Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

2011. Dir: Steven Spielberg . Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. ●●●●○

Unsurprisingly Steven Spielberg latest big budget roller coaster has conquered the box office across Europe, including a record breaking haul (non-sequel American movie) in France. Unsurprising not because of Spielberg, or for the cult cast list, or for the motion capture 3D presentation, but because The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn are based on one of the most successful cartoon characters of all time with over 350 million copies of his adventures sold - translated into 80 languages. I was a fan as a child, regularly borrowing the books from my local library, even using copies in it's native French to help me learn the language as a teenager, so it was with some trepidation that I went to see the adaptation, fearing the emotional connection to my youth would force me to find fault. Luckily the British trio of screenwriters, Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, are able to transfer the flow and meaning of the comics to the screen, unfortunately whilst this makes for a delightfully quick romp it also highlights the flaws of the comic book medium.

Based on a mixture from Herge's stories we follow Tintin (Jamie Bell) as he gets entangled with the mysterious Unicorn, a 17th century Naval vessel that was lost with all hands and a priceless pirates booty, and it's replica models. The trail leads him across oceans, deserts and his own countryside (I assume this adaptation moves him from Belgium to the UK as he pays in pounds), encountering favourite characters from the books like the irrepressible drunk Captain Haddock (Serkis), the dubious detectives Thom(p)son twins (Pegg and Frost) and the Milanese Nightingale Bianca Castafiore (Kim Stengel, virtually the only female character in the cast), all the while accompanied by his faithful terrier Snowy, and chased by villainous emigre Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

The titular reporter has to be the unluckiest man/boy (his indeterminate age and social background aren't cleared up in this film) as not five minutes have gone by before a panting American is shot on his doorstep and his flat is ransacked, even crossing the road turns a hitherto peacefully foggy road into speed trials. This relentless action, taken it's cues from the books aim to always end a page on a cliffhanger, keeps the movie moving on at an exciting pace, but robs each sequence of it's threat. When a rottweiler gives chase to Tintin in the early scenes you already feel it won't be long before a deus ex machina comes along rescuing him from certain doom. Of course we know before the opening credits that Tintin's safe as houses, but a little more tension might have been appreciated.

This over-reliance on action also comes at the expense of character depth, I admit the lead has always been a bit of a cypher but surely the relationship between him and Haddock (or even Snowy) could have been drawn out with dialogue, rather then the furious intercutting of the Unicorn's potted history.

Of course there are moments where the action is delightfully appropriate, and fully justifies the otherwise unnecessary motion capture technology, especially the Moroccan chase sequence, shot a in a single take it's Heath Robinson complexity has our heroes (starting in a motorcycle and sidecar) follow the dastardly Sakharine and his trained hawk down the slopes to the port whilst a raging torrent of reservoir is released behind them. It's visually stunning, edge of the seat stuff that simply could not be filmed with any amount of stunt work or computer effects.

Andrew L. Jones' art direction, seemingly a tautology when the sets are created in a computer, captures the between the wars aesthetic and character designs, all noses and chins, are cleverly reworked from the simple drawing they're derived from. Odd flashes of dead eyes and over-realistic body parts (why was I distracted by arm hair at one point?) probably argue against the technology though.

And yet, and yet... In spite of all these complaints whilst I watched the film I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plot may be bobbins, the motion capture still not perfected, the action over-stuffed and the comedy painfully unfunny, but so were the comics and I sat there transfixed, captivated by the pure joy of the film, the chance to converse with my inner six year old. And not only was I mesmerised so was every child in my screening, that sat with wide eyed wonder, gleefully accepting every twist and turn, agog at the colour and speed of the images, unaware this is a pale imitation of Spielberg's earlier exploits with 1930's adventurers. They enjoyed it for what it was, and so did I, and so will you.


Alex in Movieland said...

oh oh, wrong poster. :D

I'm not excited about Tintin. at all.

Runs Like A Gay said...

Oops - well that's fixed now, thanks for the heads up.

It's good. Really, it's quite fun. But I understand where you're coming from.