October 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm #41372
This opens this month in much of the world (not the US)
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Blessed with a smart script and the best craftsmanship money can buy, this motion-capture toon is a whiz-bang thrill ride that’s largely faithful to the wholesome spirit of his source but still appealing to younger, Tintin-challenged auds. By Leslie Felperin
‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’
Steven Spielberg was apparently turned on to the Belgian comicstrip hero Tintin while making his first Indiana Jones films, so it seems entirely fitting that his motion-capture animation “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” should rep such a rollicking return to action-adventure form, especially after the disappointment of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” Clearly rejuvenated by his collaboration with producer Peter Jackson, and blessed with a smart script and the best craftsmanship money can buy, Spielberg has fashioned a whiz-bang thrill ride that’s largely faithful to the wholesome spirit of his source but still appealing to younger, Tintin-challenged auds. Pic should do thundering typhoon biz globally, but will whirl especially fast in Europe.
Paramount release is skedded to bow Oct. 22 in Euroland and then roll out worldwide, hitting North America just in time for Christmas. It’s a canny distribution strategy that will maximize exposure and B.O. potential in the territories that know Belgian artist Herge’s source material best, thereby building up a solid rep before the pic reaches the U.S., where Tintin is still effectively a cult figure, known mostly among comicbook fans and Europhile cognoscenti.
Early buzz on fan sites indicated that expectations weren’t high for Spielberg’s take on the material, given the arguably overused devices of 3D and motion-capture. Working hand-in-hand with Jackson, however, the director and his team have deployed both technologies with subtle finesse throughout, exploiting 3D’s potential just enough to make the action scenes that much more effective without overdoing it; likewise, the motion-capture performances have been achieved with such exactitude they look effortless, to the point where the characters, with their exaggerated features, almost resemble flesh-and-blood thesps wearing prosthetic makeup.
Indeed, in the early going auds might wonder why the filmmakers bothered with motion-capture at all. But the choice starts to make sense once Snowy, Tintin’s faithful white terrier, performs antics not even the best-trained pooch could perform and the sets, stunts and action sequences become ever more lavish.
Extreme Tintin purists might quibble that the screenplay, by all-Brit team Steven Moffat (“Doctor Who”), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) and Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”), doesn’t stick to the letter of Herve’s original strips. But others will appreciate how skillfully it shuffles and restacks elements from three of the adventures: slices from “The Crab With the Golden Claws” (published in 1943), the lion’s share from “The Secret of the Unicorn” and a wee bit from “Red Rackham’s Treasure” (both published in 1945). The remainder of the latter book will presumably bedrock the inevitable sequel.
Accompanied by his mutt mate Snowy, boy reporter Tintin (voiced by and based on the movements of Jamie Bell) buys a scale model of an old ship called the Unicorn at an outdoor market in an unnamed city with both French and English writing on its storefronts — a sly bit of fudging that tips its hat to the fact that the books were retranslated for every country they were published in. Two other men immediately try to repurchase the model off him, first sinister gent Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and then an American named Barnaby (Joe Starr).
Tintin refuses, and once he realizes the ship contains a vital clue about the location of missing treasure, the ever-inquisitive lad begins his adventure in earnest. Eventually he’s kidnapped and spirited off to the Karaboudjan, a steamer nominally under the command of one Capt. Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), whose permanent state of inebriation has left him powerless against the machinations of Sakharine.
Haddock, it transpires, is the last remaining descendant of Sir Francis Haddock (also Serkis in flashbacks) a 17th-century naval commander who lost his ship, the Unicorn, in a battle with pirates led by Red Rackham (Craig). Tintin helps Haddock escape, and after a detour in the Sahara and a bravura chase through the fictional city of Bagghar, Morocco (all done in one shot), they make their way back to their point of origin. Along the way, they’re aided and abetted by two bumbling, identical Interpol officers named Thomson and Thompson (Wright regulars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, respectively), who aren’t that critical to the plot but are helpful in terms of comic relief.
Aside from a crack about a shepherd said to have shown too much enthusiasm for animal husbandry, the humor throughout is resolutely PG-friendly, lacking in the knowing irony and snarky, anachronistic wisecracks that have become such predictable fixtures of other recent blockbusters and reboots. Spielberg largely honors the innocent, gung-ho tone of the original stories, with their air of boyish derring-do (femme characters barely feature at all here), sensibly shunning the racist and anti-Semitic elements that just won’t wash with contempo auds. Result is retro without being stodgy or antiquated; Tintin himself, for instance, has a more mischievous glint in his eye than the wide-eyed naif of the strips, which makes him feel more modern, if curiously unplaceable in terms of age.
