Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Friday, 4 November 2011

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

Spielberg rediscovers the secret of the great blockbuster

Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Steven Moffat and Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish
Cast: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Daniel Craig
When youthful journalist and adventurer Tintin buys a model ship in a market square, he has no idea what he has gotten himself into. His flat is ransacked, he is kidnapped and he goes on an adventure to discover the mysterious secret of the Haddock’s and the villainous Red Rackham.
Running Time: 106m 47s

There has been something of a muted response to the Steven Spielberg-Peter Jackson’s first adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin. Many have found it to be unengaging and have said that the characters have not really been brought to life, amongst other criticisms.

Whilst some of these complaints are perfectly valid, most of them miss the point. This is a comic book brought to life on the screen, lovingly, effectively and thrillingly. It is not the greatest film that Spielberg has ever made, but it is him very much back on home territory, doing what he does best, and what he produces is a spectacular where what it lacks in real emotional heart is made up for in boys-own thrills.

The film is essentially an adaptation of The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, with a dash of The Crab with the Golden Claws. Young investigative reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) buys a model of the famous ship, The Unicorn, which then leads to him being pursued by the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who is after the secret of the ship, of which Tintin knows nothing. However, on his way he encounters Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), whose family is eternally tied to the mystery of The Unicorn. Together, they fight to discover the secret before Sakharine and go across the Mediterranean on a great adventure.

All of which sets us up for a rollicking hour-and-three-quarters. This is a comic-book brought to life with invention and excitement. It is true that the characters have very little depth, but that doesn’t matter. The film is all about blockbuster entertainment, and no-one knows how to do that better than Spielberg.

The decision to film this in motion capture does give the sense that this is, visually at any rate, the graphic novels up on screen, which lends an extra edge of charm to the piece. It is also quite staggeringly beautiful. The decision to release it in 3D is, of course, controversial, the revived medium apparently being in its death throes, according to some.

I went to see it in IMAX 3D, and I must be honest that it is the best 3D since Avatar. However, that is more to do with the nature of this film rather than the technology. The experience is not immersive, but little details, such as dust floating in the air, and moments in some of the set pieces, such as the undersides of cars flying over Snowy’s head do give an extra thrill, even if it is fairground stuff, in keeping with the overarching sense of fun which permeates every part of this film.

Indeed, it is nice to see Spielberg turn out a film which is this enjoyable, after the disappointment of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There are several great set-pieces, including an almighty flashback sequence to a naval battle which is just magnificent. The plot is sprawling, but this never feels like it’s out of control, even if it does have much more freedom to be silly than most. This is Spielberg and Jackson opening up their toybox, and the results are outlandish, but not over-the-top.

This is not a film to watch through world-weary eyes. This is one for the inner ten year-old, full of spectacle, adventure and entertainment. It will not please every fan, but it is a cracking ride.

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