The Adventures of Tintin Movie Review

It's a little surprising that it's taken nearly fifty years for someone to make an attempt at a proper film based on The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. The series has defined the childhood of many people outside of the United States, and has maybe always been a staple of comic book writing since Hergé dreamed up his immortal characters in the late 1920s.

But it's also quite a tricky subject to attempt an adaptation. For starters, the comics aren't exactly familiar to American audiences. Tintin is definitely of a certain European flavor. Moreover, it's pretty tricky adapting a well-known comic book into a proper Hollywood action film meant to transcend generations and entertain one and all. While the topic has been adapted in the past, there are probably several more reasons why Tintin has remained on Hollywood's proverbial shelf for so long.

The fact that it took two of Hollywood's biggest heavyweights (Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson) -- not to mention the likes of Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Steven Moffat with their work on the script -- to revive Tintin and finally properly introduce it to American audiences should be a good enough indication that this isn't exactly the easiest movie to make. Especially in 2011, in a Hollywood content with their bottom-line, sequel-rather-than-original industry model.

But of course, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg can pretty much do whatever they want, and they have, bringing "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" to screens all around the world. And the result is exactly what you'd expect from these two celebrated filmmakers. Tintin is a delight, a surprise and an event of a movie going experience for one and all.

I may not be the most objective person, seeing as I was a big fan of the comics growing up, but I truly feel as if Spielberg strikes the perfect balance between what's needed to introduce audience to a series with a long-standing history, and what's needed to satisfy the people that already know what to expect.

The film introduces us to Tintin (Jamie Bell), Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and everyone's favorite bumbling detectives, Thompson and Thompson (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost), but what's refreshing is that it doesn't delve too far into "origin story" territory. Too often, the first film in what's intended to become a series ends up being the abovementioned and often dreaded origin story, and it's frankly a little annoying. Films are often best when they let you infer things about the characters they create or introduce, and retelling origins can often be muddled in unnecessary details that clog up the script and plot.

In Tintin, we're forced to accept quite early that Tintin is who he is, an intelligent investigative journalist with a flare for adventure. It doesn't matter how he became who he is, he just is that person. Same for Captain Haddock. It doesn't matter how he became a sea captain, or a drunk, we just accept him for who he is, inherently, and that in itself becomes one of the film's biggest strengths. What the writers and Spielberg don't leave up to interpretation, however, is the relationship between the series' two main characters, and that's perfectly fine. Much of the Tintin series is about the interactions and relationship between Tintin and Haddock, and contingent on knowing that they care about each other, and the film does a great job of setting that up.

That said, the film's character development might come at the expense of its plot. The Secret of the Unicorn draws on the story of three Tintin comics, "The Crab with the Golden Claws" (1941), "The Secret of the Unicorn" (1943), and" Red Rackham's Treasure" (1944), and the end result does feel a little pieced together and frankly a little pointless. The actual plot, which involves a hunt for ship models that contain a secret to a long-buried treasure of immeasurable wealth, seems like a by-product of what the film actually tries to portray, again, the relationship between Tintin and Haddock, and the secrets of Haddock's past.

But there's more than enough to mask that. The visuals are stunning, the characters are likeable and deep, as is the environment, and the acting holds it all together with a more than capable set of actors.

Jamie Bell plays the title character, and does a good job at being the glue that sticks everyone together. Andy Serkis is his regular self in a mesmerizing performance as Haddock. Obviously, his performance is a little tamer than in Lord of the Rings or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, but he owns Haddock as he owned Caesar and Gollum in the past. Daniel Craig portrays the main villain, Sakharine. The role is an escape from the Bond actor's usual roles, but he does a great job of it as well. It actually took me most of the film to figure out it was him. Finally, you get exactly what you'd expect from Pegg and Frost as the Thompsons, and that's excellent comic relief. Despite the fact that these five actors filmed the entirety of the movie wearing motion capture suits and acting in a studio, versus the vast landscapes and open areas of the film, they do an incredible job of making you believe that they are these characters, even while animated.

It's all pulled together by a tremendous job behind the camera by Spielberg and his animation team. Dare I say that the visuals are near perfect. People questioned Spielberg's decision to go animated with the film, but it came out beautifully, and allowed for the director to go for some set pieces that would have been incredibly difficult to pull off in a live-action film. Not only do the characters look exactly like they should, but the environments they're put in have tremendous depth (thanks in part to the well-constructed 3-D, might I add), from the confines of Tintin's apartment or Haddock's ship, to to the openness of the Sahara dessert or Atlantic ocean.

Many of the film's sequences play out like set-pieces. In fact it's very reminiscent of something like Uncharted or even like the old Indiana Jones movies. Sequences such as the plane-ride through a storm, or the chase scene through the Northern African city, for instance, are of grand and spectacular scale. Spielberg and everyone involved keep raising the bar with every passing moment, and it has to be said that this might not have been accomplishable if it was live-action.

There are times during "The Adventures of Tintin" where you get the feeling that the whole thing is just an excuse to get you to read the old Tintin books, or to come up with some completely insane chase scenes with imaginative spots. But even if the film's weakness may be in its plot, it's not hollow. The characters, the locations, the relationships in the film have tremendous depth, and Spielberg leaves it up to you, the viewer, to fill in a lot of the gaps. Spielberg, Jackson and the writers trust the viewers as intelligent, and that's something you don't see in many movies these days.

The Secret of the Unicorn is the start of something great and grand for the Tintin series, and is definitely a must watch before the end of 2011. A great film, and a great, original, inventive and very pleasant experience, "The Adventures of Tintin" receives a 9 out of 10.