In the 1980’s Steven Spielberg hired screenwriter Melissa Mathison (of E.T. fame) to adapt Georges Prosper Remi’s (Hergé) Adventures of Tintin comic book series into a feature length film. Her draft featured Tintin doing battle with ivory poachers in Africa. The film never saw the light of day but 30 years later The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn finally saw light and what’s more; this is Spielberg’s first animated film.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is the beginning of the Tintin saga. We meet the young reporter (played by Jamie Bell) buying a model ship in small town market. Tintin’s curiosity is aroused when two mysterious men both try to purchase the ship from him – even asking him to name his price. Of course Tintin refuses to sell and instead chooses to unravel the mystery as to why this ship so valuable.
The first noticeable thing about The Adventures of Tintin is that, excluding Snowy the dog, Spielberg (with encouragement from Peter Jackson) chose to shoot the film entirely using motion capture technology giving the film a surreal quality. With the definition between animation and live-action blurring, the result removes the audience from being immersed in the film. The ‘Mo-Cap’ experience sits alongside the 3D stereoscopic glasses as a gimmick which, although impressive, actually draws the attention away from the plot development and characters.
The technology is also at odds with the feel of the original Tintin stories. Set in a non-descript time and place (although it feels early 20th Century Europe) Tintin’s plot shows its age. Tintin brandishes a pistol throughout and Andy Serkis’ Captain Haddock boozes more than Irish landlord on St Patrick’s Day, it inadvertently dates the feel of the film. Fortunately for The Adventures of Tintin these are the most shocking aspects of the film.
Andy Serkis is quickly becoming the go-to actor for motion capture films and with good reason. Jamie Bell could have been exceptional as Tintin but we will never know because his character is a vacuum. With Thompson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) and Captain Haddock causing whirlwinds of calamity, Tintin is the eye of the storm, the straight-guy and the cinematic equivalent of sliced bread.
The Adventures of Tintin also struggles with the bolting of three Hergé comics into one narrative. Recent animated films like Cars 2 have relied on random set and pace changes to appear exciting and Tintin falls into this trap. The plot points are touched rather than hit and any sense of excitement drains away from the impressive action sequences.
Spielberg clearly enjoyed the experience of using ‘mo-cap’ and captures a five minute chase scene using only one shot. Some of the cuts are also classic Spielberg with towering sand dunes shifting into violent ocean waves and characters appearing in bubbles before they burst into a scene with a score is reminiscent of Indiana Jones theme.
In recent years each new Spielberg film has been hailed as a return to form and Tintin is no different. Unfortunately for The Adventures of Tintin it never quite delivers in the final third. The shots are skewed wide and the stars of the show never quite get control of proceedings. Not to say that Tintin is offensively awful, it’s just a little disappointing. That said this is certainly a film that children will enjoy and will bring Tintin back into the limelight for the younger generation.