The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Daniel Mays
(Paramount/Columbia; US theatrical: 21 Dec 2011 (General release); UK theatrical: 24 Oct 2011 (Limited release); 2011)
Typical Americans - we just don’t get it. Like football (or as we refer to it, soccer), the Eurovision Song Contest, and any other purely continental item, the US shuns what the rest of the world embraces. This is especially true when it comes to entertainment. While Disney and the Looney Tunes seem to translate across borders, such specific comic book icons like Asterix and Obelix barely warrant recognition. The same can be said for Tintin, the ace boy reporter created by Georges Prosper Remi (under the pseudonym Herge). For over 50 years, this Belgian blockbuster appeared in more than 23 adventures, each meticulously plotted out and drawn by the author himself. For decades, fans have been eager to translate the titles into a more universal medium. While successful overseas, few of the TV/movie mash-ups have made a dent along the shores of the colony.
All of that should (hopefully) change with the stunning Steven Spielberg effort, The Adventures of Tintin. Based on 1943’s The Secret of the Unicorn and the follow-up, Red Rackman’s Treasure and utilizing the latest in cutting edge motion capture technology, the man responsible for such seminal popcorn blockbusters as Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extraterrestrial and Jurassic Park has teamed up with producer Peter Jackson to try and make this basic boys adventure tale accessible to those who otherwise may not care about the character and his legions of devotees. The results are a rollercoaster ride of thrills and spills, a true leap for the otherwise awkward animation type and proof that when visionaries sit behind the lens, anything can be turned into a wondrous work of art.
Our story begins when Tintin (voiced by British actor Jamie Bell) and his faithful dog Snowy stumble across a model of the famed ship The Unicorn. Buying it, he is immediately accosted by a bullying American and a suave sophisticate named Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig). They both want the object and will stop at nothing to get it. When it is eventually stolen, Tintin turns to the bumbling detective duo known as The Thompson Twins (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) for help. They, sadly, are distracted by a search for a pickpocket (Toby Jones). Eventually Tintin is kidnapped and the fate of his model is put in jeopardy. Upon escape, he runs into a liquored up sea dog known as Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). The drunken sailor holds the key to the Unicorn’s secret, as well as the possible whereabouts of a treasure trove in gold.
Since he’s always been an advocate of the flight of fancy, something like Tintin fits Master Spielberg like a glove. Showing no trepidation with the technology and utilizing all it has to offer…and then some, he creates the kind of kinetic energy exercise we expect from the man who remade the Saturday morning matinee. Objects and individuals whiz by at break-neck speed and ships smash into and through each other in ways that only Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski could only dream about. Like a candy maker being taught the latest techniques in sweet meats, Spielberg dives into the motion capture arena and creates a terrific confection, teaching the working wannabes a thing or two about making magic in the process. Turning the famed pen and ink personalities into living (if still caricature-like) 3D beings is just part of the process. Giving them a real cinematic feel and backdrop is The Adventure of Tintin‘s greatest achievement.
This feels like a film, like a fully realized, shot on location effort. We never doubt where Spielberg is taking us and always embrace the results. With his characters, he creates identifiers and goals. We want to see our hero succeed, to see Captain Haddock rise to the occasion and save the day. We also hiss at Sakharine and laugh at the buffoonish Thompsons. This is old fashioned spectacle forged out of the latest 21st century ideas. While others flounder within the dynamic, Spielberg (and his pal in post-modernism, Martin Scorsese) prove that patience and expertise can overcome any gimmick. Not only does Tintin employ computer generated imagery, it also utilized 3D, creating an immersive world the director can scurry in and out of. No shaky cam crap here - Spielberg knows stuntwork and how best to capture same on celluloid. The results are marvelous.
As for the performances, they’re also first rate. Bell, brought in to replace another actor, is excellent, looking and sounding a lot like a young Jude Law. He makes Tintin into a true hero. Similarly, Serkis proves why he is the best when it comes to motion capture work. As in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Lord of the Rings films, he is flawless as Haddock. Craig is to be given marks for disappearing into his role and Pegg and Frost argue for their inclusion among the great comedy teams of all time. Since this movie has the double edged sword of introducing these characters to out of touch audiences as well as speaking to those who never knew they existed before, everything has to be spot on. Thankfully, the casting makes The Adventures of Tintin all the better, giving life to what could have been some very flat, very superficial participants.
Of course, the question remains, can Spielberg and Jackson turn the Belgian boy reporter into an American household name? Can they overcome decades of US ennui to establish the character as someone to champion? Perhaps. What’s more likely, however, is that the rest of the world will embrace the film (it’s already made close to $300 million) while the audience it was specifically aimed at falters - and this with the box office power of two moviemaking titans behind it. If Spielberg and Jackson can’t make Tintin a commercial property, than nothing can. Sometimes, an entire nation acknowledges their artist limitations and goes back to the drek they love best. Hopefully, America will embrace The Adventures of Tintin. Based on what’s on the screen, there’s no legitimate reason not to.