Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin - The Secret of the Unicorn

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Review: The Adventures of Tintin - The Secret of the Unicorn (PG) / Directed by: Steven Spielberg / Screenplay by: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish / Starring: (voices) Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Mays, Mackenzie Crook

Since the success of the initial Indiana Jones trilogy many filmmakers have tried and failed to re-capture that magic. Just look at The Mummy franchise or the non starter that was Sahara. The reason these films failed is because quite frankly the directors were not Steven Spielberg. Of course then Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull happened. Whilst it has some faint glimmers of the old magic it collapsed under the weight of expectation and attempts to update it so it felt relevant and acknowledged that Harrison Ford is now an old man fell flat. Tintin creator Herge has said previously that he felt that Spielberg was the only man who could bring his stories to the big screen. Based on this evidence he was not wrong and in doing so Spielberg seems to have re-discovered the mojo that has been missing since Minority Report.

After a brilliant animated opening credits sequence that recalls Catch Me If You Can and also references many of Tintin’s book-based adventures we find ourselves in London and in a market. Intrepid young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) finds a model of a pirate ship in a glass case and haggles over the price of it with the seller. After getting it for the price of £1, Tintin is approached by a mysterious American man who offers to take it off his hands. When Tintin refuses he is warned that grave trouble will follow him as the model ship seems to attract violence. Tintin is then approached by the mysterious Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig) who is desperate for the model ship and again he refuses to sell it.  It’s not long before people are trying to break into Tintin’s home to retrieve the ship and a dead body ends up on his doorstep. Tintin and his ever faithful dog Snowy discover a small metal cylinder in one of the masts. Eventually the ship is stolen and Tintin tracks it back to a mansion where he learns that Sakharine is in pursuit of other model ships that also contain something of great value. Tintin discovers a small piece of parchment in the metal cylinder and realises that when combined with parchment in the other ships it will reveal the location of some long thought lost treasure. Whilst in pursuit of the treasure, Tintin meets the hopeless drunk Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) whose ancestor lost the treasure in the first place and whose bloodline intersects with Sakharine’s from back in the pirate age. This leads to a breathless race to retrieve the scrolls from London to Morocco and back again.

It’s a wonder that Spielberg has taken so long to adapt Herge’s stories to the screen. He has had the rights since 1983 and only now, after several franchises have come and gone, is he picking this up and translating it for the screen. What really works in the film’s favour is the decision to do this through performance capture technology. The technology has really come on leaps and bounds since Robert Zemeckis boarded The Polar Express and they are now at the level where they can re-create perfectly photo real beings on screen. In this film the characters move and act just like real people but the features are exaggerated just ever so slightly to make it identifiable against the picture books of old. This is Spielberg’s first use of the technology and you would have thought this would have meant that the way Spielberg shoots action sequences and comedy would have suffered as a result. Nothing could be further from the truth, the action scenes are breathtaking and inventive and Spielberg’s knack for inserting slapstick comedy and amusing details into chase sequences has not deserted him. There are some great set pieces here that are among the best Spielberg has done. The fight sequence on board a ship as Tintin and Haddock escape from their captors is a stand out as is the motorcycle chase down the mountain which recalls a pivotal scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Of course this being a film that is more aimed at kids than Indiana Jones you don’t get anything too brutal but adults will not be disappointed and will be swept up in the excitement and old school adventure.

Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis are both very gifted physical performers as well as great actors so the casting here was spot on. Serkis in particular seems to be having a whale of a time in a motion capture suit where he actually gets dialogue instead of just monkey grunts, and he steals whole scenes with his drunken antics and clumsiness. Apart from the voice work, Daniel Craig is more or less unrecognisable but plays a great villain, which people forget pre-Bond is perhaps what Craig was best known for. The only two that get short shrift here seem to be Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thompson and Thompson. Somehow their scenes don’t seem to gel with the rest of the film and feel a bit intrusive. Their brand of comedy seems a little too old fashioned and much of their dialogue is hard to understand. I know the characters are from the original stories but they really seem odd when compared to much of the rest of the film. It’s something that will hopefully be corrected in the potential sequels. Overall the screenplay by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish does Herge proud and is true to its inspiration.

The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn is a great first part in what will possibly be an ongoing franchise with Spielberg and Peter Jackson directing alternate instalments. Hopefully Spielberg’s name will be enough to attract modern audiences and this will make some serious money to guarantee further films. If you are looking for something to take the kids to this half term then you could do far worse than this film - it’s smart, funny and thrilling. Spielberg has definitely got that old magic back.

Expected rating: 5 out of 10

Actual rating:

'The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn' is out now in the UK.

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