Boy reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) is having his portrait drawn at the local market when his dog Snowy wanders off, noticing a pickpocket at work in the area. His master is oblivious, and after paying the artist something on a stall catches his eye: a vintage model of a sailing ship, so he goes over and buys it for a very reasonable price. Then there are not one but two men who approach him and demand to be able to purchase the object themselves: Tintin cannot see the attraction, but nevertheless refuses to part with it. If only he knew what adventures awaited...
Director Stephen Spielberg had been a fan of Hergé's classic comic series of The Adventures of Tintin for many years, and for as long had been endeavouring to bring the stories to the screen in an appropriately blockbusting form. Although the end result, a co-production with Peter Jackson, was not the biggest movie of his career, it by no means deserved the underperforming reputation that it began to get tarnished with, the main sticking point apparently being how the character would translate to those territories where he was not a household name, that being the United States. So what you got was a movie which tended to try and please everyone.
Therefore the Tintin fans were offered a whole bunch of references to the original text, with not one but three books adapted to take this up to over ninety minutes of plot, and those less familiar were supplied with some virtuoso action sequences, kinetic in the best Spielberg manner and intended to dazzle - this was one of those 3D efforts to boot. The trouble with that was in spite of all the energy and variety in the visuals, switching from comedy to adventure at the drop of a hat in the best Hergé manner, for a big screen work there was a distinct lack of tone, and some of those jokes were something the Belgian author would never have tolerated in his comics (animal husbandry?).
That said, with a trio of much respected British writers adapting the material - Doctor Who man Steven Moffat, with rewrites by directors Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish - there was patently a high degree of love going into its attempts to translate exactly what it was about these charming books that appealed to so many. So all the major Tintin characters were present, aside from Professor Calculus, and seeing the reporter meet up with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) in such lavish surroundings was enough to gladden the heart, although there may have been a little disappointment we were not privy to the thoughts of Snowy as we often were on the page. Filmed with motion capture animation, this presented the apex of the form so far, although there were some reservations about exactly how realistic the visuals were meant to be.
Those character designs had the Hergé model, but did look a little odd when so much care with making them convincing was to render them not quite authentic, but still caricatured and cartoonish. Still, aside from the occasional jarring shot you did forget about such misgivings once the plot got going, which took a while which may be why for all its sound and fury, there was a lack of dramatic heft to what we saw even when the heroes' lives were in danger. This was fine when the tone was comedic - Nick Frost and Simon Pegg showed up as an amusing Thompson and Thomson - but when Spielberg tried the Alfred Hitchcock trick used in North By Northwest, a basis for many an action thriller for decades after its debut, the serious moments were rather flimsy. Yet for all those drawbacks, the painstaking attention to detail and doing Tintin justice were evident in every frame, so if you wanted the genuine experience from one of the great comic book protagonists there was always the source to read. Music by John Williams.
His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.