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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicor

A 2011 computer animated film directed by Steven Spielberg based on the comics by Hergé.

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Great Snakes and Blistering Barnacles!

  • Oct 25, 2011
Before his death, Tintin creator, Georges "Hergé" Remi, remarked that Steven Spielberg was, in his opinion, the only director who could ever do the character justice on the big screen. Indeed, Hergé as realised by Spielberg sounds like a tantalising prospect; a match made in heaven. After all, the adventures of a certain whip wielding archaeologist clearly have a great deal in common with Hergé's globetrotting, bequiffed reporter. After seeing The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I am convinced Spielberg was the right man for the job. As a lifelong fan of his work, and an admirer of the work of Hergé, I was extremely eager to see this film. I'm happy to say the movie is, for the most part, a success. However, it doesn't quite surpass the promise or expectation.

Combining elements from the original Tintin adventures The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, the film tells the story of the intrepid reporter's first encounter with Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis) and the discovery of a clue to the whereabouts of long lost  treasures. Along the way, they entangle with the mysterious and dangerous Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), a man who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the treasure first. Aided on their adventure by bumbling Interpol detectives Thompson and Thomson (Simon Pegg & Nick Frost), Tintin (Jamie Bell), his trusty canine sidekick, Snowy, and Captain Haddock race to reach the treasure and unlock the mystery of its significance.

This film adaptation of Tintin has been a long time coming. Spielberg acquired the rights to make a movie back in 1983, shortly after Hergé's death, and came close to shooting a live action version around that time based on a script by E.T. The Extra Terrestrial scribe, Melissa Mathison. Though that version was aborted and the rights for the film fell back to the Hergé estate, Spielberg remained interested in the project. He re-acquired the rights in 2002, this time intending to bring the character to life using computer animation. Once again the project stalled, apparently because Spielberg felt that a movie of Tintin was just too ambitious to be made with the computer animation technology of the time. Spielberg reverted to the idea of shooting a live action movie and consulted director Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) on how best to create Tintin's faithful dog, Snowy, as a CGI character in the film. Jackson, a lifelong fan of Tintin, convinced Spielberg that a live action film would never work and suggested that they shoot the entire movie using the latest "performance capture" CGI. It was around this time that Jackson's WETA Digital special effects company were utilising the same groundbreaking technology for James Cameron's Avatar. Their work on that film proved it was possible to capture every tiny nuance of an actor's performance and translate it onto a computer generated character. Finally, in 2007, the Tintin movie was green-lit, with Spielberg and Jackson collaborating on the production of the film. Doctor Who writer, Stephen Moffat, was hired to write the script, but due to the Writers Guild strike and his commitments to Who, he was forced to leave the project before the screenplay was complete. Edgar Wright, director/co-writer of Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, and Joe Cornish, director/writer of Attack the Block, were bought on board to complete and polish what Moffat had started. Production on The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn - the first in a planned trilogy - began in 2008. Though the motion capture "filming" of the actors was completed in a relatively short 32 days, the movie would require a further 2 years to animate.

That this film took so long to make is no surprise once you see the results. Visually, the film is a stunning achievement. Right from the Saul Bass inspired opening credits, you know you're in for a visual treat. However, it took me a little while to get used to the style of the film. Falling somewhere between the clean-line, technicolour elegance of Hergé's original drawings and the slick, near-photo-realism seen in other motion capture movies like Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express and Beowulf, the characters in the film have a very stylised, caricatured look, yet they appear very real.  The characters, backgrounds and sets have a dizzying level of detail, but echoes of Hergé's drawings, particularly his colour schemes, permeate throughout. Fittingly, there is a very clever, direct homage to Hergé early on in the film, which I won't spoil. From the hairs of Tintin's famous quiff to the breathtaking panorama of a bustling Moroccan town, the attention to detail in the film is so astonishing that it will require multiple viewings to fully appreciate.  

Spielberg clearly had a lot of fun playing with his new box of digital toys. Yes, the signature Spielberg style is present, but there's also an experimental, adventurous, even sometimes audacious nature to some shots in the film. Embracing the freedom of digital animation, he employs a multitude of highly inventive cuts, dissolves and camera moves that would be almost impossible to achieve in live action.  This gives the film a real momentum and energy, even during potentially slow, exposition heavy scenes. Spielberg even has time to include some self-referencing - look out for the cheeky Jaws gag.
This isn't just the Spielberg and Hergé show, though. Peter Jackson's influence can also be seen in the film. The scenes of urban 1930's life and sequences aboard the Karaboudjan are very reminiscent in both tone and look to his remake of King Kong (2005).

The script is solid. There are plenty of in-jokes and references to Tintin's other adventures to keep the fans happy, and a good balance of substance, action and comedy to keep both the adults and children engaged. I was pleased to find that none of Hergé's material has been sanitised. I feared that some aspects of the original works may have fallen foul of modern political correctness, but no, the hero still wields a gun, people die, and Captain Haddock still drinks like a fish. I was also pleased that , just like in the original material, the character of Tintin is left somewhat ambiguous. No attempt is made to give him a back-story and we find out very little about who he is. This is as it should be, as that is how he is written in the books; he's somewhat of a blank canvas, coloured by his interactions and experiences with others. I can imagine this might seem a little odd to those not familiar with the original books and more used to "origin story" style comic-book films.

