Tintin has been around for a long time. Despite his boyish quiff and baby faced appearance, he’s actually turning 82 this year. Tintin was created in 1929 by Belgian artist Hergé and since then he has not changed much. The quiff has stayed the same. The blue jumper and his loyal dog Snowy have been ever-present. So it is not surprising that the transition of Tintin from comic book page to big screen has been met with some opposition from long-time fans who are used to their hero staying the same. Who better, though, to take Hergé’s intrepid young journalist into the 21st century than the man Hergé himself described as “the only person who could ever do Tintin justice”?
Tintin: 82 years old, and still a teenager
That person is Steven Spielberg. And he is not just taking Tintin into the 21st century. In The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn, he’s taking him into the third dimension as well.
The film begins with Tintin stumbling across an impressive looking model ship (the Unicorn of the title) in a flea market. As soon a he buys it a man comes running up and warns Tintin of what dangers may be ahead if he holds on to the ship. From here the adventure to discover the secret of the Unicorn begins.
This 3D take on Tintin has not just breathed new life into a beloved, if aging character; it has also reinvigorated Spielberg. His previous directorial outing, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, is widely accepted as being a huge misstep in an almost flawless career. With Tintin, however, he is like a big kid with a new toy. His sense of fun has returned. The use of motion capture, a first for Spielberg, allowed him much more visual freedom when making the film. This makes possible some wonderful shots and action scenes.
Did anyone seriously enjoy this crime against humanity?
The pace of the action is relentless. A chase through the streets of a Middle Eastern town results in a tank pushing a hotel down the road, while Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) pursue the villain of the piece, Sakharine (Daniel Craig). It is a truly remarkable sequence that anyone who still possesses an inner child will be captivated by.
What would normally be the main set piece in another film is in fact just one of many wonderful action sequences. At certain points the narrative jumps back in time as Haddock tells Tintin about his ancestor, the original captain of the Unicorn. The sea battles in these flashbacks are impressive. The sight of two great vessels colliding and blowing each other to pieces is the type of popcorn munching cinema Spielberg was born to make. Mercifully the use of 3D throughout is subtle and adds to the overall experience.
It is not just a film comprised of action scenes, however. This is a story populated with fully realised characters. There is time for us to get to know Haddock and Tintin, and time for us to truly come to despise Craig’s Sakharine. Even Snowy gets the chance to shine and make a case for himself to be considered the greatest canine in celluloid history.
Snowy: top dog
Despite a childhood love of Tintin, I must add a second beer for the childish moments that pop up throughout the film. While this is a film that can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike, some moments are just a bit too silly (Haddock kick starting a plane by belching into the fuel tank comes to mind). Dithering Interpol agents Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost) also only exist to provide some light relief for the kids just when things look to be getting too serious.
There is also a subplot about a notorious pickpocket that seems to serve no purpose other than to give Thompson and Thomson something to do. It’s a shame because it slows the pace of the film just when things really begin to get going.
These are minor quibbles though. This is a treat for the eyes, and a treat for the kid in all of us. Tintin’s next adventure can’t come soon enough…
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Captain Haddock takes a drink
Take a Drink: whenever alcohol is mentioned or seen on screen
Take a Drink: whenever someone says ‘unicorn’
Take a Drink: whenever someone sustains a concussion