced by Jamie Bell, who buys a model of an old ship called the Unicorn at a market. Two men immediately try to buy the model from him, an American named Barnaby (Joe Starr) and the sinister Sakharine (Daniel Craig). Tintin spurns the offers and realizes the ship contains a clue about a missing treasure. Eventually, he runs into trouble with Capt. Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis).
Writing for Variety, Leslie Felperin raves that "Tintin" is “a rollicking return to action-adventure form” for Spielberg, “especially after the disappointment of ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.’ Clearly rejuvenated by his collaboration with producer Peter Jackson, and blessed with a smart script and the best craftsmanship money can buy, Spielberg has fashioned a whiz-bang thrill ride that's largely faithful to the wholesome spirit of his source but still appealing to younger, Tintin-challenged” audiences.
Likewise, the Hollywood Reporter’s Jordan Mintzer says “Tintin” is “a good ol’ fashioned adventure flick that harkens back to the filmmaker’s action-packed, tongue-in-cheek swashbucklers of the 1980s,” adding that the saga is “filled with captivating CGI action and clever sight gags, while maintaining a compact narrative that never takes itself too seriously."
But Xan Brooks, of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, was less enthralled. He opines:
While Brooks concedes that “the big set pieces are often exuberantly handled,” he believes “the human details are sorely wanting. … There on the screen we see Hergé's old and cherished protagonists, raised like Lazarus and made to scamper anew. But the spark is gone, their eyes are dusty, and watching their antics is like partying with ghosts. Turn away; don't meet their gaze. When we stare into the void, the void stares back at us.”
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin is similarly lukewarm, writing in his review that “It’s testament to either the genius of Hergé or the limitations of computer graphics –- or more probably both -– that two dots of ink from a Belgian cartoonist’s pen can express more wit and artistry than £82 million of the best 3D special effects Hollywood can conjure.”
He also has a problem with the eyes. “The difference, you see, is in the eyes. And in this first of three planned Tintin films by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, the eyes do not have it – ‘it’ being that vital, twinkling difference that separates a character worth caring about from a dummy in a Debenhams’ shop window.”
But Ian Nathan, writing for British film magazine Empire, gives the flick four out of five stars, calling it “action-packed, gorgeous, and faithfully whimsical.”
“Spielberg has brought a boy’s heart, an artist’s guile, and a movie-lover’s wit to computer generating Hergé’s immortal hero,” he says. “Here is a joyful play of opposites: the romance of old-school cinema, conjured by the slick synthesis of CG wizardry.”
-- Julie Makinen
Photo: A scene from "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn," with (left to right): Tintin (Jamie Bell), Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and Snowy. Credit: WETA/Paramount Pictures