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**FILM ONLY REVIEW**
As a child, I was a fan of the Tintin series of graphic novels, although I did prefer the Adventures of Asterix and his plucky village of Gauls. It was the Tintin animated series that used to run on Channel 4 in the mornings that really caught my imagination with that thrilling opening theme song. As such I had a passing recollection of the stories adapted for this 3D CGI version of Tintin. The books adapted for this film were: 'The Crab with the Golden Claws', 'The Secret of the Unicorn' and 'Red Rackham's Treasure'.
My first impression of this new adaptation was how life-like the animations were. There were moments when I actually felt as if I was watching real actors on the screen, which is a feeling I've never quite experienced before when it comes to CGI animation. The quality of the animation has improved greatly from the human motion capture of 'The Polar Express'. Because none of the characters resemble the voice actor portraying them, it helps remove the creepy factor that the soulless CGI Tom Hanks gave people in The Polar Express animation.
There's a cute little nod to the previous incarnations of Tintin, with our hero receiving a portrait by a street artist, whose final result looks rather familiar to fans of the book and television series. The adventure follows the story of Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), a reporter with a nose for trouble and his pet dog, Snowy, as they discover a mysterious model of a boat known as The Unicorn, which holds many secrets.
The initial half hour seems to be a bit bland and oddly paced, with some less than thrilling moments but the film kicks into a whole new gear with the introduction of Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis) and he immediately steals the film from under Tintin's quiffed forehead. Haddock injects the film with a livelier pulse and a more adult sense of humour that carries it through the next hour or so, although the film does falter at the end with a rather anti-climatic finale which seems rushed and awkwardly paced compared to the slower aspects of the film.
With Spielburg's involvement, comparisons are naturally made to the Indiana Jones trilogy, in as much as they both feature hidden treasure with a european flavour, although there are no Nazi's in this film. Unfortunately Tintin doesn't quite hold the same level of momentum as the Indiana Jones movies (even Temple of Doom!) and there are moments where the film struggles with it's identity - does it want to be a realistic treasure hunt or a slightly cartoony world where physics do not apply? My main gripe with the film is a moment when the plane Tintin and Captain Haddock are inside is about to run out of gas and plummet into the desert, but Haddock saves the day by utilising his alcoholic nature and breathing 'fumes' into the engine which manage to keep them going a bit further to have a relatively safe landing. Immediately, the universe that Spielburg and Jackson had built up until that point fell apart with that 'gag'.
However, the cartoony action does pay off in a later sequence where Tintin, Haddock, Snowy and their enemy are chasing after the three pieces of paper that will reveal the location of the treasure and the chase sequence expands into a breath-taking downhill race to reach the bottom, which looked amazing in 3D and conveyed a feeling of movement that threatened to pop my eyes from their sockets.
Overall, I enjoyed the film and although there was moments where I felt they expected me to suspend belief too much, it was a fun reimagining of the Tintin character for new audiences (most of North America were unfamiliar with Herge's books and the Television series) and a brilliant showcase for the advances in CGI animation and motion capture. With the characters established, perhaps a sequel would be better paced, with a more thrilling mystery at its center and less outlandish plot devices.
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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a 2011 animated performance capture film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the classic comic book series by genius Belgian artist Hergé. Spielberg apparently became a fan in 1981 after Raiders of the Lost Ark was released and someone asked him if Indiana Jones was a homage to Tintin (who had of course enjoyed myriad cliffhanger adventures in far flung locales many decades before Harrison Ford). When a curious Spielberg read some Tintin volumes he fell in love with the art, humour and spirit of adventure and immediately thought about a film version. Hergé died in 1983 but he was never terribly impressed with the few (rather eccentric) European live action Tintin films and expressed the view that only Steven Spielberg could do his creation justice. The famed American director was therefore able to attain the screen rights from the Hergé estate. For one reason or another though - scripts they were never happy with, uncertainty over whether to do it as live action or animation etc - Spielberg's proposed Tintin film languished in development hell as he both lost and regained the rights down the decades. It was only when he won the rights again in 2002 and consulted Peter Jackson about special effects that the project gained real momentum and finally went into production. Jackson told him that the mocap technique (where actors are used and then animated) was the best way to go and took on a producer role - agreeing to direct the sequel should it be made. The film was written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish and draws heavily on Hergé's The Crab With The Golden Claws (1941) and The Secret of the Unicorn (1943) with a smattering of Red Rackham's Treasure (1944) and one or two other books. Mashing them up together for its plot in addition to throwing some new threads and dialogue into the cauldron. I think Tintin purists might be disappointed to see distinct books jumbled together in this fashion and a part of me is. A film adaption that combined, for example, Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon wouldn't be a problem as it is one long big story but the jumbling here is slightly jarring if you've grown up with these adventures as unique individual stories.
