Review: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
PLOT: After inadvertently acquiring a model ship sought by the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig); intrepid, boy reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell), and his faithful dog Snowy set off on a globetrotting adventure. Along the way, they meet the alcoholic, kind-hearted Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), whose bloodline may hold the secret to the mystery they’ve found themselves embroiled in.
REVIEW: Being born and raised in Montreal, Quebec- Belgian artist Hergé’s TINTIN comics were an essential part of my childhood. In elementary school, we were taught French through the Tintin comics, and to this day I have a hard time pronouncing “Tintin” in English, or referring to the dog as Snowy, rather than Millou. Considering the comic’s massive popularity in La Belle Province, Steven Spielberg’s big-screen adaptation of the comics, THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, hit theaters here two weeks ahead of its release in the rest of North America.
Based on the early trailers, I wasn’t sure what to make of TINTIN. I pretty much figured Spielberg would be able to nail the tone of the comics, as they were (apparently) a huge influence on the Indiana Jones films (not to mention most other action-adventure franchises of the last fifty years). My only concern was the motion-capture animation style being used- which is the same as the one being championed by Robert Zemeckis in films like BEOWULF, and THE POLAR EXPRESS. I usually hate this style of animation (although it works beautifully when integrated into a live action film like LORD OF THE RINGS), and I was all but certain it would ruin the film for me.
Luckily, it didn’t, as I was pretty much drawn right back into the Hergé universe I loved so much as a child from the opening credits, which play homage to the style of drawing used in the books. From there, it immediately introduces us to Tintin, who- like in the comics is totally ambiguous in age. He looks like a kid, sounds like an adult, lives on his own in an apartment, carries a gun- but it constantly referred to as a kid by everyone in the film. Imagine a badass Pee-Wee Herman, and you get the idea.
As Tintin, Jamie Bell is inspired casting. It needs to be said, Tintin, as depicted in the film, doesn’t look at all like Bell, but the facial tics of the character suggest that the motion capture performance did indeed add something to the performance. Vocally, he’s absolutely perfect, suggesting both Tintin’s boyish enthusiasm, and his boundless sense of daring.
Like Bell, Andy Serkis, as the beloved Captain Haddock also strikes me as perfect, although his Scottish accent took me awhile to get used to, as I never imagined one when reading the books (although it’s probably perfect). A master of the motion-capture performance, Serkis is wonderful as the drunken, but extremely likable Haddock, although I thought the animation made him look a slighter than he does in the comics.
While I’m not a big fan of this method of animation, I have to admit that Spielberg probably couldn’t have pulled off Tintin using any other technique. It would have never worked as a live-action film, for the sole fact that Snowy, the dog, would have been impossible to depict- although, come to think of it, the dog in THE ARTIST is pretty Snowy-like.
One thing’s for sure- if Spielberg had opted to go in a total CGI route, we wouldn’t have gotten the freedom of camera movement brought to the film. Once you get into it, TINTIN feels more like a live-action film than an animated one, and some of the set-pieces are phenomenal. Many have said THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN is what INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL should have been, and I’m inclined to agree. Spielberg certainly doesn’t shy away from the Indiana Jones comparisons, with a very Indy-style score by John Williams, and an elaborate chase where Snowy chases his kidnapped master through an open-air market seems like a direct riff of the classic Indy/Marian chase in RAIDERS.
The two best action set-pieces come a little later in the film, with one being an extended gun-battle/chase on-board Haddock’s hijacked ship, that would have been at home in an Indiana Jones film The final, and best set-piece is an incredible motorcycle chase, done all in one, long tracking shot with no cuts, as Tintin and Haddock essentially demolish a Moroccan village, which running from the bad guys.
Watching this scene made me regret opting to see it in 2D, as my 3D aversion got the better of me. In hindsight, I should have paid the extra five bucks and watched it the way Spielberg intended, as it probably would have been great. Still, even without the third dimension, I enjoyed the hell out of TINTIN. More than anything Spielberg’s done in a while, TINTIN has the sense of fun that’s been absent from his work since CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. It helps that Spielberg not only had producer Peter Jackson to work with, but also the great Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish (ATTACK THE BLOCK) to contribute to the screenplay. It has the sense of joy evident in the work of these newer directors (not to mention juicy cameos for Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thompson & Thomson).
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN really works on every level, whether, like me, you’re a huge fan of the comics, or have no knowledge of them whatsoever. It’s a terrific flick, and I hope it does well enough to get us another instalment, as there are lots of classic TINTIN stories that would make wonderful films.