The worst that could be said of “The Secret of the Unicorn” is that the action is so relentless, it nearly comes to feel like a videogame as it leaps from one challenge to the next. Younger auds will embrace it more than older ones, although even teens may feel it lacks the kitsch majesty that made “Avatar” such a hit.
Toon geeks are likely to be among “Tintin’s” biggest fans, so consistently stylish and richly detailed is its design work. With immense sensitivity, the animators have translated Herge’s spare, elegant drawings into a multidimensional world that seems realistic (especially in its use of chiaroscuro lighting, which plays wonderfully with sunlight and shadows throughout) yet still charmingly stylized and cartoony. Perhaps the film’s sweetest joke comes at the very beginning, when a street artist, modeled on the real Herge, does a quick-sketch portrait of Tintin that looks exactly like one of the original strips.October 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm #41374
Steven Spielberg brings the slightly antique world of the famed European comic-book series to splendid, action-filled life as only he can.
LONDON — Serving up a good ol’ fashioned adventure flick that harkens back to the filmmaker’s action-packed, tongue-in-cheek swashbucklers of the 1980s, Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a visually dazzling adaptation of the legendary – at least outside the US – comic book series by Belgian artist Herge. The first part of a trilogy produced by Spielberg and Peter Jackson, this kid-friendly thriller combines state-of-the-art 3D motion capture techniques with a witty, globe-trotting treasure hunt featuring the sleuthing boy reporter, his trustee fox terrier, and a cast of catchy side characters. Banking on the comics’ British and European fan base to build overseas momentum, Tintin will be released there late October, rolling out Stateside on December 21 just a few days prior to Spielberg’s War Horse.
our editor recommends
Although only marginally popular in the States, Tintin is to many readers worldwide (especially in Western Europe and the UK) what Batman and Spider-Man are to Americans: a comic book they discovered as kids, grew up with and continue to cherish. The brainchild of Belgian illustrator Georges Remi (whose nom de plume was Herge), the Tintin comics – originally published in French between 1930 and 1976 – have grown over the years into a multinational franchise that includes translations in dozens of languages, various animated films and TV series, two live-action movies, several theme stores, a museum and even a field of study known as “Tintinology.”
That said, Tintin himself is far from your typical, butt-kicking crime fighter. The blond-haired, baby-faced journalist has no known superpowers, no clear age, no apparent love interests and he resides in Brussels, which is a far cry from Krypton. If anything, his erudite approach to solving mysteries, along with a taste for escapades in the Middle East, Asia and Africa throughout the mid-20th century, make him a less brawny, more European counterpart to Indiana Jones, which is purportedly what first sparked Spielberg’s interest in bringing Tintin to the screen back in the early 1980s.
It’s precisely the old-school exploits of the Jones films that the director and screenwriters Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) have channeled here, transforming two of the 23 Tintin comics into a saga filled with captivating CGI action and clever sight gags, while maintaining a compact narrative that never takes itself too seriously. Such additions should help the film receive a warm welcoming across the Atlantic, although the franchise’s overseas renown more or less guarantees that international grosses will exceed domestic ones.
After an animated credit sequence with nods to both Saul Bass and Spielberg’s own Catch Me If You Can, we first meet Tintin (Jamie Bell) while he’s getting his portrait sketched by a Herge look-alike in an outdoor flea market. The drawing produced is the type of pared-down, thick-line illustration (a style known as the ligne claire) which was the artist’s trademark, and its contrast with the complex visual universe created by Jackson’s Weta Digital fx house shows how far animation techniques have come since the last century, although The Adventures of Tintin still manages to capture the winsome spirit of the original.
Along with his incredibly apt canine sidekick, Snowy, the reporter is quickly sucked into an intrigue involving a treasure lost at sea back in the 17th century, when a ship called The Unicorn was attacked by a pirate vessel led by the infamous Red Rackham (Daniel Craig). Kidnapped by Rackham’s evil descendant, Sakharine (also played by Craig), Tintin is tossed on a steamer en route to the final piece of a puzzle that may reveal the treasure’s location, and which is hidden inside one of three models of the original Unicorn.
