Courtesy - The Sunday Leader By Kamal Kalidasa
Steven Spielberg can do no wrong. Unless, of course, you count the near-disaster that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Not that it was a bad movie. It wasn’t. It was just a terrible and unnecessary addition to a much-loved franchise. And he decided to cast Shia Labeouf as Indy’s jack-in-the-box son Henry – which was unforgivable, to say the least. In his defence, however, George ‘I single-handedly destroyed Star Wars’ Lucas was heavily involved, and that made the pain somewhat bearable. But it doesn’t matter anymore. The man has redeemed himself in the eyes of yours truly with his latest big-budget spectacle. And blistering barnacles, what a spectacle it is!
The long awaited big-screen adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, is nothing short of a mesmerising work of art. To call it a masterpiece would be an understatement. Such is the ingenuity of this production that it dwarfs every single motion-capture movie produced to date – including the highly overrated Avatar.
Everything Spielberg touches immediately turns into Hollywood-gold (take J. J. Abram’s Super 8, for instance); that much is a given. Combine that with the creative prowess of a man like Peter Jackson, and the sheer genius of Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat, and you’re left with a recipe for a surefire hit that will have to try very hard indeed to be a critical miss. And that is precisely what The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn has turned out to be: a worldwide hit, both financially and critically – which is rather surprising, admittedly, considering Tintin is all but completely alien to US audiences. And US audiences matter to most studios, whether we like it or not.
The character needs no introduction to Sri Lankans, however. The Adventures of Tintin was a hugely popular animated TV series that was telecast in Rupavahini and Sirasa TV in the 1990s and 2000s, both in English and Sinhala; and the Tintin comics have been a big hit here, since as far back as I can remember. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that the movie is doing really well, locally. But just to recap, Tintin the manboy “reporter” was created by Belgian artist Georges Remi, better known as Hergé, in 1929. What started as a serialised comic-strip written to a children’s newspaper supplement, Tintin enjoyed a healthy career that spanned several decades, until Tintin and the Picaros, the final completed album published in 1976. Today, the young man with the funny tuft of hair is one of the most recognisable faces in the world. I say “reporter,” because Hergé has left his hero’s career (among other things) deliberately ambiguous, presumably for the purpose of driving the story forward without having to worry too much about breathing “life” into his protagonist. A trend that Spielberg and co. seem to have continued in their adaptation. And rightly so. It is easy to see that the creative team has valiantly fought the temptation to give Tintin a last name, a girlfriend and a tragic past – a standard Hollywood cliché for action-adventure flicks. And the less said about Hollywood’s reverence to source material, the better.
Tintin is an essentially faceless, yet very brave young man whose courage and skill is practically limitless. He has saved many a leader from being ousted, helped oust at least one, stopped international drug lords dead in their tracks, and even been to the moon. He is a detective who can go deep-sea-diving, easily pilot a biplane and confront the Abominable Snowman when required, without batting an eyelid. And yet, for all his swashbuckling heroics, Tintin remains a largely elusive bystander, to characters and events far bigger than he is, allowing us to observe them through his eyes, intervening when he has to. That same Tintin is skillfully portrayed (or rather, mo-capped) onscreen by up and coming British actor Jamie Bell, to deadpan perfection. Bell never forgets that Tintin, while he is the chief protagonist, will never really be the star of the story. In this adaptation, the real star is Andy Serkis’ Captain Haddock, who completely steals the show and gets away with it.
Archibald Haddock was Tintin’s right-hand man, his best friend (although never referred to as such, by either party) and his partner-in-crime in a majority of the Tintin albums. He is an eccentric man who has spent nearly all his adult life at sea and whose… colourful… vocabulary accounts for much of the series’ comic relief. A fan-favourite, Spielberg was surely hard-pressed to not mess up the casting of this character, and in the end, he didn’t disappoint. Andy Serkis, having previously worked with producer Jackson in The Lord of the Rings and his King Kong remake is a pioneering motion-capture actor – easily the best in the business at the moment – who is flawless in his performance as the seafaring, slapstick-ridden alcoholic. They couldn’t have picked a better man for this role. My only complaint is that they have given Haddock a Scottish accent, for no apparent reason.
In the movie, which is an adaptation of The Secret of the Unicorn, with plot points borrowed from The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure, we are taken on a roller-coaster ride of suspense, mystery, intrigue, adventure and loads of fun, in true Spielberg fashion, very reminiscent of his glory days back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when he churned out one blockbuster after another. This, right here, was what Crystal Skull should have been – what it tried and failed to do. One particular chase-scene towards the end of the movie – complete with bazooka-blasts – is one of the most brilliantly crafted action sequences you will ever see on a motion-capture film.The producers have taken many (and when I say many, I mean many) liberties with the story, and they’ve changed things around drastically, adding numerous elements and plot-twists of their own. This was, of course, to be expected (refer what I said about Hollywood and source material, above) and as frustrating as that might be to hardcore Tintin fans (I’m one), it is not too difficult to forgive the producers for this, as it is apparent that they have gone out of their way to stay true to the spirit of the books and the characters, while struggling to translate a comic book story to the big screen without killing it in the process, which is obviously no cakewalk. (Just ask Joel Schumacher).