With Indiana Jones getting way past his prime – watching an older Harrison Ford leaping over containers in the opening scenes of the 2008 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull brought tears to the eyes, while the potential of Shia LaBeouf filling his screen father’s boots was silently quash after the same film, it’s not surprising that director Steven Spielberg went searching for another action-adventure franchise with a little more longevity and promise.
Thankfully, the both the late Hergé, creator of the Tintin books, and his estate was and is a big Spielberg fan. All that one of cinema’s greatest storytellers has done is put his Indie stamp on Tintin and characters, fleshing out the line drawings into something near realistic, but still cartoonish with motion-capture performances to capture the comic innocence.
The Secret of the Unicorn, penned by all-Brit team Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish is actually a mixture of three adventures: The Secret of the Unicorn, The Crab With the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure, and faithfully sticks to the story elements for fans of the comic books, though not necessarily to the letter. The story sees Tintin (Jamie Bell) unwittingly embroiled in a plot to find the Haddock Family treasure, with faithful fox terrier dog Snowy in tow, after buying a model ship in a market. The adventure takes him around the globe with larger-than-life character Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), where they come across the Haddocks’ greatest nemesis, Rackham’s descendant Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who is also after the riches.
Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson have paid great attention to fans’ initial concerns with their adaptation, even flattering them with the opening scene that sees Tintin being drawn by a street artist who claims, “I believe I’ve captured something of your likeness”: His drawing mirrors the original Tintin with pinprick eyes, before Spielberg’s Bell imitation turns around to face us for the first time.
Admittedly, as Tintin is the most anticipated and recognisable character to first appear to us, getting used to his glazed-eye expression feels a little disconcerting at first. However, it soon becomes apparent why the medium of motion-capture performance, as apposed to real-life actors, is used to get the flighty, gravity-defying stunts (car dodging etc) and Snowy’s humanistic doggy expressions right to be in-keeping with the energetic and nostalgic storylines.
The 3D is by the by. Fans of 3D who forever want it to work will applaud its more subtle use in certain scenes, while sceptics will once more question its relevance (and addition to the ticket price). It neither adds or detracts that much, possibly because you are so involved in the motion-capture and fine detail of the scenery to really care. What is worth the ticket price alone is Tintin and Haddock’s continuous one-shot escape through the fictitious Moroccan city of Bagghar that is breathtakingly brilliant. And for fans of Indiana Jones there is almost a cartoon replica to the Joneses’ sidecar antics in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Captain Haddock could be Professor Henry Jones (Sean Connery), fending off the baddies, but causing destruction and mayhem in the process.
Bell’s uncharismatic performance aside, it’s the supporting cast – as in the books – that keeps things entertaining and turned up a notch, especially Serkis as booze-addled Haddock who is an absolute firecracker of a character to enjoy, coming up against Craig as the evil, pinched-featured Sakharine who provides just the right amount of PG-friendly menace. The addition of comedy duo Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as the intrepid but bumbling inspectors, the Thompson Twins, again adds substance and foolhardy, stiff-upper-lip humour to proceedings, in line with the nostalgic ‘tallyho’ humour of the time when the books were first published (in the 1940s).
Action-obsessed at times to the point of being immersed in one giant video game, which the youngsters will love, and cashing in on the Pirates’ popularity – which, considering Hergé’s source material, is an unavoidable comparison, but one that cynically arises, what with the likes of Pirates-wannabe tales like The Three Musketeers out in recent months, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn still stops and pays attention to the detail, down to a reflection in a bubble on the water’s surface that gives it an awe-inspiring and painstakingly obsessive charm.
Spielberg and Jackson will have no trouble selling the sequel to us as they have captured our imaginations with a serviceable Tintin introduction. All we need now is an adventure cobbled from Hergé’s work worthy of the likes of the former-year Indiana Jones tales to seal the deal.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie