Moviegoers may leave a showing of Stephen Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tin Tin” feeling a little sorry for the director. But, then, they’ll also exit thinking what a good job he did in bringing the Belgian comic book character to the movie screen.
Because, to be fair, “Tin Tin” is just about the perfect use of computer-altered photography and computer-generated graphics merged in film. And the movie really is just like Herge’s heavily-illustrated adventure books about young reporter Tin Tin, his perfect dog Snowy, and his potato-nosed ally Captain Haddock.
Our hero first appeared in the funny papers in 1929, and there are a couple of dozen book-length Tin Tin adventures available in English. The story in the movie is set in a fictitious late 1940s somewhere where the money is British and the cars are Peugeots and Renaults.
Tin Tin buys a model ship in a street market, and is warned by an American (whose appearance is never explained but who is later murdered as he tries to warn our hero a second time) that someone else wants the model, someone vicious.
From there we go on to abductions, car chases, Sahara mirages, a concert by opera singer Bianca Castafiore (a recurring character in the books), the spooky Marlingspike Hall, pirate attacks, fire, a sirocco, sword fighting, The French Foreign Legion, a motorcycle with a side-car, a dam breaking, and huge dueling dock cranes. In short, you have all the elements for three Tin Tin books.
Unaided by ineffectual policemen Thompson and Thomson (with the voices of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), the reporter (Jamie Bell) and his terrier follow the clues (and a tip from the butler) to Capt. Haddock’s freighter. The evil Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is keeping the captain (Andy Serkis) drunk because an old legend suggests that only a Haddock can find a specific pirate treasure. Sakharine is assembling the coordinates by picking up papers hidden in three ship models of which Tin Tin’s is only one.
Sometimes we flashback to Sir Francis Haddock’s battle with the evil Red Rackem, a fight which led to the hiding of the treasure Sakharine, a descendent of the old buccaneer Rackem, seeks. Going after the third model means most of the movie’s characters will be off to North Africa, an area French speakers influenced during much of the time Herge was writing the (sometimes politically satiric) books.
Young readers will enjoy seeing their favorite character—by which I mean the dog—as he chases around seeing that justice is done and Sakharine’s plots are foiled. Their parents will admire the movie too. But they may not really like it.
Here’s Spielberg’s curse at work. He does everything theoretical right. He cuts the movie so that the action is quick. He gives us exotic settings and moving cameras. He works in comedy—most of it involving the cops and the pickpocket. He makes the lines of the story clear.
But as with other Spielberg movies—”Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.,” “Schindler’s List,” “Jurassic Park,” “Saving Private Ryan,” and so on—there is something about his personality that comes out and dampens everything. Something a little cute. Something a little too maiden aunt like. This communication of his personality keeps there from being any characters in his movies that we can identify with. They may be noble. They may be swash-buckling. But their flaws are not ours, and their troubles always seem contrived.
Not that this personality effect does much to keep “Tin Tin” from amusing its audience. We may not identify with the characters. But we enjoy watching them. Look out, Snowy!