A recent Guardian article takes the position that long-time Tintin fans hate the film, think it is an atrocity, even, while those who know little or nothing of the character have loved it. Being a long-time Tintin fan myself ("and not just one who wears some wearisome t-shirt", as I was once described in a mid-nineties comics fanzine!) I have to say that I greatly enjoyed the film, and I know other serious Tintin fans who also confound the Guardian's view (the newspaper has been singular in publishing a barrage of negative Tintin film reviews - it's practically an editorial stance!).
So, is the film a slap in the face of Hergé, Tintin's creator? I can't see that it is. The film oozes love for this Belgian phenomenon and is very far from being some kind of cash-in. It has an atmosphere of authenticity that carries the story confidently through the changes that must inevitably come with any book-to-film adaptation.
First and foremost there is the question of the animation - Hergé's trademark ligne claire style has not been re-rendered and projected on to the screen. Instead we have CGI motion capture, where actors play out the action in a green-screened room wearing fetching skin-tight lycra suits. I think CGI has worked great for films such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc., where human beings play a minor role and the threat of the 'uncanny valley' is less intrusive, but it is often too distracting to be successful where actual people need to be depicted - why not just use people?
I have to say I was impressed with the CGI on Tintin - it's the best I've yet seen and it created a world in which I felt comfortably immersed. It isn't perfect by any means - there is still that odd weightlessness to the characters (though not so often) and sometimes I found myself marvelling at the detail on a character's close-up when I should have been listening to what they were saying, but that's a minor criticism. The characters felt familiar right away, whereas with live actors we'd have had to get over the shock of strangers, maybe even impostors, in the roles. Only Castafiore unbalanced me slightly; she looked like the plastic surgeons had been stretching away any wrinkles for a few years, though, actually, that may fit with her character. For me, it worked well enough - I even found the technical wizardry an enjoyable element on top of everything else.
What about the story? Spielberg and his writers have departed from a frame-by-frame adaptation and have instead conflated two war books, The Crab With The Golden Claws (1941) and The Secret of the Unicorn (1943), plus a chunk of original material. Is this heresy? No, in fact I think it's probably necessary. A comic is not a film and a film is not a comic (despite what some people may think) and a film could never reproduce the intimacy that exists between the reader and a page of bande dessinée. A film director does almost everything for the viewer, who becomes a largely uninvolved witness to events on the screen; voices, unknown or too well-known, are prescribed; music tells you what and when to feel, and you are taken through the story at twenty-four frames per second with no steering wheel of your own. This is not at all a bad thing, indeed, it can be highly enjoyable, but it is a different experience from reading Hergé, where the voices of Tintin and Haddock are called from within, from a reality that is all your own, where your emotions are left to react quite naturally to events and, though the author will guide and nudge, you are given the reigns to traverse the story as you please.
Because the mediums are so different it would be foolish, I think, to expect the experience of the albums to be replicated through the camera. We have the books, they are brilliant and will not be interfered with, and there can be little doubt that more people will be led to them after seeing the film. The film is good but it is not as good as Hergé's originals - his plots have time to breathe and develop and, more specifically, The Secret of the Unicorn and its sequel, Red Rackham's Treasure, benefit from a careful logic that is ultimately far more satisfying.
Artwork © Editions Casterman; Tintin © Hergé/Moulinsart.
As a thing apart, the film works very nicely. The opening is a joy and you feel as though you have entered a world that honestly mirrors the books. It really picks up once Tintin is aboard the Karaboudjan and doesn't let up for a good while. One new scene, where Sakharine (elevated to the role of major antagonist) employs an unwitting Castafiore and a hawk to obtain the third model Unicorn, I really enjoyed, and the ensuing chase scene is fun, if rather ridiculous.
On the less-positive side, I did feel as though things fell slightly flat once everyone was back at port, with the police awaiting Sakharine and the strangely unexciting crane-fight that followed. And if you know the books, you can't help but feel the loss of the scenes with Tintin exploring the wreck of the Unicorn in the shark submarine and the island where the Haddock idol is discovered - wonderful stuff (from Red Rackham's Treasure, a book that supplies only its ending for the film). I also didn't quite feel the Thom(p)sons lived up to themselves, though they were amusing enough (edit: Gremkoska on Twitter reminded me of Snowy - I'd like to add that I thought Snowy looked a little weird, and didn't really work for me either). To balance that out, however, Allan is really well portrayed (well-rendered, you might say!).
All in all, the Tintin film is a very good thing, highly enjoyable, made with heart, and it's positive for both the Tintin books and, hopefully, comics in general. The one aspect I do dislike is the cheaper end of the merchandising, especially with things like the McDonalds tie-in. There's a lot of speculation as to whether Hergé would approve of Spielberg's adaptation (no one can know, my feeling is that he'd love it) but where Happy Meals are concerned I suspect his reaction may well be similar to the wild disapproval he exhibited when told that Tintin's face had been licensed to grace the inside of a child's potty - though that time, luckily, it turned out to be a joke played by studio colleagues!
Do go and see the film if you can. Enjoy it for what it is and come back, perhaps, with a deeper appreciation for those wonderful books.