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The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn - Film Review By A.D.Harris

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(taken from theadamharris.com)

Having been a lifelong fan of Herge’s series ‘The Adventures Of Tintin’ I followed closely the production of the first large scale Hollywood production of the Belgian reporter and his trusted companion Snowy. Believing that Spielberg’s talents were enough to do justice to a series which over recent years had begun to fall into the forgotten lands of the past, it was a chance for Tintin as a leading character to be reinvented and become the headlining lead of a franchise in a post Harry Potter world.

Filmed in performance capture, creating a half real, half animated vision of the comic novels meant that the characters were a lifelike interpretation of how they would look in the real world. It boasts an impressive, and largely British cast in Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost as well as having performance capture maestro Andy Serkis taking on the reigns of the film’s most nefarious, entertaining and pivotal role; Captain Archibald Haddock.

Stating Haddock as pivotal is true, as even though this is Tintin’s film, the particular story which Spielberg chose to adapt to the big screen is an element of ‘Crab with the Golden Claws’ and a flittering of ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’, but is mainly sea adventure ‘The Secret of The Unicorn’. This novel is a story that delves into the back-history of Haddock’s ancestry, as a scroll hidden within a replica ship reveals the potential hiding place to the mystery of the long sunken ship, The Unicorn.

Visually, Tintin is beyond a triumph. The world created by Speilberg and his team is beyond beautiful. Vivid, colourful, in depth and with characters so believable it doesn’t take long to start convincing yourself that could almost be seen as standard non-animation filming. There is no doubt that the older characters such as Haddock and the villainous Sakharine are the strongest creations visually, the wrinkles and complexity of their faces lending better to performance capture than the plain boy-like face that Tintin has. Even so, adding life to the eyes has always been the troublesome issue for this form of film-making, and even though a couple of times it is a victim to the “dead-eye” for the majority of the running time it manages to add life and depth to every characters stare. The only character who was one-hundred percent CGI is Tintin’s dog Snowy, a wise decision as the trusted companion is an equally strong creation. Providing half of the films laughs and half of the films cheers, Snowy is every bit the pivotal character he always was in the novels.

Whilst the story of ‘Secret of the Unicorn’ had to be diluted down to fit in the other elements from other novels, and whilst Spielberg takes some liberties in making Sakharine’s character the villain of the piece and in doing so ditching the novels criminal duo The Bird Brothers, it is still a wickedly clever, entertaining and compelling tale. In some respects, the way that screenwriter Steven Moffat uses Sakharine as a way to connecting The Unicorn’s mystery to Haddock as well as pirate Red Rackham is an inspirational adaptation. It adds weight to the villain’s actions, and as such should be seen in a positive light.

Looking at the characters, there is no question that Serkis puts in the performance of the film, creating Haddock in such a loud, crazed and drunken manner makes the Captain is instantly enjoyable and his relationship with Tintin feels fresh and different to anything seen on the big screen in recent years. Stumbling his words, his walk and his memories, when Haddock is on screen you find yourself wanting to cheer him on, especially as he tries to recall the secret his grandfather passed down to him with his last dying breath. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost both do well with their interpretations of bumbling idiot detectives Thompson and Thomson, despite finding themselves in a sub-plot which the film struggles to connect to Tintin’s main adventure. Adding comic relief with a hit ratio that’s over half makes them fun, and the fact you have to wonder how they ever made it into the detective line of work means that everyone concerned with their creation has done their jobs well. Daniel Craig adds his sultry tones to Sakharine with charm, but you have to feel that his star presence adds little to his character when compared with the other leads.

Tintin himself was always to be the most challenging. Often repeating his thoughts out loud, talking to his dog constantly and at times appearing to always be two steps behind where he should be, it was always a possibility that he wouldn’t translate well on the big stage. However, Jamie Bell’s performance makes him confident and pro-active enough to keep us on side, even if he doesn’t sparkle enough to be the lasting memory from his own film. Herge was always wise providing Tintin with Snowy as his sidekick, as it gave him the chance to move the storytelling along whilst it was just his leading character on-screen, and as a result Spielberg manages to make this translation work.

Plenty of moments stand out as highlights from a film packed to the brim in outstanding sequences. Snowy jumping from car to car in a chase to find his master, a swashbuckling scene in the desert as Haddock’s memories are remembered, a death defying attempt by both Snowy and Haddock to save Tintin from the propeller of a crash plane as well as the stunning sequence as Tintin and his companions try to retrieve the scrolls in a bike/car/tank/bird chase that is unlike anything ever seen on screen before. Herge’s novels are packed full of moments you will never forget, and it is in evidence here as the film is full of scenes you’ll remember for as long as you live.

Unfortunately, where the film falls short is in its very final battle. The ending waivers in comparison to what has come before, a battle between Haddock & Sakharine on the dockyard lacking in emotional depth and creativity as well as leaving the titular character out of the film’s concluding scene. Also, whilst it sets up a sequel nicely, it leaves a slight bitter taste on the tongue that they didn’t fully conclude the storyline in one go.

Overall, there is a lot of promise for the series. The opening film has created exciting and brilliant portrayals of characters who only get better with age, and with the introduction next time around of Professor Calculus things can only get better. Faithful to the novels, and with great detail to ensuring that the fans have a film worthy of the heroes they see in their mind, it’s perhaps fitting to end with a summary that they will truly appreciate.

“Great Snakes! This film is great.”



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