The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

The Adventures of Tintin books were a large part of a number of childhoods. Tintin the man-child journalist leaping from adventure to adventure with his dog, Snowy, by his side and a cavalcade of colourful and unusual bit-players, from Captain Haddock to Thompson and Thomson. So, when it was announced Speilberg was heading up a film version, it wasn’t so much a surprise that it was going to happen, but that it had taken so long.

With Speilberg directing and Peter Jackson on producing duties, it was down to Steven Moffat to put together a script. After banging out a first draft and accepting the job as producer for Doctor Who, fanboy Moffat handed scripting duties to Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). So, that’s a hell of a lot talent on board before you’ve even got the cast. The latest and greatest dog-piled onto a greenscreen set to be motion captured and dropped directly into the very pages of Tintin’s world. How thrilling!

So, where does that leave us?

Unfortunately, with a very average adventure film. Despite everything that’s thrown on screen in an attempt to entertain, it all misses the mark.

No one could argue that the plot, for what it is, isn’t fast paced. In fact, it’s too fast paced. There’s no time to catch your breath or absorb what’s happening. It’s set piece, after set piece, after set piece. A sub-plot involving Thompson and Thomson on the hunt for a pickpocket is loaded with running around and slapstick, when it could have been wisely used as a sort of interval from the action. Even the most ADHD ridden child high on Vimto will want to stop for a fag break.

The animation/motion capture is impressive and EBFS would never take that away from everybody involved. However, it can’t be denied that that everyone looks a tad unearthly. And there’s that niggling thought that if you were going to that much effort to make everyone look ‘human’, why not just use… I don’t know, humans? Tintin’s dead fish eyes were a constant reminder that nothing happening on screen was real. It may as well have been Skyrim. Did The Polar Express teach us nothing?!

The tone of the movie is equally niggling. On the one hand, it does feel like a ripping yarn for boys, but on the other hand it’s all a bit too, well, silly ie Haddock using his alcoholic breath to fuel a plane. This could be the fault of the mixed bag of writers. Separately, each of them are strong writers in their own rights, but together the script seems to suffer from whose interpretation of the Tintin world is actually being put forward for consideration. Snowy chasing the bad guys only to have a cow fart in his face sums up the whole film really.

With Hugo and pretty much anything by Pixar already out there, it can be said that there are better family films. And it’s a shame, because all the signposts suggested that this could have been a cracking piece of work. If we can take anything away from this, at least, Like Moffat’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, there’s always that glimmer of hope that a child will want to pick up one of Hergé’s actual books and that can never be a bad thing.

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4 comments

  1. Think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Lot of money, talent, time and effort to be so meh. And in the end it accomplishes nothing except set up a sequel.

    1. And even that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast… Anthony Horowitz is being very cagey about his script. They’re probably trying to get Diablo Cody to do a re-write.

  2. Hi Earlybirdfilm,
    Very interesting, I loved those books as a child, and I still think of them examples of classic cartoon story telling. Apparently, the Spielberg/Jackson franchise is planning to tell the Secret Of The Unicorn/Red Rackham’s Treasure stories over 3 films! I find this almost unbelievable.

    Tintin is a completely European construct, and I doubt if any Australian/American collaboration is capable can create anything other than a pale hollywood version of an historical adventure.
    Nice One!

    1. We loved the books too, but this film just doesn’t live up to them… I think you’re right when you say that there should be more of a European involvement in these. Whilst the script is written by three of Britain’s finest, you can’t help but feel there was studio interference.

      Anyway, thanks for reading!

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