Simon Dillon reviews the film

The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

As a lifelong fan of Herge's Tintin comics, I have been awaiting Steven Spielberg's film version since I first heard rumours of it in the late 1980s. Last night, I finally saw the adaptation that I had hoped Spielberg would make for over twenty years. But is the result any good? The answer is an emphatic yes.

The rights were purchased from Herge just before his death in 1983. However shortly before he died Herge saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, and subsequently wrote that if anyone could make a good film version, it would be Spielberg. The project was originally conceived to be live action, but because Spielberg wanted to retain the integrity of the look and feel of Herge's world, he ultimately chose animation via 3D performance capture as the medium through which he would direct Tintin. Spielberg has amassed a huge amount of talent to help him, including Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, and current Doctor Who head writer Steven Moffat. They have crafted a screenplay based principally on The Crab with the Golden Claws and The Secret of the Unicorn, and whilst purists may moan about certain plot and character changes, the result is a first rate adventure film.

For those unfamiliar with said plot, it involves a quest following clues to sunken treasure, as Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy meet the man who will become their lifelong friend and companion: Captain Haddock. To say too much more will spoil it for those who don't know the comics, but for those that do, rest assured that despite the afore-mentioned plot tweaks, the spirit of Herge is alive and well in this film.

On the performance side, Jamie Bell, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Daniel Craig all contribute fine turns as Tintin, the Thompson twins and the villainous Red Rackham respectively. But it is Andy Serkis who yet again proves man of the match on the acting front. Quite simply the best performance capture artist working in the business, his Scottish accented Captain Haddock is just wonderful. I was worried that Spielberg might dial down his bad-tempered, alcoholic, accident prone character, but thankfully he emerges almost entirely unscathed. Haddock has always been the best character in the Tintin stories. Although undoubtedly iconic, Tintin himself is essentially a bland, goody-two shoes everyman character, albeit a fearless and determined one, who is simply there to represent the audience. But Haddock is different. Haddock has deep flaws and represents the flip side to Tintin. His character arc in the film from drunken wash-out to someone who finally breaks the curse that has plagued his family line has an interesting spiritual resonance, though it is never preachy. It is also ideal material for Spielberg, whose recurrent penchant for stories about disintegrated families finds yet another outlet in Haddock's character.

Spielberg's collaboration with producer Peter Jackson is a huge success. He has not had one like it since working with George Lucas on the Indiana Jones films. Just as Spielberg was ideally suited to direct this particular Tintin story, so Jackson will be ideally suited to direct the planned sequel - an adaptation of The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun. The rest of Spielberg's usual collaborators, such as editor Michael Kahn and composer John Williams, are present and correct, and even regular cinematographer Janusz Kaminski makes a contribution as a visual consultant.

As a director Spielberg has really cut loose visually, creating a myriad of stunning shot compositions and transitions that could not be achieved with live action. Whether its huge set pieces like a stunningly crafted motorbike chase that consists of a single long take, or a flashback to a pirate ship battle that is far more exciting than anything in any of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Spielberg is firing on all cylinders. The playful match cutting between scenes - for instance from the end of a bottle to the end of a telescope, or from a high long shot of a boat rowing in the sea to a foot in a puddle - just adds to the fun. There are also hugely memorable shots to introduce both Tintin and Haddock. In Haddock's case he is very appropriately first seen distorted through a bottle of whisky. In Tintin's case, he is being painted by a street artist who looks exactly like Herge. There are many other terrific nods and in-jokes for fans of the comics, not least in the Saul Bass inspired title sequence that makes terrific use of the 3D format. In fact, for only the second time in my life, I am going to actually recommend that this be seen in 3D wherever possible (the only other occasion was Robert Zemeckis's hugely underrated take on A Christmas Carol). Obviously it goes without saying that this needs to be seen in a cinema on the biggest screen possible, as it will be horribly squashed down on television.

To be fair there are a couple of nits. One incident involving opera singer Bianca Castafiore is a plot improbability too far, and there is an inspiring speech Haddock gives near the end that doesn't feel altogether like something Herge would have written (although it works well enough in the context of the film). Perhaps understandably, no room is made for Herge's often scathing satire (see the war for oil subplot in The Broken Ear for a good example of this). Some have also criticised this for not having the emotional resonance of Spielberg's earlier films. But last time I checked excitement and joy were emotions, and in that case this film is a hugely emotional experience.

In short, this is the most family friendly and purely entertaining film Spielberg has made since Jurassic Park. As such it is highly recommended particularly for children, and adults will enjoy it too. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.