Sunday, November 6, 2011

Tintin and the Wreck of the Treasured Memory

I had been prepared for the new Tintin film to be dreadful. The many excoriating articles about the film in The Guardian and elsewhere had set up low expectations.

The reviews though were surprisingly vague on what exactly was wrong with the film. They tended to be strong on highly emotive condemnations and amorphous pseudo-intellectual critique, but weak on actual details.

And the film wasn't as bad as all that. Lots of humour. Good voice performances by the cast. Ambitious set-pieces. Great opening credits. A rollicking score.

But, in all honesty, I didn't enjoy the film much. I rarely felt invested in it. In fact I was positively alienated at times. And after about an hour I couldn't wait for the film to end. Not a good sign.

And that's crazy, because Spielberg is an amazingly talented director. I'm a huge fan of each of the writers, Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. The cast is fantastic. The composer, cinematographer and editor are also top rank.

So what was it about the film that made me feel this way?

I'm not 100% sure. I think a lot had to do with the film lacking the huge charm of the books. Of course film is a very different medium from graphic novels, but I'm not a comic snob, and I don't have a feverish devotion to HergĂ©'s originals that blinds me to their flaws. But I did enjoy the originals; whereas the film jarred.

Now I've no idea if this charm gap is something to do with the storyline or dialogue or direction or music or acting or something else, because I couldn't get past the distancing caused by the 3D effect and the 3D glasses, and, most of all, the famous Uncanny Valley.

For me, the characters ended up creepy, not charming.

There were other problems I had with the film - Captain Haddock's accent seemed wrong, the action rather too involved at times, the self-empowerment guff misplaced, the theme music forgettable - but I suspect these didn't make much difference to my enjoyment.

To avoid me being completely negative, here's an idea for an experiment the producers might consider. Allow freelance animators to re-render the visuals in their own way, giving them a cut of additional sales their work generates. I suspect that, all else being equal, more people would download a traditionally animated version than your sophisticated motion capture version. Go on. Dare you.

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