It’s on board that Tintin crosses paths with the film’s most colorful character, the scotch-guzzling, foul-mouthed – at least for an 8-year-old living in the 1940s –Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Offering up plenty of comic relief in comparison to Tintin’s straight-edged ways (one mark of Herge’s series is how little personality Tintin seems to have compared with everyone else), Haddock accompanies him throughout some of the movie’s more thrilling and humorous set-pieces, including a terrifically rendered flight across the ocean where the sailor manages to fuel an airplane with his own whisky-infused breath.
That sequence, as well as a dazzling flashback scene where past and present are intermingled with plenty of wit and digital splendor (most notably in an image of The Unicorn emerging from the sea and crashing, dreamlike, onto a row of sand dunes), showcase Spielberg’s talent for creating action that is less about bullets and bombs than in keeping things visually alive, introducing dozens of ideas in only a few shots. This is what makes Tintin an altogether more successful mocap experience than earlier efforts like The Polar Express, and the director (who operated the camera and is credited as “lighting consultant”) approaches the medium in a realistic way that’s also far from the epic worlds of Avatar, setting things in a past of lifelike artifacts and locations.
As the action moves from Europe to Morocco and back again, the pace is well maintained and the story never seems to overstay its welcome, which is not the case with many recent blockbusters. John Williams’ score, which mixes moody 60s-style music with the composer’s more grandiose themes, accompanies events up through the rather ingenious finale (involving a massive duel where shipping cranes are transformed into sabers), before a cliffhanger sets up the next installment (to be directed by Jackson).
If the mocap technique falls somewhere between live-action and animated moviemaking, the same goes for the performances, which are altogether fluid yet sometimes (especially in certain dialogue-heavy sequences) give the impression of watching a very realistic video game with the sound turned up a few thousand notches. Serkis (King Kong, The Lord of the Rings) nonetheless manages to turn Haddock into what will surely be the trilogy’s most memorable personage, while Bell (Billy Elliot) makes Tintin about as interesting as he can be, which is to say sometimes less so than his dog.
As the bumbling detective duo Thomson and Thompson, Edgar Wright regulars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg provide comic asides that will help adults stay in tune with material aimed at an audience younger than the teenage or twentysomething Tintin, even if this Belgian hero seems to be a model of PG behavior.October 16, 2011 at 4:29 pm #41375
This film is getting some great reviews and I find myself looking more and more forward to seeing it on day one when it hits US theaters.December 21, 2011 at 11:28 pm #41376
Beautiful animation – Tintin looks as close to real as any redheaded teenage detective could in a cartoon. Snowy, the white fox terrier, is joyously amusing. Otherwise, a mundane adventure that cannot engage. Also, what’s the use of the 3D?December 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm #41377
The Adventures of Tintin seemed like one of Spielberg’s rip-roaring action films. I’m not sure if the 3-D was necessary for me here, although there were great shots over the ocean and desert, and some nice details with the hair.
The opening credits recalled “Catch Me if You Can”. Some of the ship-shots reminded me for a brief instant of “Jurassic Park”. And certainly, the market scenes were “Indiana Jones” all the way.
Although not exactly a pastiche. Spielber’s fingerprints were all over this.
Tintin reminded me of a young, chubby Jude Law with a cow-lick. Snowy was a delight. But by FAR the most interesting character is the Captain. And, wouldnt you know it, it was Andy Serkis!
The film got better as it went along. But, somebody tell me how Snowy got on that boat. It took forever for the film to get to the point, and it never really did, except to perhaps bring to mind, that giving up isnt an option.
What a set up for part two. If Andy is back as the Captain, I’ll probably go and see it right away. Otherwise, I’m not so sure. Overall it’s puzzling to me that Spielberg wanted to do this in 3-D animation.
My partner, who had bugged me all week to go and see this right away, fell asleep 3/4 of the way through. Lol. Really. But, I dont really blame him.
Worth it to see Andy Serkis. I knew he was in this, but didnt pay any attention to which character he was playing. But it didnt take me long to figure it out. He’s amazing here. Better than the story, if there was one, the direction, and the animation.
“That pocket picker wont be picking any more pockets” Thomson/Thompson twinsJanuary 2, 2012 at 4:14 pm #41378
The Adventures of Tintin is a visual marvel that reinforces my growing belief that animation is becoming the ideal medium for large-scale spectacle … Director Steven Spielberg, who has directed many action films before, seems liberated by the open world animation provides him with, and his action scenes have great excitement, originality, and fluidity of movement … MY COMPLETE REVIEW