Performances are superb throughout. Andy Serkis is a particular delight as Captain Haddock. With numerous motion capture performances under his virtual belt, he's become the undisputed master of the medium.  Everything about his performance, from his body language and expressions to his delivery and comic timing, is pitch perfect. He is by far the most "real" character in the film.
Though Haddock has his fair share of comedic moments, much of the comedy is left to Pegg & Frost as Thompson & Thomson. These characters could so easily have been over-used, rendering them annoying, but they're utilised just enough for them to be effective, funny and to keep you wanting to see more of them.
I was interested to see how they would depict Snowy in the film. Hergé gave him a distinct personality in the books, and even dialogue. Thankfully, we don't get a talking dog in the film, but he does use a multitude of different yips, barks and growls that act as a form of vocalisation. He ends up being just as lovable on screen as he is on the printed page.

John Williams' score is good, if a little unmemorable. He gets the tone and feel right - some suitably Gallic flavour is injected into a few compositions, which I thought was a nice touch - but I felt the score, overall, was a little lacking in places. The inclusion of a rousing signature theme, like Indiana Jones, would've greatly helped, I think.

As you can expect from a Spielberg movie, there's some excellent sound effects design and sound editing in this film. What really struck me was how the character's dialogue really felt like it had been recorded on location - a small but significant thing that many other animated movies seem to overlook.

Though I enjoyed this film a lot, I couldn't help feeling that something was missing. It appears to do everything right, yet still falls slightly short of being great. Some of the problems are down to the structure of the film, I feel. It moves along at a fairly swift pace and there are multiple chase and set-piece action sequences, the high point of which is a kinetic race through a Moroccan town. As a result, the film seems to peak slightly too early, and the big finale ends up feeling somewhat flat.
The other problem is down to the medium itself. Performance capture animation is still in its infancy, and while this is undoubtedly the best use of the technology thus far, it still suffers from a few of the same issues that have plagued other films shot with this technique. WETA Digital have, for the most part, managed to eradicate the "dead eyed" look that characters had in films like the aforementioned Polar Express and Beowulf. The characters in Tintin have real personality and vibrancy, and the actor's performances really shine through. However, occasionally this will lapse, breaking the illusion and steering the film perilously close to an unplanned trip down Uncanny Valley. Thankfully, moments like that are few and far between.

There will no doubt be some diehard Tintin fans out there who will maintain that Hergé's books are superior in every way to this film. Their arguments may be valid, yet I feel it's unfair to judge one against the other.  Comic books and movies are two completely different mediums, and what you can achieve in one is not necessarily achievable in the other. This is something that a lot of comic book adaptations forget, yet it is a fact that Spielberg, Jackson and the writers are clearly aware of. Their love of the source material really comes though in this film, and it is an extremely faithful adaptation, but it's not obsessively trying to replicate the comic book page and is never overly reverential to the source material. Crucially, the spirit of Tintin is here. And though the fingerprints of Hergé can be seen all over the movie, it's not afraid to be its own thing.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a warm hearted, good natured film, not concerned with being cool, edgy or part of the zeitgeist. Like Spielberg's own Indiana Jones, its roots are in an older era of storytelling. Although cutting edge technology has been used to craft it, it is, at its heart, a very old-fashioned adventure. Just falling short of being a great film, it's still a lot of fun, highly entertaining and well worth your time and money. I'm sure Hergé would have approved.

I should mention that I saw this film in 3D. While there are many nice uses of the added dimension in this film, I do feel it would work just as well in 2D.

