Our London film critic Matt Mueller reviews The Adventures Of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, which left him out of breath. The film opens overseas starting on October 26; you’ll have to wait until December 21 stateside.
Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s inaugural instalment in their planned Tintin trilogy delivers the frolicking, boy’s-own-adventure goods in delightful, delirious spades. From frequently breathtaking animated imagery to superb vocal outings by its British cast and a tight screenplay (by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish) that retains the globetrotting charm of Belgian originator Herge’s comic-book series, the movie keeps a could-be-confusing plot humming along nicely while adding in dollops of wry, affectionate humour. Tintin is a fine example of what can be achieved when some of cinema’s brightest minds come together to honour great source material.
The opening credits sequence is a nod to the intrepid boy reporter’s origins, a cute mash-up of old-style cut-out animation with a jaunty retro score that echoes Catch Me If You Can, before segueing into London’s Covent Garden piazza where Tintin (Jamie Bell, pitch-perfect) is having his portrait painted by a street artist, culminating in a witty pay-off that’s the first in a string of rewarding sight-gags along the way. Spotting and purchasing a model ship, The Unicorn, Tintin is instantly swept up in his latest exploits when a corpulent American warns him to get rid of the ship and a nefarious, pointy-bearded Brit (Daniel Craig, doubling up brilliantly as the nefarious Sakharine and his piratical ancestor Red Rackham) attempts to buy it off him.
And we’re off on a breathlessly fast-paced mystery tour that draws from three separate Herge adventures, introduces Tintin to sozzled Scottish sidekick Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, richly amusing), crosses oceans, deserts and sultanate kingdoms in search of missing treasure in creaky biplanes and sidecar motorcycles, and delivers one thrilling set-piece after another in a way that suggests that Spielberg has not only pulled out his Indiana Jones toolbox but has decided to pack anything and everything into Tintin that the logistical, budgetary realities of shooting live action won’t let him do. Let off his leash, he’s clearly having a blast, and so do we.
From the cobbled streets and gas lamps of London to the ocean waves that Haddock, Tintin and faithful canine companion Snowy nearly meet their doom on to the north African city of Bagghar, the 3-D animation is sumptuous and gorgeous, an incessant treat for eyes that will want to hungrily rove each frame absorbing every astounding detail. The script keeps it light and while exclamations like Tintin’s “Great snakes!” and the barrage of Haddock-ary insults such as “Malingerers!”, “Slave traders!” and “Yellow-belled, lily-livered sea slugs!” aren’t likely to be adopted in the target audience’s everyday lexicon (except for perhaps our favourite, “Politicians!”), it only adds to the film’s rollicking old-school charm. (We imagine some conservative parents might be upset by Tintin ending up with an unrepentant alcoholic older man as his best friend – but it doesn’t make Spielberg flinch.)
Drawbacks? There are a few. The retro music over the credits is a tease – John Williams swiftly settles into one of his patented adventure-yarn scores that can be almost bombastically annoying at times, often drowning out some of the finer sound-effect detail. Tintin’s extreme close-ups are wisely kept to a minimum – he looks a little bit creepy when viewed up close for too long. And Spielberg moves proceedings along at such a ridiculously frantic and breathless pace that you might be suffering from setpiece fatigue by the time the final face-off occurs, or want to scream out, “Slow down this damn rollercoaster!” But Spielberg’s determined not to let you off – and when you do finally reach the end, you’ll walk away feeling like you’ve been on one helluva ride. And be ready to go back for more.