I saw The Adventures of Tintin, aka Tantan no boken in Japanese, in 3D at the Kichijoji Toho Cinema on Friday, and I can report that it was a great deal of fun. It’s basically a mystery adventure that takes Tintin from his hometown to the desert town of Baggar and back again in the quest for the secret of the Unicorn, a 17th century ship. At the beginning of the movie, Tintin purchases a scale model of the ship, only to discover various forces are trying to get it off of him, because of the secret it contains. Being an intrepid investigative reporter, he decides instead of waiting for a press release from the relevant criminal organization to track down the secret himself (this is the inter-war era, remember, when “investigative reporter” still meant something). In the process he meets Captain Haddock, the Thompson twins and a wide range of nasty villains.
Of course, no one is really that interested in the details of his adventures, since we all know roughly what to expect from the stories and the movie genre: there will be some chases, some (mostly non-fatal) fights, some quite ridiculous leaps of intuition by Tintin, some quite ridiculously intelligent acts by his dog Snowy, and another couple of crazy stunt scenes. What people are really interested in is how it cleaves to the original stories and setting, what is Tintin like, and should all die-hard fans of a musty comic be outraged! outraged I tell you! because Tintin’s quiff is at slightly the wrong angle? So I shall skip over the car chase near the end, which is the most genuinely spectacular and exciting chase scene I have seen in years, in favour of reporting on my opinion of the story’s faithfulness to the original.
Of course, it’s been years since I read Tintin and I don’t recall the details, so I don’t know whether, for example, the way he meets Haddock matches the story of the book. But I have strong images and impressions from my (repeated) childhood reading of the stories, and in my opinion the movie is very close in atmosphere, appearance and style to the original. The opening credits are a direct and obvious tribute to the style of the comics, but the movie itself also sticks to the impressions of the story. It is animated in a semi-realistic style, so I couldn’t tell (and haven’t checked) whether it was animation over real actors, or fully animated, and this means it retains the same sense of simple realism of the stories, which though they might cover fantastic themes, always were very grounded in a sense of being in the real world. Tintin is picture perfect, as is Snowy, and Snowy’s mannerisms are just as I remember them – the same eager, attentive walk, the same cowering manner when gunfire starts, the same cat-chasing peskiness. The first 20 minutes of the movie are, just like in the comics, entirely focused on Tintin, and involve him talking to himself a lot (just like in the book!) Captain Haddock is also straight from the pages of the comic, as are the Thompson twins (or Dupont, as they are known in the Japanese version). But more than that, the colours and structures of the setting – ships, planes, buildings, cars – are nearly perfectly like those of the covers of the books. The sands of the desert and the settings for the conflicts there take me straight back to the books, as do some of the fight scenes, the regular moments where someone gets clobbered on the back of the head with a torch or cosh, the way Tintin runs – it’s a real homage to the style of the originals. The way the characters talk is also refreshingly old-fashioned – polite, no swearing, very clear and short expressions and un-self-consciously old fashioned, also like the comics.
Although the first third of the story follows the plot of The Secret of the Unicorn (1942-43), it completely deviates from the second part of this story, Red Rackham’s Treasure, in its conclusion. It includes a few nods to other stories (e.g. in the credits, and a nice inclusion of a part of The Castafiore Emerald). So although the finale is a conclusion completely different to the original, and the action of the last third follows a completely different style, the first half is quite faithful to the comic on which the movie’s name is based. Also, some parts of that story – e.g. Haddock’s reenactment of a naval battle – work better in the movie than I suspect they would on rereading the comic. So I think it’s actually a good companion to the comic story.
The cinematography in this movie is quite nice. The animation is very very good, and some of the grander scenes – pirate battles involving Red Rackham, flight scenes, and the final car chase – are genuinely spectacular. Transitions between scenes are also very nicely done, and works of art in their own right. Snowy is a joy to watch, and the action is very tightly paced and well coordinated. The final battle scene between Haddock and the bad guy is great fun as well. The movie is visually a lot of fun. The only two flaws I would say are that it’s a touch too long, and the plot could have been simplified to get rid of some twists and irrelevancies; and the first 20 minutes can be a bit hard going because it is mostly Tintin talking to himself. This is very faithful to the comic but just doesn’t work in a movie.
Though I’m sure Tintin aficionados will poo-poo this movie, and no doubt refer to some second-rate 70s job as vastly superior, I think it’s a nice companion to the comic it is based on – at least based on my impressionistic memories of the world of Tintin as I read it in my childhood. I was a big fan, and I really appreciate the effort that has gone into recreating the world for the modern cinema audience. It’s a fun movie in its own right, and a nice visualization of Tintin. I recommend it to anyone who’s not completely stuck-in-the-mud about the originals, and/or wants to enjoy a fun adventure. A perfect christmas holiday fun movie!