Retro Review | The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Retro Review | The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

Hergé’s comic book adventures of Tintin was bought to the cinema by directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Did they do them justice?

I’ve known about Tintin since my younger school years. The adventures of a young Belgian boy who, along with his ever-faithful dog Snowy, get into all sorts of adventures and mysteries.

If you watched as much television as I did as a child, you may be aware of the animated version which started with the unforgettable voice chanting, “Hergé’s adventures of Tintin!” in such a dramatic way.

In 2011, director Steven Spielberg unleashed his animated version of Tintin onto the world. Although, Spielberg’s story actually started many years earlier as he first became aware of Tintin when it was compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark in a review.

Spielberg was due to meet Hergé to talk about bringing Tintin into the world of live action films. Hergé believed that Spielberg was the only director who could do the character of Tintin justice in a live action setting.

Unfortunately, Hergé passed away the week they were supposed to meet whilst Spielberg was filming Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom in 1984.

To cut a long story short, Spielberg decided that animation, in particular computer animation, was the only way to create his Tintin film. He would amass a very impressive cast and crew to help bring this project to life.

The script was originally started by Steven Moffat, he would later go on to become the showrunner for BBC’s Dr Who and Sherlock.

When Moffat left for those positions, Edgar Wright took over, the director of such films as Baby Driver and Scott Pilgrim vs the World.

Edgar was assisted by another Tintin fan, Joe Cornish. Joe was primarily known for his comedy show with Adam Buxton, but would later go on to direct Attack the Block, as well as write Marvel’s Ant-Man (which was originally going to be directed by Edgar Wright).

RELATED |   Retro Review | Eraser (1996)

Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and Tintin (Jamie Bell) meet for the first time.

The CGI would be rendered and created by the talented team at Weta, the company that produced all the hugely impressive digital and practical work for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, Peter would also co-direct with Spielberg.

The talent wasn’t just behind the camera either with such names as Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Andy Serkis. The film was created via the use of motion capture, so all of these actors would be providing their voices and movements on virtual sets.

The final result is something incredibly impressive.

The look of Hergé’s comic book world has been faithfully translated into beautiful three-dimensional computer animation.

The characters in Tintin look just like they’ve stepped off the pages of the comic book and yet thanks to the talented production design, they don’t look too strange, despite exaggerated facial features.

The world in which they inhabit looks vivid and lifelike with attention to detail in everything from cars and houses right down to the smallest objects such as the details of a model ship, an important story point at the start of the film.

That model ship sets off an adventure that rarely lets down with one exciting set piece after another, The Adventures of Tintin is a treasure hunt in the truest sense of the word.

The film’s villain, Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

I understand that several of the Tintin titles were merged to create this story for the film, and it also serves as an origin tale as well. So anyone who has never seen or heard of Tintin before will be able to enjoy it as much as a die hard fan.

Spielberg really knows what he’s doing, and the film contains several action orientated scenes that feel like an enhanced Indiana Jones. Yes, some of Tintin is crazier than the infamous nuclear fridge incident from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but because of the film’s style and animation, it works to its advantage and is incredibly enjoyable.

RELATED |   Dune could be the film that gets people back in cinemas

However, the film in my opinion, does have a couple of minor points. The Adventures of Tintin is an animated film that exists in a virtual space, and Spielberg loves to throw the camera around quite a bit. It’s not uncommon to have the camera move in large sweeping arcs, moving around a set in ways that could not be achieved easily in reality.

This may have been a consequence of 3D. The three-dimensional trick in the cinema has existed for decades, but had re-emerged again during the 2000s, reaching its peak in 2009 with James Cameron’s Avatar.

Tintin & The Secret of the Unicorn arrived two years later, but the film industry was still using 3D to bring in the punters, as ticket prices were higher for these visually enhanced films.

Tintin and Captain Haddock try to figure out an escape from their predicament.

What I’m getting at is that Spielberg was probably moving the camera dramatically around in 3D space for the 3D viewing audience. It’s not off-putting when watched in traditional 2D, but just very noticeable.

Spielberg does however use the traditional, if a little gimmicky, 3D cliché. There are several moments when something of length is pointed towards the viewer, such as a walking cane for example. It probably looks great in 3D, but when viewed flat, it looks exactly like what it is, a 3D gimmick.

But despite that little moan, The Adventures of Tintin is a great family adventure filled with action and comedy.

It’s just a shame that it looks like we’ll never get to see any more of the planned films in the series.

Four out of Five

A great family action adventure and, a beautiful piece of animation in its own right as well.


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.