The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

  • Steven Spielberg
  • 2011

Journalist and adventurer Tintin arrives on the big screen with a CGI-makeover that goes three dimensional. Sewing together three 1940s stories The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, this big budget re-imaging of Herve’s classic is a thrill ride of set pieces, yet lacking the classic Spielberg story weaving of his live action equivalent Indiana Jones.

The transition from cartoon to computer visuals is handled with a humour that offers a knowing wink to the audience as the film opens on Tintin getting a caricature with a remarkable resemblance to that of the style seen in the popular series, and we then see the Jamie Bell motion capture form for the first time. It takes a while to get used to a 3D version of the famous quiff and Bell’s very English voice, but it’s the same old inquisitive Tintin behind the fancy graphics and it’s not long before we’re caught up in his latest investigation. Said investigation begins immediately as he buys up an old wooden ship model from a street trader which arouses unwanted attention from shady characters – and sets him off to the library to find out more.

There is a lack of genuine emotion to keep you hooked.

A quirky sub-plot sees Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg) offer light entertainment trying to catch a pick pocket who acts with visual flair, and their interplay sparks the film into life because Tintin gets far too obsessed tying to solve clues with the help of his faithful dog Snowy. The action bounds along as the threatening Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) emerges as a treasure-hunting villain and when the story hits the high seas Andy Serkis comes on board as the constantly drunk Captain Haddock. The trio of leads are strong characters in themselves, however they never quite light up the screen for long as most of their dialogue is needed to skip to the next journey or action sequence.

And that’s the real appeal of this Tintin: the action. The set pieces are exuberant as Spielberg whirls the non-existent camera around with one car chase sequence through a city’s narrow streets a thrilling ride with no edits, and an ocean battle between two ships awash with excitement. The 3D is put to effective use too: unlike many of the more generic 3D movies which use cheap tricks to ensure you notice objects jump out of the screen, here the effects are finely developed for the action. All this frenetic fun would be of better use if it was part of a more engaging whole, but much like Spielberg’s fourth Indiana Jones movie, there is a lack of genuine emotion to keep you hooked.

As it stands, this first in a proposed trilogy of Tintin films is a rollicking tale which will have kids on the edge of their seat probably as much as adults, which is a fine achievement in itself – there were many doubters of this adaptation. For the Peter Jackson directed follow-up, there will need to be more emphasis on giving Tintin another dimension than a hyperactive investigator who spends the whole movie getting excited about working out a mystery he has very little time to charm the audience.

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