One can probably understand why they did this as the Tintin books are not terribly long and The Crab With The Golden Claws is the story that introduces us to Tintin's great friend and (reluctant) fellow adventurer Captain Haddock (voiced by Andy Serkis here). I still think they could have picked one and span it out though. The film begins (after an enjoyable title sequence and music by John Williams) with Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell) and his faithful dog Snowy in a flea market where he spies a wonderful model sailing ship called the Unicorn and decides to buy it. To his annoyance, he is approached by two characters named Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and Barnaby (Joe Starr) who seem desperate for him to sell the ship to them. He declines to part with his new purchase and goes home where - unknown to Tintin - Snowy breaks the ship and reveals a tiny scroll hidden in the mast. Sakharine kidnaps Tintin and throws him in the hold of the SS Karaboudjan where our hero meets the drunken Captain Haddock. First mate Allan (Daniel Mays) is working for Sakharine and has plied the sozzled Haddock with alcohol so that he has no idea what is happening on his ship and isn't in control anymore. Tintin and the Captain will soon begin their first globe hopping journey together as they escape and begin to unravel the secret of the Unicorn - a mystery that goes back centuries to the time of Haddock's ancestor Sir Francis. What is good and bad about the film? The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn looks amazing at its best. Fantastic flashbacks of pirate sequences on the high seas, galleons lashed with water and invading the desert (as a parched and dehydrated Haddock daydreams and hallucinates). I'm not a huge fan of CG animated films and don't watch an awful lot of them but this does indeed look wonderful in places and is often highly entertaining too with many little flourishes and tricks by Spielberg (shot that shows us Snowy's eye level perspective etc). There are many jokes and references that fans of the books will enjoy and I loved the nod to the famous Tintin ligne claire drawing style at the start. Watch for the Hergé cameo too.
There is an awful lot of action in the film, maybe too much but then this is clearly an attempt to meet those who are not so familiar (in other words the Americans market) with Tintin half-way. Much of this is very nicely done and there is plenty of derring do and comic action escapades with planes, jeeps, ships etc. Jamie Bell is generally fine as the voice of Tintin. Tintin is a sort of (but not quite) tabula rasa really in the books. We are not sure how old he is or if he has any family. He isn't a superhero. He's ordinary and decent. You can project yourself on Tintin and then his roster of eccentric friends are more human and flawed. They had certain aspects of Hergé's personality. So Captain Haddock, for example, had sarcasm and frustration - just generally some humanity to counter balance the pure idealism and heroism of Tintin. Haddock was Hergé when he got older. He wanted the world to leave him alone and was weary and tired. But Haddock was a courageous noble character nonetheless who was able to accept himself for what he was. He was a bigger problem in the film for me than Tintin. I think Bell's Tintin is maybe a little too wide eyed wonder one note jolly gosh (the Tintin of the books always gave one the impression of being wise beyond his years and cunning and he did have emotions too like anger) but it's passable and captures the character well at times. Captain Haddock however doesn't quite look like Haddock (too squat somehow!) and I didn't care much for Serkis playing him in a booming Scottish accent (wonder if Steven Moffat was behind this?). I'm not sure where they got this from. Haddock was named by Hergé' after the "sad English fish" and while he could of course be Belgian there was always a strong suggestion he was most likely from Cornwall. I suppose he could be Scottish too but I've spent my entire life imagining Haddock as a West Country sea dog who lives on the Continent (speaking fluent French!) and I could never really get used to him speaking in a fake Scottish accent delivered by an English actor!
This Haddock is definitely given too much sentimentality by Spielberg. He even delivers motivational speeches to Tintin! "Failed. There are plenty of others willing to call you a failure. A fool. A loser. A hopeless souse. Don't you ever say it of yourself. You send out the wrong signal, that is what people pick up. Don't you understand? You care about something, you fight for it. You hit a wall, you push through it. There's something you need to know about failure." Ectoplasms! Freshwater swabs! Bashi-bazouks! Cannibals! Caterpillars! Captain Haddock would never say some of the lines they give him here. The actual characters do enter the realm of uncanny valley at times too. Almost seem real and almost don't seem real. I find some of these CG films slightly creepy at times to be honest and while this film doesn't completely avoid this I had far less trouble here than I usually do. Now and again, when they linger in frame though, characters just seem somewhat dead and we suddenly are aware they are fake and hollow. To be honest though I think I'd probably be nitpicking even more if they'd done it as live action. They are never going to completely 100% satisfy anyone who has grown up reading the books. Whatever they do it is not going to match your own person conception of the world of Tintin. I did like the look of the film though for the most part and while I don't claim to be a huge expert on CG it is undoubtedly clever and lavish. Lots of colour and intricate background detail which I enjoyed and thought was really well done. The (fictitious) Moroccan port of Bagghar was superb in the film.
Nick Frost and Simon Pegg are ok as the bumbling detectives Thomson and Thompson but the slapstick in the film loses something in the motion capture and is never going to be as funny as the brilliant comic panels by Hergé. Sakharine is changed here from a eccentric collector into the grand villain which is a bit annoying if you love the books but anyway. Daniel Craig does his best as Sakharine and Red Rackham (the 17th century villain who the ancestor of Haddock battled) but I've never really considered Daniel Craig to be much of an actor and he is dreadful (Tomb Raider, Munich, Defiance etc) at doing accents. No Proffesor Calculus here (presumably he's being saved for the next film if they make one as he was only introduced in Red Rackham's Treasure) but they do shoehorn opera diva Bianca Castafiore (voiced by Kim Stengel) into the story in a rather contrived fashion. They seem to pilfer some plot thread from The Seven Crystal Balls here and imbue Castafiore with the powers of Cacofonix the Bard in Asterix. For me the film moves away from the spirit of Tintin when they don't seem to trust the source material. Some new jokes (that aren't very funny), a hint of innuendo, and Indiana Jones/Jason Bourne type action sequences in the third act. A crane fight goes on for too long. Some great stuff but you do maybe wish they had stuck to a Hergé story and done it in a super faithful retro way. I think The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a lot of fun though and well made. You don't really need to know much about the comics to enjoy the film and that's maybe the point. If you have grown up up with Tintin you'll find more to ponder upon and perhaps nitpick but general audiences and especially children should enjoy it a lot. I saw this in the cinema but I believe it will be out on DVD around March/April. I only hope the cover art they use is more inspired than the picture above.