“There’s nothing now until Tintin”

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is the first of three planned “performance capture” 3D adaptations of the Belgian comic books from Steven Spielberg. It is released in the UK on October 26, and is already generating a lot of eager fanboy anticipation in this country because of the involvement of our own Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish in the script department, and the presence of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the cast. The reason I bring it up here, two months before its release, is because of a conversation I overheard on Tuesday morning, around 10.15am.

I was in the Odeon, Leicester Square, waiting for the press screening of Cowboys & Aliens to start. Produced by Spielberg, it is very much this week’s blockbuster, with a huge budget, high concept and heavyweight cast (Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford; James Bond and Indiana Jones). Its budget, just so you know, is estimated at $163 million. I’m not going to review it here, as the quality of the film is not the point. This is the point: I always sit by myself at press screenings, partly because, as a part-time film critic, I exist only on the periphery of the London film critics’ circle. I drop in and out of their conclave as and when I am required. I actively avoid getting caught up conversation at the croissants table, chiefly because I will only ever have seen a fraction of the films the rest of them have seen, so feel inadequate. But I overhear them, and all they talk about is the films they have seen.

This is understandable; it’s what they have in common, whether jaded, pot-bellied old veteran from one of the nationals, or eagerly panting nerd from a magazine or website. I respect their devotion to duty. If one day a newspaper invites me to be its film critic, I might find out what it’s like on the inside. For now, I’m on the outside. On Tuesday morning, I overheard a group of young men having the standard conversation. In the half-light of the auditorium, I couldn’t see who they were, but detected the “nerd” end of the spectrum in their very male enthusiasm for Big Films. They swapped opinions about Captain America and Super 8 and other recent Hollywood blockbusters. This was their area – either by choice or because that’s what the publications they write for are focussed on. Cowboys & Aliens was right up their alley. Me? I’m nearly always disappointed by blockbusters – as indeed I was disappointed by Cowboys & Aliens. Now, I’m not saying for a minute that these young men had no critical faculties – indeed, one of them deemed Captain America to be “lacking something.” They were just catching up. They made me feel antisocial.

Anyway, looking ahead at the slate, the most vociferous of the three – the one leaning over the other two from the row in front, always an alpha position in such situations – made this chilling observation:

There’s nothing now until Tintin.

There’s nothing now until Tintin. There’s nothing. Nothing of note to get excited about at the cinema between the penultimate week of August and the last week of October. I caught his drift. He means there are no Hollywood blockbusters between now and Tintin. Nothing with a budget north of $150 million, big stars and bigger special effects. Nothing in 3D. Nothing with Spielberg’s name on it. Nothing designed to appeal to the broadest international audience possible, at a split of roughly 40% domestic (ie. American) and 60% “Rest of the World” (self-explanatory), which is pretty much the ratio of a global hit these days.

In fact, just as there are eight films released in the UK this week, if you include the reissue of Kind Hearts and Coronets, there are eight films released in the UK next week, and a massive 14 the week after. It’s starting to add up, isn’t it? Some of them are bigger than others – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on September 16 looks pretty big, although it’s not quite Cowboys & Aliens or Captain America – but what’s thrilling is that so many films are being released: documentaries, foreign-language films of every stripe, indies, British thrillers, reissues of West Side Story and Kes … No offence to Tintin, which I’m looking forward to as well, but I’d like to make this controversial statement:

There’s loads until Tintin.

Let us not measure out our lives, professional or personal, in Hollywood blockbusters. That way lies crushing disappointment and sore eyes from the 3D glasses.

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3 thoughts on ““There’s nothing now until Tintin”

  1. How very dispiriting. I once queued up for tickets for Michael Jackson at Wembley Stadium (I was queuing in Oxford, he was performing at Wembley) and reluctantly got into a conversation with the bloke standing in front of me. He reeled off a list of all the diverse people he’d seen perform at Wembley. The calibre of the performer seemed far less important to him than the scale of the event – the point of his braggadocio (for that is what it was) was that he’d seen them all at WEMBLEY STADIUM! This is not to say that there can’t be great concerts there (it turned out that Michael Jackson, at the top of his game in about 1987, was stunning), but the venue maketh not the music. It’s a sort of weird inverted snobbery, and I find it every bit as wearing as the traditional variety.

  2. Suffice it to say that I am unlikely to visit a cinema in this or any future decade – though never say never. I’m not sure that our self-appointed office film expert actually goes to the cinema that often either but he’s forever passing around dodgy looking DVDs and apologising for the subtitles. And if anyone’s ever foolish enough to mention that they are thinking of going then he’s straight in there because he’s seen everything. The thing is, we do quite a few quizzes in the office – because it’s better than working – and I really don’t think he’s ever seen a black and white film in his life. If they hadn’t made Bond films in the sixties, I don’t think he’d have seen anything made prior to about 1975. Films are – I’m told – shared cultural events. Some people collect them, ticking them off like entries in the list of 100 Ovens You Should Stick Your Head In Before You Die. There’s no cachet in having seen a documentary film called Vials And The Veil, or whatever. You need to know how much a film cost to make in order to know how big a shared cultural event it’s going to be, in order to know whether you need to have an opinion on it before everyone else has seen it. Of course it’ll be on the telly before you know it. But by then, who cares if it’s any good?

  3. It’s somewhat ironic that the public face of this sort of blockbuster-consumerism, “Empire”, was the very magazine that turned me onto film outside the Hollywood run-of-the-mill. That was almost twenty years ago, and it goes without saying that I have bought it increasingly rarely of late.

    Although I’m sure there are still a number of good critics there, and the occasional independent film does get championed, the perilous financials of modern magazine publishing mean they will never get near the cover. Not when pictures of Mega(n) Fox are available as an alternative, anyway. Consequently, gentle gems like Danny Boyle’s “Millions”, one of his finest achievements, remain unseen by the majority.

    I could perhaps understand this sort of attitude from critics far away from the cultural centres – there aren’t a lot of alternative options in the sticks for a local newspaper critic who – unless they want to pay to see films themselves – are stuck with whatever the local multiplex programs.

    But these guys and girls live and work in London, with the wonder of the BFI and a host of other classy arthouses but an Oyster swipe away. In the BFI alone I’ve discovered Jonathan Ross to be much more of a cineaste than his public persona allows, when he introduced me to the genius of Jean-Pierre Melville, saw Richard Curtis describe “Annie Hall” as the sort of film he can only dream of making, and asked Andy Serkis a question about his performance in “Tin Tin”.

    See, I like blockbusters too. But then it takes the like of the two Stevens (Spielberg and Moffat), to craft one that exists on its own terms, away from the crassness of the associated studio hype.

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