Friday 28 October 2011

Filling in the blanks: "Tintin" and "Anonymous" (ST 30/10/11)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (PG) 117 mins **
Anonymous (12A) 130 mins **

As a youngster, one turns to Tintin to deduce something of the world and one’s own place within it; as many a Hergé scholar has noted, the blankness of the hero’s features makes these books ideal for projecting onto. By deploying motion-capture animation to bring The Secret of the Unicorn to the screen, however, Steven Spielberg has replaced blankness with specifics: this Tintin has Jamie Bell’s fizzog, photoshopped into a waxy charmlessness by a thousand top-of-the-line processors. And don’t ask about Spielberg’s hatchet-faced Snowy: I’m still grieving.

Unicorn’s storytelling feels scarcely less inorganic, having constantly to interrupt itself so the filmmakers can justify the 3D surcharge. The attempt to create and inhabit a world is secondary to the need to yank us through it – down stairs, along ropelines, across pirate ships here intended to evoke sense-memories of other mega-franchises. The pleasure of scanning words and images at leisure has been superceded by Xbox-ready design and the helter-skelter pace of the modern multiplex: everything is impermanent. Even the denouement, with the arrogance of bigshots, assumes sequels.

Yet as in the last Indiana Jones, there’s a sense Spielberg is tapping our collective cultural memories without offering anything that might replenish them; in the ongoing conversation between this director and his audience, Tintin holds all the substance of a text message with an optimistic smiley face at the end of it. That technical expertise can be admired, if you like your films to arrive with the smell of formaldehyde and silica, and there are lovely 2D opening credits, but the positives end there. The books – hard-covered and enduring – stopped time; the film – a relentless torrent of binary code – merely washes it down the plughole.

On the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, meanwhile, who can we trust – centuries of academic research, or Roland Independence Day Emmerich and Rhys Last-Seen-Emerging-From-The-Groucho-at-Four-A.M. Ifans? It’s curious this pair should, with Anonymous, be reiterating the snobby Oxfordian line, insisting only someone of a Duke’s education and experience could have written Hamlet. Emmerich ladles production value like gravy over the mock-Tudor history and lumpy performances: it’s a dog’s dinner, albeit served with a certain batty flair, and you’d hope Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and Vanessa Redgrave signed on knowing it’d do as much to debunk this theory as it would to perpetuate it.

Tintin and Anonymous are in cinemas nationwide.

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