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The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn - Review

The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret Of The Unicorn

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

STEVEN Spielberg first became aware of The Adventures of Tintin when a review of his 1981 classic Raiders of the Lost Ark compared that movie to the work of Hergé’s iconic cartoon hero.

Over 20 years later, he now unveils his big screen version of Tintin and gleefully pays clever homage to the Hergé source material as well as his own Indiana Jones back catalogue.

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is, in many ways, a film that combines the best of both those worlds, from the dazzling set pieces that effortlessly mix humour with invention to the globe-trotting, puzzle-solving nature of the storylines.

Where Indy’s signatures were his hat and whip, Tintin’s are his quiff and loyal dog Snowy… so it’s easy to see what appealed to Spielberg in the first place.

That’s not to say his film adaptation isn’t without flaws. Shot using performance capture and using animation and 3D, the age-old problems that have bedevilled many performance capture animated films remain in place.

Not all of the visuals convince and there’s a certain stillness to the eyes that sometimes pulls you out of the movie. It’s also feels overlong in places, with some of the recurring gags and scenarios stretched.

But Spielberg has surrounded himself with the kind of talent that can really compensate for such shortcomings in the medium – most notably Andy Serkis (whom co-star and lead Jamie Bell has described as ‘the Gandalf’ of performance capture) as Captain Haddock.

Serkis once again lives up to that master’s tag by injecting so much life into Tintin’s perpetually drunken sidekick that he positively jumps out of the screen. A drunken baffoon at the best of times, Haddock is quite often hilarious even though wildly over the top.

And his effortless camaraderie with the more straight-laced Bell is a joy to behold. The two obviously had a great time working together.

Bell, for his part, brings a stoic, old-school heroism to Tintin, as well as plenty of brazen physicality (he cracked a rib performing some of the stunts)… effortlessly bringing all that you remember about the Tintin cartoons into flesh and blood real life. Like Serkis, he more than compensates for some of the shortcomings in the technology.

Notable, too, are Daniel Craig’s villain, Red Rackham, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Thomson and Thompson, the bumbling British detectives who form unreliable allies.

Spielberg, meanwhile, is clearly having plenty of fun displaying his love for Tintin’s origins (an early artist’s impression of the titular character delivers a clever tribute, as do the impressive opening credits), while nodding to his own cinematic legend.

At various points, his own work is referenced as part of Tintin’s adventures. An African set motorcycle chase is brilliantly executed (funny and wildly inventive) while combining elements of the market-place chase and scrap from Raiders and the motorcycle chase from The Last Crusade.

While there’s a neat homage to Jaws involving Tintin’s quiff and – for the ultra eagle-eyed – a visual aside to Jurassic Park among the relics of a room Tintin discovers.

But the old Spielberg ability to trade on his own merits and appeal to the wide-eyed boy in all of us is also apparent during an extended sequence involving a sea-plane that, again, combines head-spinining visual thrills with laugh-out loud humour.

For the purists, Secret of the Unicorn is actually a compendium of three classic Tintin tales – The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure – but the plot is almost incidental to the action on show.

For in the final analysis, this is a fast-moving, fun-spirited and consistently inventive thrill-ride of a movie that should appeal to audiences of all ages.

It may not reach the heights of the very best that Spielberg has delivered, by virtue of the ever-improving medium that the director has chosen to work in, but it’s a shameless crowd-pleaser all the same that makes the prospect of future Tintin adventures something to look forward to and savour.

Certificate: PG
Running time: 107mins
UK Release Date: October 26, 2011