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Adventures Of Tintin:The Secret of the Unicorn, The (2011)

Back in the early 80's Steven Spielberg read a French review that compared his Raiders of the Lost Ark with Herge's classic Tintin comic tales. Like most Americans, Spielberg was unfamiliar with the character that was so popular in Europe, but the review piqued his curiosity. It was then the director became a big fan of the boy reporter's adventures and began to plan to bring them to the big screen, even winning the artist's blessing to do so shortly before his death. As is happened it would be three decades later that in a dream-team collaboration with Lord Of the Rings director Peter Jackson, it would finally come to fruition with The Secret of the Unicorn.

In case you've been living under a rock (or in the United States) Tintin is an intrepid young reporter who along with his loyal dog Snowy, gets into all kinds of globe-trottting adventures. The film (which is intended to form the first part of a trilogy) combines elements of three of Herge's books: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of The Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure. It follows Tintin, his loyal dog Snowy and his new friend Captain Haddock as they race to find long-lost treasure before the dastardly Sakahrine. 

One of the biggest talking points about this adaptation is the style in which it is made. Speilberg and Jackson decided to make the film not as live-action but as a performance capture- as seen in films such as Beowulf and The Polar Express. The previous films made in this style- largely coming courtesy of the once great Robert Zemeckis- have not exactly set the world alight. Many people have found that look of the people in these films is unsettling and rather creepy. The problem is that they are close to photo-realistic but somehow something is slightly off, and this phenomenon is known as 'The Uncanny Valley'. The fact that Tintin is made in a similar manner was, therefore, something of a concern to me going into this film. However, the animation of this film was handled by Peter Jackon's Weta digital, the effects geniuses behind the astounding performance capture seen in Lord Of The Rings, Avatar and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. As a result this is comfortably the best looking film made in this way so far. The characters are designed in a caricatured way that brilliantly captures the original comic book art style, while the locations are photo-realistic. It might be impossible to avoid the odd moment when you can tell it's not real, but this largely avoids the so-called uncanny valley effect. This is a world away from the dead-eyed creepy dolls featured in the Zemeckis movies. Of course your perception may vary, and some may still find it off-putting, but I would say that even if you've found it creepy in the past, you should give this film a try.

Story-wise the film captures the spirit of the books perfectly. The plot moves along at quite a clip, wasting no time covering a lot of ground in a relatively modest running time. In a world where Michael Bay's brain-rotting blockbusters can check-in at a two and half hours, Tintin never overstays it's welcome. This is classic boys-own type adventure, all daring-do and dastardly villains, the kind of thing that Speilberg excels at. It's certainly closer in spirit to the original Indiana Jones movies than the hugely disappointing fourth outing The Crystal Skull. Working in the new medium seems to have energised Speilberg, able to use dynamic camera work that would be difficult or even impossible in live action, resulting in thrilling setpieces, that recall the best seen in Indiana Jones. The witty script (by Sherlock co-creator Stephen Moffat, Hot Fuzz's Edgar Wright and Attack the Block's Joe Cornish) has some very funny moments, and perfectly suits the tone of the series. The whole affair has a tremendous sense of excitement and fun. It's family-friendly and wholesome without being dull.

Like any Spielberg film worth its salt, Tintin comes complete with a John Willaims score. This is one of the few disappointing elements- it's perfectly fine but nothing memorable. In fact, you'll hardly notice it's there.

One criticism often leveled at the film is that there is not much to the character of Tintin himself. Yet this is if anything a deficiency in the source material. While I can understand feeling this way, it could be argued that he comes from a simpler time, where characters didn't need to be flawed and dark to be identified. It's easy to imagine and adaptation where they feel the need to shoe-horn in a back-story for Tintin. I actually really appreciate the fact they left his origins and background as enigmatic as they are in the books, it helps add to the timeless feel.

Whatever your feeling on the plucky boy reporter himself, it's definitely in the supporting characters the film really comes to life. Andy Serkis does a great job bringing the character of Captain Haddock to life. The hard drinking sea-dog is responsible for much of the film's greatest moments, and it's hard to imagine the character being done any better. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost make quite a double act as the fan-favourite Thompson and Thomson, and Daniel Craig does a good job as the villainous Sakharine. Yet it is not possible to forget the only completely digital character- Tintin's faithful dog snowy. As if jumping directly from the panels of the book, Snowy is a wonderful creation, and is the tail-wagging, wet-nosed , four-legged heart and soul of the film. It's been a subject of debate among animation enthusiast whether performance capture counts as animation, but Snowy is definitely one hundred percent the creation of animators. And as such he's one of the finest non-speaking animated creatures to grace our screens, up there with Gromit and Wall-E.

This is a film that is obviously coming with real love for the source material. The care that has been taken with every element really comes across. There are various little visual references for the eagle-eyed fan to spot, yet it's also completely accessible to outsiders. Despite the use of the latest technology, its' refreshingly old-fashioned. There's no cynicism, no apparent compromises for Hollywood audiences. In short, it's everything the fourth Indiana Jones film should have been but wasn't; The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is a delight from start to finish.