Film Review No.134: The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

When I was a kid I used to watch Herge’s Adventures of Tintin on Channel 4 here in the UK. It was a pretty cool adventure cartoon series but it was never my favourite. I grew up at the exact time Transformers blew up and so you can understand why the adventures of a boy, his dog and a drunken sea captain wasn’t my top show. That said I’ve always enjoyed and respected the work of Herge’s Tintin despite it’s complete lack of giant robots that turn into cars.. Enough for me to approach this Tintin movie with a little bit of caution. Mostly that caution was down to the two main creative forces behind the film, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Neither have been putting out there best works in recent years, both have been overly prone to either self indulgence or misguided ideas. Both issues show up here but thankfully not so much as to damage the film. Click the link for my full review.

The Tintin film is based on the first three books in the original comic book series that being The Crab With The Golden Claws, The Secret Of The Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. There’s a few liberties here and there such as the main villain being entirely different, but the stories have been entwined together well enough to allow for a more singular adventure to shine though. The story starts with Tintin (Jamie Bell) buying a model boat that seems to be attracting a lot of interest from various figures. Before too long Tintin is investigating mysteries all over the place, getting captured and escaping and eventually he gets down to performing the sort of death defying acts only possible in an animation of this type. He does this with Snowy in tow and eventually picks up a very drunk Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis doing mo-cap yet again) to aid him in his quest for some sort of end goal.

Tintin is all about the macguffin. There’s really no goal for him other than figuring out what the mystery of the scrolls contained within three model boats is all about. This presents the films biggest issue, it’s story. I’m getting this out the way early because there is plenty of good to follow. The story is plain flawed in it’s execution. We don’t get a good introduction to Tintin and his world other than he likes investigating stuff. The villain takes his sweet time giving you a reason to hate him, in fact I was weary that they’d resort to the hero being talked into helping the villain trope that happens in some lazier adventure films, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull for one example. On top of that Tintin doesn’t really have any idea what the villains end game is. He ends up setting out to thwart him before he has any real idea of what it is that Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is after and why he should stop him. There really should be a clear end goal established within the first 25 minutes or so. Add to that the stories rushed pacing where Tintin is literally constantly working things out and solving smaller mysteries without the slightest hint of downtime and you’ve got a film that doesn’t know when to let up.

Thompson & Thompson played by real life not-twins Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Met Nick once. Nice chap.

For a good story to flow you need to start off strong, build the tension and mystery slowly, reveal the goal of the hero or villain and then spend the middle part of the film moving the audience back and forth from high to low points, from fast paced action to moments of space and clarity. Because this film lacks any slower moments, even a walk through a desert is swiftly pushed into a action packed dream sequence, we rarely get the time to really explore the characters of Tintin and Haddock. We get enough to understand who they are and what their basic relationship is but not enough to truly learn what makes them who they are today barring one motivational speech from Haddock at the end of the films second act. What this story reeks of is a case of too many ideas being forced in by too many, to be fair quite talented, writers. The film was scribed by Dr Who boss Stephen Moffat, Spaced’s Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish of Adam & Joe fame, although most of you will know him as the director of Attack the Block. On their own they can create some real magic but together they seem to be unaware of when it’s time to slow down and let the story breath.

All that said the adventure itself is pretty spectacular and features many stand-out set pieces. Spielberg used to have a knack for using film as a story telling medium. In recent years he’s put out some quite mediocre work but here it’s like he’s found the energy he used to have. He’s developed and arranged shots and action scenes in ways that would be near impossible to shoot live. He moves the camera in ways that would be impossible with a real set, such as a shot where the camera swings right around into where the wall should be blocking the view. I like that he has realised just how unrestrained he can be here. As mentioned there’s a lot of good set pieces and largely this all plays out quite a lot like an Indiana Jones film. It’s even surprisingly mature in it’s content for a kids film these days. There’s murder, drunken escapades and quite a lot of violence. Tintin himself stops short of ever actually shooting someone, but he comes close and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had to at some point. The films got balls is what I’m basically saying. Just like Spielberg’s films used to have.

One of many fine messes the pair get into.

The animation and computer created imagery is some of the finest done for cinemas yet. The sets are designed and cluttered just as much as you’d expect a real set to be and I swear barely any objects manage to avoid being knocked about or used in some way. The work that must have gone into building these locales must have been an insanely daunting task. The character design sits in a fairly comfortable side of the uncanny valley. The texture work is very detailed but they’ve had foresight to keep the designs themselves true to the Herge style in many ways which helps avoid that pit of oddness some similar animated films fall into. John Williams has written an epic adventure score just as he always does, although I would have liked more music in the style of the films title credits sequence, a kind of jazzy retro detective motif set to a slightly Catch Me If You Can style animation. Spielberg throws a few little references to his and Jacksons work throughout the film, most obvious being a Jaws gag involving Tintin’s hair, but they never get too distracting. It doesn’t feel like he’s ticking off a list of things to put in basically.

Overall Tintin is an enjoyable kids adventure film that is only really mired by a sloppy screenplay and a way too fast pace. It feels like 40 mysteries have been solved by the end of the films first 20 minutes. The performances are all as good as you’d expect from the cast involved, although Daniel Craig’s Sakharine smiles at one point which must have been mo-capped by another actor in his place because I’m pretty sure Daniel Craig can’t smile without looking pained. Kids will certainly enjoy the adventure itself and adults will get plenty of that nostalgic feeling you get when you see your favourite kids shows actually being done some justice on screen. As opposed to the vomit inducing pain of Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen. I wish Spielberg had directed that.


About lvl54spacemonkey

Just a dude who likes movies and games and has delusions of working in one of those industries. Write screenplays and work on short films in my spare time. Most of which never get finished. View all posts by lvl54spacemonkey

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