When it was originally announced that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were going to collaborate together to produce a silver screen adaptation of Tintin, I was apprehensive about it. Not because I was dumb enough to doubt the talents of Messrs Spielberg and Jackson, but because I was skeptical about the format of the adaptation. No actor, no matter how good he was, could ever capture Tintin’s unique, instantly recognizable look in real time. Those fears were immediately allayed with the announcement that Tintin was going to be a live-action, motion-capture animation film. However, other fears took over pretty soon. I was one of many millions who had grown up with Tintin. It was part of my child hood and, even more so than Harry Potter, the on-screen adaptation of Tintin just couldn’t fail. The thought of a sub-par Tintin film was unbearable, and even with distinguished names such as the aforementioned working on it, I would be lying if I said I haven’t been waiting with trepidation to see the fruits of their labor.
The day finally arrived yesterday with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn getting released in theaters near me. (Understandably, it doesn’t release until Oscar season on December 21in the United States.) I was filled with the excitement of a 10-year old as I entered the cinema hall. Tintin has that rare quality – to transform even fully grown men back to their childhood selves. As soon as the opening credits started rolling, I was hooked. Spielberg has always been a master at capturing our attention, and here, he did that perfectly during the credits by paying homage to the comic books. Not stopping there, he kept it going with the introductory scene which contained many nods to Hergé’s classic.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is primarily based on two books – The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with Golden Claws. Despite taking numerous liberties in its screenplay, the film captured my heart by staying true to the spirit of the comic books. Not only did it feature the same brand of quirky, off-beat humor that has since become a hallmark of the series, it was also able to capture the ambience of the comic books in a way that I didn’t think was possible. There were scenes where it almost felt like the comic book images were leaping directly off the pages of the book. In addition to that, the characters have all been vividly realized from the perspicacious Tintin to the playful but loyal Snowy to the fiery yet kind-at-heart Captain Haddock to the blabbering, funny but always-meaning-business Thomson and Thompson. If, like me, you had apprehensions about how the film might turn out, throw them out of the window. The Adventures of Tintin is about as flawless an adaptation as there could ever have been.
The film opens in similar fashion to the comic book wherein Tintin (Jamie Bell) is browsing an old market in Brussels when he comes across a beautiful model of an old ship and purchases it for as little as a pound. Subsequently, two men run into him and say they will pay top dollar to take the model off him. This gets his inquisitive nature going and he decides that the best way to investigate would be to learn more about the actual ship the model is based on: The Unicorn. He visits the library only to come back and find that his house has been ransacked and the model stolen.
However, a tiny parchment that seems to have fallen from the model reveals further truths. The next day, Tintin also has his pocket picked and takes the help of Scotland Yard detectives Thomson (Simon Pegg) and Thompson (Nick Frost) to retrieve his wallet. Meanwhile, he is kidnapped and taken prisoner aboard a strange ship by a mysterious man named Sakharine (Daniel Craig) who is looking to unravel the secrets of the unicorn himself. Tintin is able to free himself with Snowy’s help and runs into Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) in the ship’s hold, where the latter is also being held captive. Tintin and Captain Haddock decide to work together to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together before Sakharine does.
Despite merging two books together, the over-arching plot is borrowed more from The Secret of the Unicorn than The Crab with Golden Claws. The influence of the latter is mainly to give Tintin neophytes a look at the backstory of Tintin and Captain Haddock’s first meeting. The screenplay from Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Steven Moffat, and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) takes the audience from Brussels to a battered, bruised ship named Karaboudjan to the Middle-Eastern port of Bagghar but never gets convoluted such that new viewers are going to be left scratching their heads. The writing is suitably witty and has just enough “Blistering Barnacles”, “Ten Thousand Thundering Typhoons”, “Great Snakes”, “To be precise…”, “Thomson, without a P…,” and “Thompson, with a P…” to please Tintin fans but not too much that they become overused. Needless to say, the film is able to capture the action and adventure that have pervaded the books. Tintin is shown as someone who has his own bag of tricks and can take on a handful of thugs at a time but never as a superhero capable of handling countless on his own. Indeed, The Adventures of Tintin could easily stand on its own as an epic, swashbuckling adventure to rival some of the classics of the genre.
With 2011 being a below-par year for animation films in general, Tintin is a shoe-in to win the Best Animated Picture award at the 2012 Oscars. Whether it be the crowded marketplace of Brussels or the spine-tingling swordfight between Red Rackham and Sir Francis Haddock or the breathtaking motor chase through Bagghar, the pristine quality of the animation is evident in each frame of the film. Of course, this was to be expected from the caliber of the production, but what surprised me was the quality of the 3D in the film. Unlike other recent films, which have been post-converted to 3D, Tintin is one of those rare specimens which was made for 3D. And the difference is discernible. This is one of those films where it might be worth paying extra for the added dimension (like Avatar and How to Train your Dragon), especially if you have kids.
A while ago, there was a series of Tintin cartoons on TV that had just about the best voice-over quality. My mind somehow got attuned to those voices, and this was another reason to worry for me when the live-action format was announced. But the film comes up trumps in this aspect as well with all the actors being perfectly cast. One of the best aspects of the character of Tintin was that his true age could never be placed, and Jamie Bell is able to keep that mystery going with a notably adolescent voice that is able to effectively capture Tintin’s curious nature and boyish charm. Andy Serkis (in his fourth prominent live-action role after Gollum, King Kong, and Caesar, the ape), with his gruff voice that sounds nothing like the blabbering creature from LOTR, once again proves that he is a chameleon of an actor in this format. He especially shines during the segment where he delivers the monologue on Sir Francis’ history.
Daniel Craig’s voice, despite its familiarity, doesn’t remind us of his turn as the British superspy except in a few places. He is able to convey the menace of both his roles as Sakharine and Red Rackham. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are able to bring their considerable chemistry to animated characters as well. There couldn’t have been a better pair of actors out there chosen to play the bumbling Interpol detectives. With their abundant comic talents, they ensure that the audience is laughing each time the pair comes on-screen. Even minor characters like the Haddocks’ butler Nestor or the Opera singer Bianca Castafiore have been voiced flawlessly.
With so many comic book movies failing to live up to expectations, Tintin far exceeds any that fans of Hergé’s classic comic series might’ve had. In addition to that, by staying true to the source material, this is also a completely family-friendly production. Not only was I laughing and cheering like my 10-year self, there were many children in the crowd who were equally appreciative of the images on-screen. Ultimately though, The Adventures of Tintin is a superior production. If you have been enthralled by the comic books, this film is pretty much faultless in capturing all the qualities that have defined them for multiple generations of readers. If you are one of the few who haven’t, then The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is one of the best places to start.