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November 01, 2011
Sound good, it has also started in theaters here in Iceland and has gotten good reviews here, but I'll wait for DVD release I find Movie theaters so boring and out of date. For those interested in the marvelous Tintin books by Herge here is my list of the books -
November 10, 2011
I hope you enjoy the movie. Great list of Tintin material. Thanks for the link. :)
October 25, 2011
Being an old-school fan of Spielberg (meaning a fan of his films from the '70s - '90s) I've been hoping he'd return to his roots. I have high hopes for this for that reason, but also because I love the Tintin comics, which I grew up on. Thanks for the highly informative review!
October 26, 2011
There are flashes of the old-school Spielberg in this film - some scenes are very reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies - and if you're a Tintin fan, you'll definitely find plenty to enjoy. :)
October 26, 2011
You should post this on the Adventures of Tintin Facebook page. I bet a lot of eager fans would love to read it.
October 25, 2011
Hollee...!! Simon, you have returned and you brought us a treat!! I have been eagerly awaiting this movie and I dunno why, but i feel very happy that Peter Jackson's influence is felt in the film. I am so happy that we got your advance review! Lucky for us you saw it there in the UK right?
October 25, 2011
Thanks, William! It's rare that we Brits get a movie opening here so far in advance of the US. I hope you enjoy this one when it opens there. :)
October 25, 2011
You guys are so lucky....thanks for helping me hype it up! I am so excited!!
October 25, 2011
So do I. Why did it open so much earlier in the U.K.? I've noticed a number of reviews popping up from people over there.
October 26, 2011
well, Kick Ass was shown first in the UK and the recent Conan movie was released first in Asia...not sure why.
October 26, 2011
I think the movie has opened here first to honour Tintin's European roots, though I could be wrong. Movie studios do strange things sometimes. For example, the new Muppet movie doesn't open in the UK until February 2012!
December 22, 2011
Just saw this one, Simon....great film! Thanks for the rec. and I reviewed it too.
December 22, 2011
Glad you enjoyed it. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with for the sequel, though I don't think that will be out for at least another couple of years.
More The Adventures of Tintin (The ... reviews
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Tintin is A Rip-Roaring, Globe-Trekking CGI-Animated High Adventure!
Seems like director Steven Spielberg has been real busy this 2011 holiday season. He has two movies being released this Christmas weekend; “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin”. Since the latter has been released a bit earlier, and I am somewhat familiar with the beloved comic character, I figured I’d go see it first. I remember the stories to be absolutely delightful when I was a kid, reading them from comic strips in Asia (but my memory of it would not be vivid) …
review by . December 29, 2011
I have never read the comic but I loved the movie - The Adventure of Tintin
I have never read the Tintin comics or the graphic novels, so I was not sure what to expect when I went to see the new movie.  I knew Steven Spielberg was behind the movie, so my expectations were high.  After seeing the movie I now want to check out the comics the movie was based on.  Speilberg has created a very special and well done animated feature.  The CGI effects works perfectly.  The story moves along at a rockets pace.  And I was completely captivated with …
review by . December 29, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Now that is an adventure!
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN Written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish Directed by Steven Spielberg Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig   Tintin: How’s your thirst for adventure, Captain? Captain Haddock: Unquenchable, Tintin.   When I was a kid, I abhorred the series of Tintin book. I found them to be tedious and terribly dull. And so when it was announced that the Belgian books would be adapted into a film, I was less than …
review by . December 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Like his Indiana Jones films, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin is a rip-roaring action adventure that takes many cues from the Saturday matinee serials of yesteryear – equal parts detective story, travelogue, chase film, treasure-hunt fable, buddy comedy, and stunt spectacular. The key difference is that it’s of the junior division. The age of its hero is never given, and yet he looks and sounds no older than sixteen …
review by . March 14, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Very entertaining film
Tintin is a young European journalist who also solves crimes. After buying a model ship, he becomes involved in a mystery about a pirate treasure and finds his life is in danger.      I loved this movie. The motion capture technique is fascinating and so well done. Some characters look cartoonish while others look very real; the scenery is strikingly beautiful. The action-packed story is part pirate swashbuckler and part Indiana Jones adventure; the combination makes for a spectacular …
review by . December 21, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
So what do you get when you take the director of The Lord of the Rings movies, the director of the Indiana Jones movies, and the writer/producer for the current series of Doctor Who and give them $135 million to play around with? Turns out you get the best action film I've seen in ages and what will likely be the Best Animated Film winner at the next Oscar ceremony.    The Adventures of Tintin is based on a Belgian comic book that, despite having three years of French in high …
Quick Tip by . May 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
You know, I've said it before and I'll say it again... I'm so sick of slick, shiny, technologically advanced yet soulless 3D animated films. However, despite this begrudging sentiment, I'm really beginning to get excited about this new Tintin film. Right off the bat, you've got Steven Spielberg directing and Peter Jackson producing. Yeah, sure their last few films have been major disappointments (For Spielberg, his past ten or so films have been terribly disappointing. For Jackson, …
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Simon Lee Tranter ()
Member Since: May 8, 2009
Last Login: Jan 24, 2015 05:53 PM UTC
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Originally titled: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, (the U.K. release still has the original title), the film's title was shortened to make it more direct and easy to remember in the worldwide release. The film adapts three of the graphic novels about Tintin and his canine sidekick Snowy.

The Adventures of Tintinfollows the exciting exploits of a young reporter, his dog, a sea captain with a drinking problem, and a couple of bumbling Interpol detectives as they travel from Europe to the Sahara and Morocco in pursuit of a pickpocket, model-ship collectors, and long-lost treasure. Steven Spielberg's and Peter Jackson's long-awaited full-length film, based on the original "Tintin" comics by Hergé, combines the stories "The Secret of the Unicorn," "Red Rackham's Treasure," and "The Crab with the Golden Claws" into a generally fast-paced adventure that feels just a tad too long. The individual stories and the characters Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, and Thompson and Thomson are all quite faithfully represented. The motion-capture animation is similar to that ofPolar Expressand is both fascinating and a bit odd at times. As in the comics themselves, the characters are highly stylized and instantly recognizable, but Tintin's facial expression is eerily stoic and there's a hint of strangeness that's hard to put a finger on. Snowy is delightfully funny to watch, though he is a bit ...
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Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy, Mystery
Release Date: December 21, 2011 (U.S.)
MPAA Rating: PG
Screen Writer: Edgar Wright, Steven Moffat
Runtime: 107 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Nickelodeon Movies
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