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

Film review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011), directed by Steven Spielberg

tintinsecretofunicornBased on the graphic novels by Hergé, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a motion-capture animation from director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson, and that alone should make your heart beat faster, even if you’re not familiar with the boyish Belgian reporter.

Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell, St. John Rivers in the latest Jane Eyre adaptation), the man without a surname, is at a flea market with his dog, Snowy. He finds a beautiful model ship, and buys it. Immediately afterwards, not one but two people want to buy the model off him, he can name his price. Perplexed at the sudden interest, Tintin doesn’t budge. He bought it because he liked it, and he’s not selling it.

Much to his surprise, his apartment then gets broken into, and the ship stolen … and a man gets shot on his doorstep. Someone really wants to get their hands on that ship, but what on earth for?

He meets Sakharine (Daniel Craig), a man who has an identical ship and wanted to buy the one Tintin had, and then, true to form, Tintin gets dragged into a big mystery and has to fight to stay alive, as well as trying to figure out what’s going on.

Tintin fans will be pleased to meet not just the inept police officers Thompson (Simon Pegg) and Thomson (Nick Frost) – on the hunt of a prolific pickpocket (Toby Jones) – but also Nestor (Enn Reitel), Omar Ben Salaad (Gad Elmaleh) from The Crab with the Golden Claws, Bianca Castafiore (opera singer Kim Stengel) and last but so not least, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). According to Wikipedia, the nutty professor Calculus was introduced in Red Rackham’s Treasure (this film is based on The Secret of the Unicorn and it’s sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure … and, realistically, The Crab with the Golden Claws), but he never was in the film.

Other notable voices are Cary Elwes as a pilot, Mackenzie Crook as Ernie (a crook?) and Daniel Mays as the dodgy first mate Allan.

I grew up reading the Tintin graphic novels, and have read the whole series many times. That’s why I was curious about this film and how it would turn out. Not having actually read any of the books for at least 10-15 years helps, because as far as I was concerned when I saw the film, I loved every minute of it. The animation is great (how Castafiore’s dress moved was oddly mesmerising) – I can’t say anything about the 3D because we watched it in 2D – and the characters look just like you could believe they would look if they were more “alive”. Can’t fault the voice acting either, but it does have a star-studded cast both on- and off-screen.

The story is action-filled and adventurous, very funny in parts and the heroes are just the way I remembered them. The only thing I found odd was actually the names. In Sweden, they haven’t really translated many of the names from Hergé’s original French, and since I’ve always read Tintin in Swedish, having the names all wrong was rather odd. I knew that Milou was called Snowy, so that was fairly easy to adapt to, as well as Dupond/Dupont being Thomson/Thompson. I’d say the biggest thing that made me want to howl a protest was that they kept on calling Moulinsart castle “Marlinspike Hall”.

When we came out of the cinema, I couldn’t help gushing over how incredible it was as a film, even though the names were all wrong and Haddock didn’t shout “bomber och granater!” and so on. If you want an adventure film worthy of vintage Steven Spielberg, you get it. The Secret of the Unicorn is awesome.

Afterwards, when I was looking something up on Wikipedia, I realised what the Squeeze had heard a colleague mention – that they had bastardised the books. From what I’ve gathered, instead of the nefarious Sakharine, the books have a couple of brothers who want to steal the model ship. Tintin already knows Haddock, and in fact, he’s buying him the ship as a present! To have them introduced the way they are in the film, they’ve borrowed a part of the plot of The Crab with the Golden Claws.

They never go on a treasure hunt in a submarine made to look like a shark, and as I’ve already mentioned, the professor isn’t even in this film. So if I get this right, they’ve taken part of the back story for Haddock’s ancestor and then skipped straight to the end. It’s peculiar, to say the least, but if it was at least a decade since last time you read the book, you probably won’t notice it too much. I didn’t. At least this has made me want to revisit the books (living in the UK isn’t going to get me the stories in Swedish though, unfortunately, so I guess I’ll have to settle for reading about Marlinspike Hall …) and some years ago, I bought a box set of the Tintin cartoons for the Squeeze as a Christmas present, so they’re definitely heading for a watch!

So yes, it doesn’t follow the books, but it sure is great to see these guys on screen, especially in such a beautiful animation style. Motion capture works, and the drawing style is definitely a tribute to Hergé – and there are other things in the film that do that as well.

A solid 5 out of 5 bottles of whisky. Even if it doesn’t follow the book, I was still thoroughly entertained.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is currently out on cinemas in Europe. It opens in North America on 21 December 2011. They push the 3D version heavily, so you might have to search around for a 2D/normal version.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel. Will get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

2 thoughts on “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

  1. Took the girls to see this today, based on your review/recommendation. They LOVED it!! I did too. It was our first exposure to Tintin, although I was able to explain to them that the opening credits were silhouettes of the original and that the “portrait” drawn in the first scene was how he looked in the comics. (Which led to some questions in the middle of the movie: so, is this a cartoon? or live action? no, it’s “motion capture….” What?! Just be quiet and watch the movie!)

    I haven’t been to the movies since May 2011, so it was a real treat for me. There were 3 previews, 1 of which I thought was so-so (Danny Devito as The Lorax) but my girls were thrilled about. The other 2 had me hooked: The Hobbit (Richard Armitage *singing on the big screen*) and The Secret World of Arriety (The Borrowers – done by Miyazaki!!!! comes out Feb 17 2012 here and I think I am even happier about this than JE, so you may see another countdown coming).

    I can’t believe some of the stuff that passes for entertainment these days. On the way out of the show I ran into a friend who also has a 6 y.o. and a 9 y.o., and their family was splitting up – the older child to see Tintin and the younger one to see Alvin and the Chipmunks III. UGH. I told the mom that *MY* 6 y.o. was enthralled by Tintin, and that she had given it, out of 5 stars “100!” Oh well. We’ll end up renting A&C#III when it comes out (next week?) and it will probably be a hoot.

  2. Great to hear! Glad you all enjoyed it. 😀 The motion capture thing really confused me when I first saw the trailer. First I thought it was real, then realised it wasn’t. Heh.

    Envious that you got to see the trailer for The Hobbit on a big screen! Just seen it on the computer so far but wow, and yes, he SINGS!! 😀 Have seen trailers for A&C3, but haven’t seen the previous two, and not something we’d see at the cinema anyway. Looks like it could be fun, though, especially for kids. Bet they’ll enjoy that one too. 🙂

    Surprised to hear about the Borrowers – seems to be really popular these days! Saw a 1997 version on TV yesterday (with a really young Tom “Draco Malfoy” Felton) and earlier tonight, a new BBC adaptation was aired. Recorded it but haven’t seen it yet. When I found out earlier this year that the Beeb were making one for Christmas, I ordered a collection of the books. Read them when I was a child, so will be wonderful to reconnect with them. 🙂

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