THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN (PG): On General Release Wednesday 26th October
Steven Spielberg hasn’t directed a film in three years, his last effort being the reviled fourth instalment of the Indiana Jones franchise, the cinematic equivalent of a slap in the face. Thankfully, the magic hasn’t deserted him as The Adventures Of Tin Tin is a rip-roaring old-fashioned adventure which is a sharp reminder of the man’s genius.
While Tintin (Jamie Bell) is having his portrait painted in a busy marketplace, his eye is drawn to a three-masted model ship. That ship turns out to be The Unicorn, a galleon which went down with a hold laden with treasure. Convinced that the model holds more secrets than is immediately apparent, Tintin begins his investigations, only to be drawn into a globetrotting adventure pursued by the dastardly Sakharine (Daniel Craig) sailing oceans and crossing deserts in one of the most fun films of the year.
In some ways, Spielberg’s decision to adapt Tintin in the first place is a brave one. After all, he’s just an ordinary bloke with no superpowers, no obvious talents (beyond resourcefulness) and apart from his permanent ginger quiff, no particular distinguishing features. He doesn’t even have a whip or a cool hat. But actually, this makes him more compelling – an everyman thrown into improbable adventures surrounded by memorable characters, the highlight of which is Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a bearded sodden sea captain, who is drawn to whisky like Wimpy is drawn to hamburgers.
That it works is largely due to the wealth of British comedy talent behind the scenes – Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, who make the film not only frequently funny but also manage to retain the spirit of Hergé’s original cartoons.
It’s visually stunning, with an attention to detail that’s mind-boggling – dust motes gleam in beams of light, textures ruffle on clothing, reflections and water effects are absolutely convincing. The motion capture technology has now mostly eliminated the “dead-eye” problem which affected some earlier mo-cap efforts like The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol – a problem which made characters look like they were animated corpses. For a film for children, The Polar Express is especially unsettling.
More than simply a gimmick, it’s hard to conceive of how such grand spectacles featured in Tintin could be accomplished using simple two dimension animation. Spielberg makes the most of the medium and orchestrates some of his finest ever set pieces. A flashback depicting the sinking of the Unicorn is a joy – a frenetic action spectacular, whereas a sequence in which a whole bevy of characters fight for a three pieces of parchment as Tintin escapes from a sheik’s palace plays with angles and expectations – the true successor to the unadulterated fun that made Indiana Jones so brilliant.
The voice acting is top notch – Jamie Bell overcomes initial worries and quickly settles down to a likable patter and Daniel Craig is suitably dastardly as mustachio twirling villain Sakharine (who looks suspiciously like an evil version of Spielberg). But the highlight is Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, a talented voice actor as well as the undisputed master of motion capture – with him on board, there’s never a dull moment.
There are a few niggles. The subplot involving a pickpocket and series favourites Thompson and Thomson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) is weak and the main story necessarily relies heavily on coincidence but it’s so much fun and rattles along at such a pace that you’ll hardly have time to notice before the end. Sadly it sputters to an anticlimactic finale which sets up a predictable sequel but this is a minor irritation in a film which is so relentlessly fun.