The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn * * * 1/2

Genre: Action Adventure

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Steven Moffatt and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish, based on the comic series Tintin by Hergé

Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost

Running Length: 107 minutes

Synopsis: Uniting elements from three Hergé Tintin adventures: The Crab With The Golden Claws, The Secret Of The Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, intrepid Belgian reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell), along with his intelligent canine sidekick Snowy, is on the trail of sunken treasure, together with the brutish alcoholic Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).

Review: Count me in as one of the skeptics when this Tintin project was announced – performance capture animation has been pretty hit and miss (mostly the latter) and Tintin is such a well-loved classic that it seemed at first glance that this is surely destined for disaster, even with Steven Spielberg at the helm and Peter Jackson on board as producer. Turns out that all the fears are unfounded – this is an excellent action adventure – a spiritual successor to Spielberg’s seminal Indiana Jones trilogy (yes, I am ignoring the Crystal Skull installment for obvious reasons), and certainly one of the best family films to be released this year.

Having now seen the finished product, it’s hard to imagine what Tintin would have been if it had followed Spielberg’s original vision of a live action movie – kudos to Peter Jackson for apparently convincing Spielberg to go with a digitally animated version. The benefit of existing solely in a digital space is readily apparent, particularly with an amazing mid-movie sequence where Captain Haddock recounts a part of his family history. The number of inventive transitions, crossfades, and other visual flourishes that fill that sequence simply could not have been achieved with live action, even with copious amount of CGI thrown in. This is also a rare film that does well in 3D, while not being in-your-face, helps to immerse the viewer further into the surroundings.  

Previous films done in a similar manner – namely, The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol – have made the error of trying too hard to make the characters look human, resulting in a look that is firmly lodged in the Uncanny Valley. In Tintin, the approach is slightly different, with characters taking on an obvious cartoon quality while still imbuing them with a lot of human detail. This is probably one of the best examples of performance capture so far, alongside with what was achieved in Avatar.

The cast fares well too, with Andy Serkis again providing an excellent, scenes-stealing performance though not being “physically” present. Given that Tintin himself is pretty much an intentional blank slate for audiences and readers to project themselves onto, Jamie Bell also does a pretty good job. Unfortunately, one of the characters that have been somewhat given shorter shrift is Daniel Craig’s Sakharine, who is probably the most forgettable character in the whole movie, despite ostensibly being the villain.  

In other aspects, this is a quintessential Spielberg movie, even though it’s his first foray into animation. There are plenty of great action set pieces to be found here (though if one is critical, it actually borders a little on overkill), a good dose of humour thrown in, and a universality that means it will be equally well-received by both adults and children alike. A caveat – given the liberties that were taken with the source comic series, fanboys of the original Tintin may feel a fair amount of cognitive dissonance with the big screen rendition.

Before his passing in 1983, Hergé had commented that if his work was to be brought to the big screen, the only director he could envision accomplishing it would be Steven Spielberg. Almost three decades later, it turns out that he was right after all.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of four stars)

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