Wednesday, December 21, 2011

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

After years of development hell, Tintin has finally made the leap to the Hollywood big screen (having appeared in other minor adaptations), under the hand of none other than Steven Spielberg. The film The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, based on the popular Herge comic debuted earlier in the year here in Europe, and I had a chance to watch it before it ever opened in America. Hit the jump to see the spoiler free review.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Story by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish
Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Daniel Craig

For those not in the know, Tintin is probably one of the most popular and influential comic series in the world. With dozens of books, Tintin's author Herge created one of the most beloved characters in European comics, though never properly catching on in North America, where Tintin is only known to specific circles. Director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson faced the difficult challenge of balancing the two audiences without alienating the other.

Their plan? A balance with the right mixture of action, humour, comedy, and personal drama, which I think they achieves with a considerable success. Even though the film is below the two hour mark, you will feel as though you have watched several films rolled into one. It is a testament to this manifesto that at no point does it feel dull, with the film makers choosing to go with more rather than less. As a matter of fact, if you could make one complaint about Tintin, it would be that it's fast pace may make it difficult to follow at times. Allow me to explain...

Once the lovely intro scene (with many nods to Tintin books over the years) is finished, the movie starts with Tintin accompanied with his ever-loyal dog Snowy shopping through the street market of a definitely-European city. After a heartfelt “cameo” by Herge, Tintin accidentally walks into trouble, as he is wanton to do. By buying a model of a sailing ship called “The Unicorn”, Tintin finds himself drawn in a mystery, with some powerful man named Ivan Sakharine trying to get the model ship from him. Curiosity gets the best of Tintin and he gets captured and trapped in a boat. It is here where he meets Captain Haddock, who in many ways is just as much of the protagonist as Tintin.

All this happens in the first half an hour or so. The film has a relentless pace, where mysteries deepen and get solved with amazing ease by Tintin's clever logic. Then again, he wouldn't be the best boy reporter in the world if it wasn't for his wits, right? However, I can see how some of the younger viewers might get a bit dizzy by the logic jumps Tintin makes. Don't get me wrong, the riddles and dilemmas posed by this film are quite clever, but perhaps a bit too clever to appeal to younger audiences. Nonetheless, moments of levity in between major scenes are brought about by the clumsy detectives Thomson and Thompson, who are on the hunt of a pickpocket that has been terrorizing the nation.

Back to Haddock, one could rightly argue that his role in the story is pivotal to the film. Once he and Tintin join forces, it is then when the adventures really begin, as the duo (accompanied by Snowy) embark on a mad race around the world to solve a riddle centuries in the making. The globe trotting is loads of fun, and gives plenty of awe striking locales and colourful characters to walk into the film, make us wonder what their back story is, and leave us wanting for more. While both of the characters want to solve the secret, it is for completely different reasons. Tintin wants to explore the world, write a story and uncover secrets, but Haddock is on a more personal trip (even if he doesn't know it half the time) to clear his name and legacy. At the end of the film, Haddock completes his heroic journey, becoming a better man, while Tintin remains the same, although with more experiences under his belt and a new friend to accompany him on his trips.

Haddock is not only central to the plot, but also to much of the humour in the film. Him and his alcoholism. There's a plethora of jokes about it, and at points it became (at least for me) rather awkward. Herge played up Haddock's alcoholism in the comics as well, but it somehow takes on a sadder tone when seen on the big screen. Like we are laughing at him more than with him. It's a shame because he monopolizes quite a lot of the slapstick humour, overshadowing some other clever lines and scenes (My favourite probably being and interaction between Tinin and his landlord “Call the emergencies, a man has been shot at our doorstep!” “Oh, not again!”). Younger viewers will get lots of laughs out of the Adventures of Tintin, but adults should find it quite enjoyable as well.

Tintin purists will probably find themselves at odds with some of the scenes where our young Belgian journalist is shown as quite the “action hero” archetype. The scene in the sea with the airplane comes to mind as particularly “badass”, perhaps too much for the character. I believe this might be part of Jackson and Spielberg's plan to try to capture a big audience. Let's be honest, most children don't fantasize about being a journalist.

On the visual side of the film, you can count me as one of the sceptics that were not very impressed with the original shots. There was an unnerving aspect to the human figures that made them look not human at all. However, once on the big screen and after a few minutes, my eyes settled and I got quite used to the world of Tintin. It doesn't hurt that Spielberg and Jackson take the opportunity to flex the muscles of their graphic design department and craft a world filled to the brim of colour, objects and characters. Some of the scenes are plainly breathtaking, and the technical aspects are simply brilliant. I don't know how long they must have worked in the flooding chase scene but it was totally worth the relay. The Adventures of Tintin is one of those films that you need to see in a big enough screen to let your eyes soak in all the goodness you will find in there.

Verdict – Watch It. The Adventures of Tintin is a well rounded package with something for everyone inside of, wrapped with a visually stunning bow. In other words, a really good film to go see with friends and family over the Christmas period.

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