Friday, November 11, 2011

Who is Tintin, after all?

Unable to find my notebook in the darkness of the cinema room -I may have even left it at home-, I grabbed the first paper thingy I found in my bag to take some notes. It had an uncomfortable shape to write on, it was the box of a promo cup, but, I had to make do with what I had. The 2 euro 3D glasses where not shaped for my nose and were quite annoying, but that was least annoying thing, to tell you the truth. There was something else pestering me, giving me the chills, even. It was the actors' mouths.

Mouth is the cave where words come out from; the white pearls of a smile, when we surrender to somebody's charm; breathe in, breathe out, it's the only way you can survive. A human mouth is of uttermost importance, it has to show emotion, character, determination. A human mouth, that is. But what about when the mouths moving on the screen are not human? What if they belong to performance captured/computer animated characters? I guess we have a problem, then, as I mentioned already.

The whole bunch of characters in Tintin has terribly fake-looking mouths, but still somehow real: small, identical to one another, porcelain teeth, sometimes so shiny that they are taken for golden ones. Add to that lips of unnatural over-elasticity and weird angles when wide open: they open too much, to reveal both the upper and the lower teeth, like when Britney fakes a smile. Mouth is all about the effortless, the inner impulse that cannot be held back; the characters' mouth is all about strained movement, whether this is distress or happiness. What was I saying? Oh, yea, Tintin's mouth, Captain Haddock's mouth and These mouths were seriously torturing me, keeping me away from the action at times -because details do matter- and distracting my adventurous 3D vision. Only towards the end I remembered why.

Flash back: in the classroom with Michele Pierson we acknowledge the subject of the uncanny, a creepy, uncomfortable feeling of finding something familiar and strange at the same time and, consequently, the subject of the uncanny valley. The revulsion a human being feel towards androids, no matter how well they imitate the looks of a human -as it's never good enough- was not something I could relate to, back then. It was a feeling I could not grasp its complexity and/or its existence. As a matter of fact, I was never much into virtual reality, so I did not have experienced such issues. I do remember, though, a certain discomfort I fell towards the Polar Express teaser, which I vowed I would not watch a second time.

This uncanniness of Tintin, that the big team of Facial Motion Editors, Facial Modelers etc could not solve, maybe because a certain design principle eluded them or because no digital imaging could ever solve this problem, impeded me from full immersion throughout the film, but it did not spoil my experience, nevertheless. The journalist who is looking for answers with the helping hand of Milou ( I dislike the English name for him, Snowy -duh, boring) is entertaining, witty and resourceful, as always. The actors' performance is not bad at all and the caricaturization of their traits, especially noses, bear a resemblance to the comic book, which does some justice to Hergé's magic pen. The opening sequence, though, when a street artist is making Tintin's portrait, rendering him into his comic version and giving him back his soul, evoked a vivid nostalgia. Spielberg's film and Peter Jackson's Weta Digital may have succeeded in blending computer animation with wild, funny action, together with the scenarists' that came to their aid, giving us a very innovative version of The Adventures of Tintin, but Tintin himself is not a robot, neither a human being; he will always be a comic character, speaking French and globe-trotting in no more than some strips per page.

The film's poster that I chose to feature in this post backs up my point of view: the main character and his furry companion are dimmed, so as not to reveal their unclassified nature, and are designed as if with a black contour around them, just like comic characters.


ludo said...

We need to talk about that movie dear !
Spielberg seems to be able unleash the passions with his movie. Hence here is my little review :-)
Personally I think he did both good and a bad job. Good because he somewhat managed to keep the soul of Tintin as well as the one of most of his friends/ennemies. He convinced me that the prepubescent boy in front of my 3D glasses was actually the Tintin of my childhood. The one who gave the desire of discovering the world. The one who can only swear by saying "sapristi". The one whom I read the stories when I was a kid and whom I watched the animated cartoons on the telly when I was off school sick. That's a amazing achievement from Spielberg because I was very worried he'd fail on this point before I entered the theatre.
On the other hand I was also slightly disappointed. Let's be honest, this is not "le secret de la Licorne". This a mix of at least 3 books (le crabe aux pinces d'or, le secret de la licorne, le trésor de Rackham the Rouge) plus some random scenes. But I can forgive this as it is done for the sake of not loosing all those ignorant americans who only read Marvel comic books. What bothers me most is the extra scenes with the car chase or the crane fight. That brings a big Indiana Jones taste in my mouth. It is true that Indy was indirectly inspired from Tintin. It goes Tintin -> Homme de Rio -> Indiana Jones -> Tintin. La boucle est bouclée as we say in French. But it feels like when you say a secret to someone, then this someone tells it to someone else and when it comes back to you the story is completely distorted. It's always a bit frustrating.
Oh! and the poster also bothers me ... it makes me think of Shaft or maybe the Antichrist quietly walking away from the apocalypse/hell they've just created. This is definitely not Tintin.
Now it sounds like I didn't enjoy the film, but I did! Really! :-)

Do you know that the street artist at the very beginning of the movie is actually Hergé ? Yeah we are trained to spot him from an early age. It's almost like there is an Hergé portrait next to the one of the King in every Belgian classroom ... :-p
Funny story about the mouths. I didn't notice it while watching the movie but after a quick youtube search I see what you mean :-p
And I also found the Polar Express teaser very creepy ...

Tchuss my friend

Jirashimosu said...

I agree! The only thing that kept Tin Tin's spirit alive was the cartoonized intro. The rest was creepy.