This film is a small miracle. This film has the best lineup for a film of its genre since the Expendables. Unlike that film though, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn succeeds on every conceivable level.
Here’s who you have in it:
- Stephen Spielberg directing.
- Peter Jackson producing.
- The lead writers of Doctor Who, Spaced and Attack the Block, Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish creating the screenplay.
- John Williams composing the film’s soundtrack.
- The man who has done the cinematography for Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, Janusz Kaminski, doing each scene.
- The film editor for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, Michael Khan, doing what he does best.
- It has Jamie Bell as the protagonist, Andy Serkis playing the supporting role, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg playing the comic relief, and Daniel Craig threatening people as the villain.
If this film had failed there would have been riots on the streets, but it thankfully gets everything right.
The plot itself is straight forwards, taking tips from several of Hergé’s original comics. The film’s hero, Tintin, buys an antique model ship in a sale but is quickly menaced by two separate individuals trying to get it off of him. Not long afterwards he is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy ranging across thousands of miles seeking several different models and the secrets they hold.
The story feels like an excuse to get from scene to scene, and the actual secret becomes clear to the audience at about the half way mark, however that’s all it needs to be. There are no obvious plot holes, there are many cleverly written scenes, the characterisation is strong, and the dialogue is exceptional.
It moves at a fast pace as well, not so much building up at the beginning as starting with a brisk speed which never stops until the film’s end. This really works in its favour as it cuts a lot of corners, getting right to the action people want to see. This is a good thing as the script tries to be something of an origin story with Tintin encountering Captain Haddock, the second most identifiable character in the series, for the first time in this tale. It never gets bogged down in characterisation, establishes Tintin is a famous reporter within one scene and says “hey, they’re together now!” once he and Haddock meet. Relying primarily upon the actors and dialogue to pick up the slack, which they thankfully do.
The characters themselves all stand out well. Each actor was perfect for the role he was given, but Andy Serkis steals every scene he is in as Captain Haddock, frequently even outdoing the comic relief provided by the bowler hated Thompson twins. And that’s saying something considering who is playing them. The only real shortcoming is the villain, Sakharine, who is not very memorable and while well acted by Daniel Craig he isn’t given enough to do on screen. Then again this was a problem present in the comics as well, so it might have been a result of basing the script upon Hergé’s tales.
The cinematography is as breathtaking as you would expect it to be, featuring some of the best chase scenes ever put into cinema. Due to the film makers are using animation and motion capture rather than live action there was a lot more freedom to be had with each scene and the characters perform stunts which would only have been possible in a cartoon. This is the way full motion capture flicks should be done, in a cartoonish, over the top style in order to do extravagant, physically impossible action scenes. Not movies like Avatar, where it is nothing but a badly implemented cheap gimmick.
Speaking of motion capture, it helps that the CGI is outstanding in this film. There is a near perfect balance of cartoonish features and realism found within every human in Tintin showing incredible details but also very over-exaggerated features like noses and chins. As Peter Jackson put it: “We're making them look photorealistic; the fibres of their clothing, the pores of their skin and each individual hair. They look exactly like real people – but real Hergé people!”
The film does enter uncanny valley but only with Tintin himself due to his more realistic facial features and even then it is only a handful of times in very brief shots.
This is probably the best family film you’re going to see in the next few years. It feels much more like an Indiana Jones installment than the Crystal Skull and though loyal to its material it stands out well on its own. While being child friendly Tintin is not afraid to show the occasional bit of blood, but never loses its fun, semi-lighthearted feel at any point.
It does conclude with sequel bait, but that does not detract from the film. If they keep the current team and actors working on it, and get Christopher Lloyd to play Professor Calculus, this could make for a classic trilogy.
Definitely see this one while it’s in theatres.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and all related characters and media are owned by Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures.