Shiny Shelf

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

By Alex Fitch on 31 October 2011

After I left the cinema showing The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, I took the tube home and was struck by the appearance of shoes being worn opposite me. A woman had adopted a pair of slipper type pumps with faces on them made from giant fake eyelashes and lips drawn with rouge. The augmentation of an ordinary piece of clothing was bizarre and a bit tacky and didn’t seem like they would survive much wear and tear with their facial features intact. Otherwise they were quite nice shoes.

Tintin comes to the screen with similar, unnecessary titivation that does nothing to improve on its original incarnation.

The film foolishly opens with some clean, charming flat animation, that tells the pre-story of the young reporter’s exploits as the credits roll. Although, flatter and more abstract than the ligne claire style comics the film is based on, this part of the film had charm and style that told its tale quickly and efficiently.

Unfortunately the CGI motion caption that the rest of the movie is rendered in didn’t do the job quite as well. Nearly every motion caption film that comes out – Tintin follows The Polar Express and Beowolf – suffers from the same problem, the ‘uncanny valley’ effect where the combination of near photorealistic animation and unnatural movement is unsettling, as it isn’t quite real and doesn’t have the charm of normal animation either.

If Spielberg’s film had been a more stylised form of animation – whether cell or CGI – or live action, it could have been a much better film, but instead this half way house seems an easy option combining the veneer of reality with set pieces that are much easier to render in CGI than with sets and props.

With the ability to create anything on screen, much is surprisingly familiar – a pirate battle is straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies – and the various chases feel like the director pastiching his own Indiana Jones films.

Although Tintin is better than the most recent Indy film, that’s damning the movie with faint praise.

The film opens fairly promisingly with sight gags such as the lead character having his portrait drawn in the style of Hergé and, on seeing his reflection in a mirror, he smooths down his trademark quiff only to have it spring back up again, but between them Steven Moffat (Britain’s finest genre TV writer), Edgar Wright (Britain’s finest genre director) and Joe Cornish (Britain’s most promising new genre director) have managed to come up with a script that is almost entirely devoid of character development and exists only to allow the director follow each theme park style set piece with another of the same.

The voice cast is at least pretty good, even if Jamie Bell seems to be unnecessarily channeling Ewan McGregor in his performance and much of the comedy works, even if it seems to be aimed at a younger audience than even the original comics. However the overall effect seems to be a wasted opportunity, taking comics with charm and a significant place in culture and turning them into another workmanlike Hollywood franchise.

Like the other Pirates saga mentioned above, this is part of yet another cinema trilogy (which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise due to Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s involvement) and like the Caribbean sequels can’t even tell a story with a proper ending after a bloated running time.

I have to admit I was never the greatest fan of Tintin comics or the classic animated series, but even a casual knowledge of them makes it obvious this film does a disservice to both.

Secret of the Unicorn isn’t unwatchable and there are worse options to entertain one’s kids during half term – hoping the film might send them in the direction of the comics and that if the sequel does get made, Jackson does a better job than his colleague. But those weird shoes made more of an impression on me than the preceding film and I’ll probably remember them longer than the CGI Sturm und Drang on screen.

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By Alex Fitch

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