Sunday, 11 December 2011

Movie Review - 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn'

Tintin and his dog Snowy are beloved and iconic cartoon adventurers. Steven Spielberg is an iconic director of adventure films (he was, after all, made famous by his own Tintin-esque character, Indiana Jones), and Peter Jackson (and his company WETA Digital) is at the top of the pyramid when it comes to visual effects. It would be tough challenge to come up with a better combination with which to breathe cinematic life into Tintin. However, the route they took was not an easy one - opting for the troubled motion/performance capture technique which has all but secured the failure of a string of films, the last of which (Mars Needs Moms) was a total bomb. Despite all that, Spielberg has praised the performance capture technique during production on Tintin. Well, was it worth it? Can Tintin save MoCap? Was it any good? Hit the jump for my review.


The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is good, clean, adventurous fun for the whole family. I mean that literally - in the theatre where I watched it, I could hear people of all ages and genders laughing and cheering throughout. It's probably a little too squeaky clean for my sordid tastes, but I do appreciate that they kept it old school and focused on what counts: adventure. Right about here is where I had another sentence initially, but I deleted it because people would accuse me of being sexist. So I'll keep quiet before I dig that hole.

Based primarily on the Tintin comic of the (almost) identical name, the film tells the familiar story of Tintin (Jamie Bell) the young journalist, who buys a model of a ship for a buck and is plunged into a treasure hunting adventure with his dog Snowy and his new friend Captain Haddock (played by the king of performance capture: Andy Serkis). Tintin always had yellow hair in the comics, and interpreted it as being blond; however, Spielberg's Tintin is a ginger through and through. As for Captain Haddock, the man is a raging alcoholic! I always knew he like to pull a cork, but wow, in this movie he makes Nic Cage in Leaving Las Vegas look like he needs a drink. Tintin may be the titular character, but for me, Captain Haddock stole the show.

While the story itself was fairly typical and even a little boring, the animation and action sequences were phenomenal. It actually blows my mind, and apart from beautifully rendered worlds all the way through, two sequences stood out in particular. The first, in which Captain Haddock tells Tintin the story of the Unicorn during a lucidum intervallum induced by a lack of whisky and the desert sun, involves a series of sequences seamlessly blended into one another, using cinematic tricks that could never be achieved with live action. It could be seen as gimmickry, but Spielberg pulls it off with such aplomb that is couldn't be described as anything less than genius. The second sequence is a straight forward action packed chase sequence involving Tintin, Haddock, a motorbike and a falcon (among others). However, it is so elaborate and ingeniously constructed that my jaw almost hit the ground. Slashfilm's Peter Sciretta had tweeted about this sequence sometime in the past, and tweeted it again just yesterday, saying:

"I know it's animated, but Spielberg's one take in Tintin might be the greatest one shot sequence in the history of cinema."

I'm not sure I would go quite that far, but the sequence in question was, to say the least, worth the ticket price on its own. Other aspects of Tintin that added a nice touch included the title sequence (done in the style of the original comics) and a number of hidden treasures (no pun intended) which are there specifically for old fans of the comics. I noticed drawings of a range of Tintin characters, and cans which reference The Crab With The Golden Claws, but a friend and major Tintin fan has assured me that there were many more.

Getting to the performance capture, I thought it worked like magic on Tintin, and that Peter Jackson was correct in convincing Steven Spielberg to film that way. However, I don't think it says anything for the future of MoCap films like The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol. In those films, MoCap is used to attempt to create characters as realistic as possible. The result? Creepy people and the uncanny valley. In Tintin on the other hand, the characters were purposefully not realistic, and that to me is why it worked so well. I think Steven Spielberg got to do so many things in this medium that he could never do with live action. For one, the film makes use of reflections all the time, and it creates a wonderfully moody atmosphere. It works so well in animation because, firstly, you don't have a camera in the way, and secondly, you can cheat the physics a little to make the reflection work in your favour. It's no wonder Spielberg said that this process made him feel more like a painter than ever before.

In general then, Tintin did it for me, but not because of the story, which was too vanilla for my liking. It should, however, appeal to a very wide audience. As for the 3D and the animation, it was nothing short of top notch. But with Steven Spielberg directing and Peter Jackson producing, would you expect anything less?

The Adventures of Tintin opens in South Africa and the USA on 23 December 2011.

7 out of 10.

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