Hergé’s Tintin series has sold over two hundred million copies since its debut in 1929, making it one of the most popular comic book series of the Twentieth Century. Strangely, there has not been a major film adaption (minus the terrific television series that aired in the nineties) perhaps due to its largely European appeal. At last, director Steven Spielberg (E.T, Indiana Jones) and producer Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) have a created a big, Hollywood adaptation. Utilizing the human motion capture technology pioneered by Robert Zemeckis in films such as The Polar Express and A Christmas Tale, they have fashioned a technically astonishing spectacular. However, despite its visual virtuosity, the film falls short of the child-like sense of adventure that best characterized Hergé’s work.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn follows intrepid young reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot) and his dog Snowy as they are drawn into a mystery surrounding sunken treasure. On their voyage they meet drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, Lord of the Rings) who becomes an ally in their race to discover the secret of the unicorn before the villainous Ivan Ivanovitch Sakhaarine (Daniel Craig, 007).
Spielberg has fun with a medium that offers him the freedom to do whatever he wants behind the camera. There is a kinetic bravura to the proceedings as we soar over a slowly crumbling city or whoop around a faltering plane as it catapults through a ferocious storm. At times the images are so photo-realistic that if it weren’t for Tintin’s overly round nose you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a live action film. Which begs the question of why make the film this way at all?
Beyond the aforementioned ability to blow up things up and film them however you like, there actually isn’t much to justify it. The film suffers from the same unsettling “zombie effect” of human motion capture, although it must be said that it comes the closest I’ve seen to pulling it off. The drunken Captain Haddock seems to fair the worst. Oddly realized, his character does not quite work and at times appears like a buggy video game character that has become stuck in a corner.
Unfortunately, Spielberg and Jackson seem to be reveling in new technology for the sake of it rather than using it in service of the story. Written by a committee of some of Britain’s finest writers, including Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), the film feels like a series of 3D rides stitched together. It is all seamless and flashy but like the eyes of the characters, a bit soulless.
The Adventures of TinTin: The Secret of the Unicorn is released in Australia on December 26th
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost