Sunday 30 October 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Review - Steven Spielberg Delivers a Perfect Performance (Capture)

This latest review is of a film that, although widely anticipated by oh so many, I hadn't heard about until very recently, despite it being the incredibly high profile first voyage into the animated realm by renowned director, Steven Spielberg, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Arguably the world's most famous director sets foot into the ever competitive field of animation for the first time, flanked by an all-star team, including: co-producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), writers Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Sherlock), Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), and an all-star cast, lending their physical performances as well as their voice talent; this hugely influential, talented and insightful crew provide a brilliant, animated adventure film with real heart and comedy.

In an unusual move (yet one I fully appreciate, and a logical one given that Tintin himself, despite being a famed globetrotter, hails from Belgium), The Adventures of Tintin opened over here in Europe first and is not scheduled to start showing over in America until almost Christmas time, so there hasn't been a huge outpouring of reviews as of yet, however, so far, the film's received great reviews. But it has also been sprinkled with reviews claiming it's not very faithful or representative to Hergé's original works, perhaps one of the reasons I loved this film so much, is that I've never - and I'm sure this will incurr negative reaction - read any of the Tintin books, although, of course, I had heard of the boy journalist. So, I walked into this film, in every way a Tintin novice, so Spielberg's first animated film would be the thing that would colour my opinion of Tintin, and, as of now, I hold it in very high regard indeed. The Adventures of Tintin was a fantastic film, and I think in some reviews, it's suffering from extraordinarily high expectations and comparison to Hergé's Tintin works - similarly to the problems that plagued Cars 2 in reviews, being compared to Pixar's more outstanding works and being negatively critiqued as a result, unjustly I might add -, and all I can say is, go into this film, not trying to check boxes of how faithful it is, or how it compares, go into this film expecting a brilliant, funny and beautiful family adventure film, and you will be thoroughly pleased.

The Adventures of Tintin has been a source of some controversy, given Spielberg's ambition for it to be entered into consideration for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars; however, performance capture (used here) is always the source of discontent amongst animation buffs, with many citing it as not real animation. Furthermore, the curse of the "uncanny valley" means that these films are often ugly and difficult to watch, with story taking a back seat (see The Polar Express), however, the huge budget behind this, the genius crew behind it and the use of Peter Jackson's Weta Digital (the company that gave us such realistic rendering as Gollum in Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and using mo-cap veteran, Andy Serkis (who recently turned in the performance of his life as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) made this one of the best films - actually, probably the best - to be animated using performance capture.

The Adventures of Tintin doesn't suffer in the slightest from the risk of the uncanny valley, it's just simply breathtaking. The animation was so brilliant that, at times, you almost thought it wasn't even an animated film; it still retained that magically childish cartoony look, but with such jaw-droppingly gorgeous background and realistic renders that it is a real contender for the best animation of the year (narrowly trailing Rango's in my opinion), and, very much like Rango, it's amazing look came from the use of photorealistic textures, backgrounds and set pieces juxtaposed into the quintessentially cartoonish look of Tintin; it's not designed to look unnervingly realistic, as many performance capture films seem to be (as was one of my main problems with Disney and Imagemovers Digital's recent A Christmas Carol film), but rather, adding a huge level of brilliant animation and really pushing the technology to deliver an all round gorgeous film that features some of the best animation out there.

In terms of the characters, there really was a mixed bag, not to say some were bad, just to say that there was something for everyone: Tintin, as the eponymous protagonist, had us behind him from the start and Jamie Bell (Defiance) helped capture the inquisitive and curious nature of the boy well (well, from what I can surmise from my limited exposure to Tintin previously). Likewise, Andy Serkis, a true pioneer and veteran of performance capture technology, with his credits ranging from being Gollum to being King Kong, turned in a brilliant performance, both in his motions and his voice recordings; bringing hilarity and huge amount of depth and sympathy to the character of Captain Haddock. Longtime collaborators of co-writer Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, played the rib-ticklingly incompetent and bumbling detectives, Thomson and Thompson, as the obligatory comedic relief side characters for a family film, they did a stellar job (as they usually tend to do). Finally, in terms of the main cast, Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Cowboys and Aliens) turned in a brilliantly, complexly menacing performance as the villainous Sakharine and also as his ancestor, Red Rackham (to which, Serkis played his character's ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock). The vast array of complex characters were perfectly characterised in the film (although, apparently, not all of them were very representative of Hergé's originals) and brought everything from warmth, to adventure, to comedy, to emotional depth to the film.

