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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn review


Spielberg and Jackson bring a classic character to life without quite understanding what the fans love about him...

The Adventures Of TinTin - movie review

As a Tintin fan since childhood, the release of the much anticipated Stephen Spielberg/Peter Jackson film adaptation has been a big screen event I have been looking forward for a long while. However, like many other die-hard enthusiasts who have followed the exploits of Herge’s intrepid boy reporter, I had quite a few mixed feelings as to whether this new movie version would work.

All the previous cinema and TV adaptations of Tintin have been pretty much hit or miss (mostly miss), and even with Spielberg and Jackson being big fans, it would be very difficult to recreate the style and panache of Herge’s originals. Despite these reservations I went to the cinema with an open mind.

"I really wanted to like this move but sadly the thundering typhoon I wanted to see is merely a damp breeze"

There are 23 complete Tintin books to choose from so sustaining a film series would be hard work although the James Bond franchise hasn’t done too badly. Since the earlier adventures are pretty flaky, Spielberg and Jackson wisely set the film halfway through the book series with The Secret of the Unicorn, but using elements from the earlier story The Crab with the Golden Claws.

Tintin the reporter (voiced by Jamie Bell) buys a model ship called the Unicorn at a market. However there are a couple of sinister individuals expressing more than a passing interest in the model. All is revealed when he finds a piece of parchment inside one of the masts that forms part of a treasure map.

As he investigates further he meets the drunken merchant sailor Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) whose ancestor once commanded the unicorn. Also along for this adventure are Tintin’s friends, the incompetent Interpol detectives Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost).

I really wanted to like this move but sadly the thundering typhoon I wanted to see is merely a damp breeze. It begins promisingly enough; the opening credits and John Williams’ quirky score certainly gave me the impression that I will see a faithful representation of the original album. This is further strengthened with a nice moment featuring Herge himself painting a cartoon portrait of Tintin (other familiar characters are also on display). Tintin’s office also has framed photos of newspaper cuttings that refer to previous adventures.

However after that things go badly wrong and by the end of the film it’s clear that Spielberg has completely botched up the chance to do justice to the character.

The film is very loosely based on The Secret of the Unicorn, and considering the wealth of material available in this book and all the others, the three screenwriters managed to churn out a pretty basic script that only makes slight references to the original story. In order for Tintin to meet Captain Haddock for the first time, The Crab with the Golden Claws sub-plot is poorly inserted into the film. In actual fact Crab is good enough for a film version in its own right.

"By pandering more to the money-men and American audiences than to the Tintin fans, Spielberg has put commercial sensibilities above his more artistic leanings"

No matter how Spielberg tries, he simply cannot capture the wonderful art of Tintin. He basks in the magic of Herge’s creation without completely understanding the concept. He adds plenty of action scenes but the rapid Indiana Jones style does not sit well with the film and apart from a couple of good gags, the humour is heavy handed. The flashback of the fate of the Unicorn owes more to Pirates of the Caribbean; one half expected a CGI Jack Sparrow to make a guest appearance. By pandering more to the money-men and American audiences than to the Tintin fans, Spielberg has put commercial sensibilities above his more artistic leanings.

The characters are also less defined as they were in Herge’s drawings. Although he provided so much of the humour in books, Captain Haddock is portrayed throughout the film as a bungling oaf, and this quickly becomes tiresome (his overdone boozing antics are more sad than funny), while the Thom(p)sons are nowhere near as amusing as they should be despite the combined talents of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

When it came to reading the books, fans always had their own ideas about how a particular character should sound like, so based on my own childhood imagination and interpretation of the books, my thoughts on how Tintin speaks will vary from the thoughts of other fans.

And to me Jamie Bell’s voice is perfect for Tintin. Not only is it less annoying than the various Canadian and English voices used in the previous cartoon adaptations, Bell provides the right amount of wide-eyed intensity and charm to make it work. However Serkis’ Scottish accent did not sound right to me. My idea of Haddock’s voice is a gravely Irish brogue. The Thom(p)sons should sound more like upper class English twits as their cockney accents do not match the bowler-hatter city gent look. Of all the main characters, Snowy comes off best.

In terms of production values, the animation is typically impressive, but 10 years of CGI has robbed it of its novelty. Tintin seems better suited to the more traditional style of animation. The 3D IMAX effects do not improve the movie or add any real impact..

My only positive hope for the film is that it introduces Tintin to a new generation of fans and in doing so, they will hopefully appreciate Herge’s great legacy.

The Adventures of Tintin threatens to work but in the end the film falls between two stools. I only hope the sequel, Red Rackham’s Treasure, will actually follow the original. If this effort is anything to go be, I doubt that very much. The magic wasn’t there and Spielberg was unable to create it with the technology as his disposal. It’s unlikely the sequel will be any better.

Sorry fans, its no great snakes!

2 stars


Review: Steven Spielberg's 'War Horse'

War Horse Press Conference – Spielberg Speaks

Tintin, the movie: will it work?

Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece

Can Spielberg and Jackson do justice to the look of the Tintin comics?


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#1 RE: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn review Kayleen E. Stuck 2011-11-06 03:59
This article is awesome! I can hardly wait for the movie! I'm currently reading the novel of it.

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