Review: The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn (2011)

An avid fan, and the sole person trusted by Hergé to adapt his comic books, Steven Spielberg joins forces with Peter Jackson to bring the iconic drawings to life through the art of motion capture: a method which both filmmakers believe unrivalled for representing the author’s bewitching world.

Combining elements from three of Hergé’s celebrated tales, The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn centres on plucky newspaper reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his attempts to find the treasure of Sir Francis Haddoque. While following three clues to its location hidden in models of Haddoque’s ship, The Unicorn, he is captured by fellow treasure hunter Red Rackham (Daniel Craig). Along with fellow stowaway and descendent of Francis, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Tintin and trusted dog Snowy must battle against time to uncover the treasure and stop Rackham in his tracks.

The screenplay, mapped out by British screenwriting trio Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, is every bit as dynamic, carefree and full of whimsical charm as you’d expect from something plucked from the effervescent mind of Hergé. They imbue the rapidly paced narrative with a witty rapport between characters, along with plenty of action, mystery and suspense. Audiences will be captivated for the film’s entirety. The main downfall, however, is the lack of emotional resonance imbued within the film. While the elements mentioned above make for a rip-roaringly entertaining action adventure, there’s an unwanted distance created between the characters and the spectators that is too pronounced to simply overlook.

That said, each character is infused with personality fragments from their acting counterparts; Bell and Serkis in particular work wonders in bringing Tintin and Captain Haddock to life, all the while retaining the charm and traits that made them so fanciful on paper. It’s a shame, then, that quipsters Thompson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are allowed so little screen time. The backbone of most Tintin comics, they’re barely seen throughout, and when they are they aren’t quite as farcical as expected.

Unlike previous motion-capture films (e.g., The Polar Express, Monster House and Beowulf) The Adventures Of Tintin prevails over technical hitches – particularly the problem of dead, soulless eyes – to propel the medium to soaring new heights. Spielberg, cinematographer Janusz Kamiński and Weta Digital’s stunning attention to detail in their use of computer generated imagery makes almost everything about The Adventures of Tintin feel so real yet appreciatively contained within Hergé’s meticulously imagined world.

From the exquisitely engineered Catch Me If You Can inspired credit sequence, which references the source material in a very unique fashion, to the fervent action set pieces steeped in mind blowing colour depth and languid camera movements – in particular a chase through a Moroccan market, or the final battle between Tintin, Captain Haddock and Red Rackham – Spielberg has reached the top of his game and set a new bar in the world of realistic use of animation.

In spite of the imperfections, it’s clear that Spielberg was the perfect man to transfer the delicate and globally adored drawings of Hergé to the cinema screen. A lack of emotional core is atoned for by supremely riveting animation, vivid set pieces and buoyant gaiety.

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