So, a strong cast, fantastic animation, loveable and detailed characters; just leaving one thing to touch upon, arguably the single most important thing to any film, the story. With such fantastically accomplished writing talents (British writing talents I might, immodestly, add) it's no surprise that this film is as good as it is; Edgar Wright has been a force to be reckoned with in cinema for years, showing, not just his knack for unparalleled comedy, but for tender moments and emotional development at the same time as high-octane fight scenes, with films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (both also with Pegg and Frost) as well as last year's fantastic adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and that talent translated well here. Likewise, Steven Moffat, one of the minds behind the most recent series of English (and, I understand, American) sci-fi favourite, Doctor Who, as well as the brilliant BBC modernisation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes adventures, Sherlock, has showed his brilliance for making the exciting and the high octane combine with clever, character driven stories. Also, Joe Cornish has been making somewhat of a name for himself as well, most recently with Attack the Block. All of these brilliant writers combine to make a fantastic, exciting, rollicking, high octane, funny and generally brilliant film.

The story (combining several Tintin stories: the eponymous, The Secret of the Unicorn, as well as The Crab with Golden Claws and Red Rackham's Treasure) basically follows young journalist, Tintin, as he uncovers the mysterious secret of the Haddock family and the treasure of the famed Unicorn (a ship, not actually a unicorn), encountering the drunken Captain Haddock, the heir of the heroic Sir Francis Haddock, and many more characters along the way, in a film that can - as is stated in oh so many reviews of it - best be described as an animated Indiana Jones film. As Tintin, his faithful pooch, Snowy and Captain Haddock race around the world against their foes to uncover the secret of the unicorn, we are treated to so much comedy and quick, clever, witty lines from the characters, as well as huge spectacles of battles and chases, rivalling even the most ambitious live-action epic (of which, producer Peter Jackson has directed a large portion). The film is very fast paced, rollicking along through different countries, through storms and through explosions; it's a whole lot of fun and very exciting besides, but it really does have a warmth to it. I now have a very fond regard of Hergé and the wonderfully, complex and brilliant characters he crafted. This is a much better Indiana Jones film than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was, and is definitely worth a viewing.

In terms of criticism, I have very little, perhaps other than the fact that due to the huge nature of the film and its collaborative manner, the pre-film logos and credits went on for about 5 minutes and the audience was getting a tad restless; other than that, there is very little to slate about it. I've read several reviews saying that this film, whilst technically astounding, lacks a certain sparkle, I simply don't believe this to be true. In my eyes, this film was wonderful, charismatic, warm, touching, funny, exciting and more, it has everything you could possibly want from an animated movie, or a movie in general.

Up until now, despite many great animated films this year, such as Rango and Rio, with Cars 2, with it being Pixar, being fantastic as well, there were really only two that stood out to me as the best, Tangled (as that came out in January over here in the UK and not November like it did in America) and Kung Fu Panda 2. But, after this, I'm very tempted to say that Tintin is my favourite animated film of the year, it's honestly that good. Obviously, all of this may change in retrospect, but, right now, I'm tipping this to be the one to watch come this awards season. Also, as it seems very likely (as hinted at by the end of the film, and the extensive Tintin catalogue) that there will be a sequel, purportedly to be co-directed by Spielberg and Jackson, and all I can say is, if it's anything like The Secret of the Unicorn, I'll be right near the front of the queue.



I almost forgot, a large deal of money went into making this film in 3D and advertising it as such, as many of you probably know, I'm not a great fan of 3D, as James McAvoy said (or tried not to) on the Graham Norton Show this past Friday, it darkens the film and is often just a con to get an extra £2 or £3 out of us, but here, it really worked; only films that have 3D in mind during production should be put in 3D, and it's really good here, even better than in Lion King 3D and it really enhances the many action scenes.


  1. I totally agree; I've been a tintin fan for ages, and loved the film. I was surprised when I learned about all the people saying it wasn't that great. I'm in love with it and can't wait for the sequel.

  2. With you 100%, I thought it was fantastic. And from looking into it, it seems reasonably faithful to the characters. The sequel should be pretty damn great too!


    There should be more pirates!!!!!!