The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Spying a bargain and acquiring a model boat, roving reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) immediately finds himself protecting his purchase from two other would-be customers. Warned by one that his life is now in danger, Tintin is left bewildered as his benefactor is shot and his model stolen. When the man responsible is unable to find what he is looking for, a small parchment that fell from the replica when Tintin’s dog Snowy broke it, he kidnaps the reporter and smuggles him aboard the Karaboudjan under the nose of the ship’s alcoholic captain. Escaping from his confines, Tintin befriends Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who is himself being held in a sort of prison, and depart the ship on a life-boat. Setting sale for Morocco, the Karaboudjan‘s original destination, the two slowly unravel the mystery of the model ship’s worth, entering into a race to discover the whereabouts of Red Rackham’s (Daniel Craig) treasure.

I think my favourite thing about The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is how much fun it is; a pre-requisite for an action-adventure blockbuster, you’d have thought, but remarkable nonetheless. Gone are the staid childhood traumas, the trite sexual politics and the misplaced existential angst that needlessly riddle other such movies, replaced instead with an extra scattering of set pieces and a potent thirst for adventure. While there will be those who lament the lack of character development and bemoan the apparent absence of psychological complexity, there’s always We Need To Talk About Kevin, for everyone else Tintin has everything you could ever want from a Spielbergian popcorn movie.

For the very existence of Tintinology as a field of study indicates that there is more to our boy hero than might initially meet the eye. You don’t need a poorly written female foil or a soliloquy denoting inner turmoil to read complexity into a character, people can – and have been – drawing conclusions about Tintin for years. For everyone willing to take Hergé’s cypher at face value, however, little is lost; the character’s friendships, gusto and improbable luck proving suitably engaging without a Mrs. Tintin standing in the kitchen to be kidnapped for dramatic effect, undressed on cue or used to convince America’s Deep South that our hero, like, isn’t gay or anything.

While Spielberg has thankfully remained true to the characters (poor, poor Sherlock Holmes, what has Guy Richie done to you!?), he has inevitably been forced to cash in his creative licence on occasion, particularly when it comes to the film’s plot. Taking the book of the same name, shoehorning in large swathes of previous story The Crab With The Golden Claws, and largely ignoring the concluding instalment, Red Rackham’s Treasure, Spielberg’s adaptation is a veritable melting-pot of ideas taken from throughout the entire series. While this might disenfranchise less forgiving fans, and leave everyone with even a passing familiarity with the source material scratching their heads (I for one found the pacing off until I realised what was being left out and what was being kept in), it ultimately works beautifully. Taken on its own merits, as any successful adaptation should be, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is an absolute delight.

Opening with an absolutely inspired montage which highlights classic moments from both Tintin’s past and future, the sequence beautifully demonstrates not only the director’s embrace of his newfangled, motion-capture enabled freedom, but also gives John Williams the opportunity to showcase his truly accomplished score. Much like Edgar Wright’s work on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Spielberg’s Tintin dances between scenes with utmost fluidity and imagination: whether cutting through a reflective bubble or alternating between delirium and reality – sand giving way to ocean – this really is the director’s most visually captivating film to date. Not only does he bring Hergé’s art to life with the utmost zeal, he uses his new medium to create the ultimate motion comic. Film.

It is clear that the director is having almost as much fun as his audience, with the film building up a truly astonishing momentum, particularly during one memorable set piece involving a motorbike, a bazooka and a beautifully realised city-slide. Referencing the comic’s mythology (take a bow, Bianca Castafiore) as often as he does his own body of work (one sequence harks back to the boulder-chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark, while another references Jaws), Tintin is a feast for the senses that will more than likely still have much to give through repeated viewings.

With Spielberg’s take on the narrative, however, there are inevitably scenes and characters missing in action: Thomson (Simon Pegg) and Thompson (Nick Frost – with a ‘p’, like in psychology) barely feature, Professor Calculus is absent altogether and the entire treasure hunt is scrapped in favour of a duel between warring cranes. That said, it is difficult to criticise a film for what it leaves out, and with Spielberg and second-unit director Peter Jackson drawing influences from the series as a whole it is likely that there sequences won’t be lost forever. A definite saving grace considering the comedy that could be mined from the scene in which the police officers attempt to chew tobacco or the professor’s hearing impairment.

While Hergé’s whimsical and ludicrous plotting may prove too contrived for some viewers (Tintin does spend an awful lot of time in exposition mode), the character’s transition to screen is otherwise a huge success. Exquisitely rendered and perfectly voiced (Andy Serkis, you ARE Captain Haddock), The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a breathtaking, pulse-pounding and laugh-out-loud funny piece of cinema; an absolute blast from beginning to end. Gobs will be smacked.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

2 Responses to The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

  1. Pingback: October 2011 – Relax, I interviewed a pilot once! « popcornaddict

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