Back in May 2007 I wrote the first post to what was then called TintinMovie.com. Four and half years later, I have finally seen the film. The question is, has it been worth the wait?
A Brief Review for Non-Tintin Fans
If you’ve never read a Tintin book or watched the cartoons, this bit of the review is for you.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is fun film for all the family with a good mix of action and humor. Much of the comedy is slapstick which has a broad appeal but there are a few more adult gags sprinkled around. The plot is simple enough for all but the smallest of children to grasp and the film rattles through it with little time spent on introspection or character development before diving into the next action sequence. Though some of those action sequences, especially the chase through Bagghar, are overly complicated.
The animation, including the motion capture, is fantastic and I completely forgot that what I was watching was not real. The cityscapes, both of Brussels and Bagghar, are wonderfully detailed and the character’s faces are expressive. At times, Tintin’s face had a slightly spooky, unreal quality and Captain Haddock’s head did not seem in proportion to his body but not in a way that detracted from the film. More disappointing was the 3D. This was the first 3D film I’ve seen and I won’t bother again. Occasionally the effects did enhance the film but more often than not they got in the way by drawing your attention to them rather than the characters and I would recommend seeing the film in 2D.
Another disappointment was the music by John Williams. There is nothing wrong with the music and it does it’s job well, however it lacks that knockout punch. There is no “Indi’s Theme” or “Emporer’s Theme” that you will be whistling as you leave the cinema.
Apart from these minor quibbles, Tintin is a good film and a great way to spend a couple hours for both adults and children.
A Longer Review for Tintin Fans
The film is great. It honours and respects the original books without being limited by them. Adapting three books into one story (Crab with the Golden Claws, Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure), has given the Spielberg and Jackson the space to take the best from the books and fit it into the very different medium of film.
I’m going to assume that everyone has read the three books concerned but I won’t reveal anything specific to the film.
The storyline is 50% taken from Secret of the Unicorn and 30% from Crab with the Golden Claws. Only a tiny part comes from Red Rackham’s Treasure and the rest is new for the film. The two main source books are skillfully weaved together and work brilliantly. I suspect we have the skill of Steven Moffat to thank for this. Many of the key scenes from these books appear in the film – from Tintin buying the model Unicorn; Tintin & Haddock’s first meeting; the life boat and the seaplane; lost in the desert; and Thompson & Thomson in arabic dress. Often the visuals are identical to Herge’s originals and capture the full page illustrations from the book.
Where the film is weaker is where the plot does not follow the books. Particularly the sequence in Bagghar. Here it turns into an over-the-top Indiana Jones action sequence with a lot in common with a James Bond style chase from the 80s or 90s. It is beautifully done and amusing but seems out-of-place and redundent. The final showdown between Haddock and Sakharine is similarly on a large scale but it has a point in the film and also nicely echos Francis Haddock’s and Red Rackham’s sword fight.
The central characters of Tintin, Snowy and Haddock are true to the books. Haddock is a drunk and at times a coward and an idiot. Snowy is resourceful, loyal and as keen as Haddock to get at the whisky. Whilst Tintin is the perfect (almost too perfect) boy scout – honourable, smart and brave. The minor characters, such as Allan, are also consistent with the books and the cameo by Bianca Castafiore and Haddock’s reaction to her singing is excellent.
The Tintin Fan’s Film
From the opening sequence (which is fantastic and screamed out as a tribute to Saul Bass) to the last moments of the film, the movie is stuffed with Tintin references. I must confess I spent a lot of time just keeping an eye out for nods to the source material. Certain scenes, such as Omar Ben Salaad’s palace, are packed with them but there are many more subtle ones (watch out for the cans of food that Tintin has to dodge on the docks). Several times I was the only one laughing in the cinema as I spotted references*.
An early scene has the camera panning around Tintin’s study where newspaper clippings of some of his greatest adventures can be seen. Interestingly, they seem to place The Secret of the Unicorn in the correct chronologically point, i.e. none of his later adventures were featured (though I need to see the film again to be sure).
It will be obvious to any Tintin fan, from the first 30 seconds, that this film is made by people who love and respect the original. This is not a shameless plundering of a culture icon for financial gain but a real attempt to capture Tintin’s magic on the big screen. Whilst it is not a perfect or ideal adaptation of Herge’s work, it is damn close.
* At one point, there is a shark hanging from the ceiling. I’m sure this crops up in one book but I cannot place it. Can anyone help me out?