Film Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
“The good news is that anything is possible. The bad news is that anything is possible,”
The above quote has obvious implications on this new adaptation of Hergé’s intrepid reporter, but it should be made very clear that this is NOT Hergé’s Tintin, at times it struggles to define itself as Spielberg’s Tintin. The technology employed to create the characters isn’t an issue, the virtual camera however -in relation to Zemeckis’s statement- is the biggest bugbear here. For all of the attention paid in realising such a vivid animated world. One with glistening wet pavements, greasy and rusty ship hulls and every hair on Snowy’s head registering as real. The only thing without any physicality is the camera, it can pass through bulletproof glass and hairline cracks. In fact, the camera never stops moving, ever. The average action sequence in the film is a whimsical chase in a single, free flowing take. Followed by a variation on the same motif. Culminating as Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy chase a falcon through Bagghar’s narrow streets. A single shot, equal parts Buster Keaton and Tex Avery (but mostly The Polar Express) is symptomatic of the experience of the film: One can’t help but be entertained and fascinated by the imagination onscreen, but for all the excess, something seems off. For all of the work to eliminate the dead-eye effect, the spectre of Polar Express still lingers over the film; it was the camera that was possessed all along.
To his credit, Spielberg hasn’t been this breakneck in many an ‘Amblin’ moon; the problem is that there is no nuance to his Tintin. Everything feels hurried, too fast to appreciate, as if the film itself won’t stop for fear of malfunction. Even the introduction of the iconic character, in conjunction with a posthumous CG cameo by Hergé himself is over too quickly to register alongside the great entrances of Henry Jones Jr, or even Wild Bill Kelso for that matter. Obviously it would be naïve to assume that just because Spielberg’s pedigree lies in the tales of recovered Arks, tinged with curiosity and discovery that we were in for a Jones-style adventure. We already realised Spielberg wasn’t going to make that kind of film anymore when he released Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, worse than atomic homeware and interdimentional beings was the breezy tone. It all seemed so soft, there’s no danger and you can bet your ass there’s no Mola Ram. Tintin however would benefit from this more than Indy, but with each subsequent set piece staking out to outdo the previous one, atmosphere goes out the window.
With the notion of a Spielberg helmed Tintin knocking about since the early 80’s, the promise of a John Williams collaboration was one that would have had even Spielberg-cynic Terry Gilliam salivating. The disappointing fact here is that Williams’ score lacks a single hummable theme, unlike his last iconic score for Harry Potter. Williams’, like Spielberg it seems, has succumbed to whimsical excess. Tintin opens to a noodley-jazz riff playing against a CG/silhouette animation (one that falls short of similar opening titles for Catch Me if you Can), the rest of the music in the film mistakes bombast for melody. The problem here, as with the rest of the film stems from a lack of patience. Not even Spielberg has the power or the stamina to conjure the suspense that he wielded even in 93’ with Jurassic Park, in fact neither do we. We want a rollercoaster, not a ghost train.
In fairness though, the film at least feels affectionate towards its titular hero’s legacy, even if it is hewn closer to Wile E Coyote than Inspector Clouseau (Seller’s shtick arguably closer in tone to Hergé farce-based strips). Eagled eyed viewers will spot crates marked with The Crab with the Golden Claws, Tintin swings across a balcony clutching a Blue Lotus lantern, as well as nods to the filmmakers involved. Spielberg often riffing on his own Indy romps, whilst Peter Jackson crowbars in a line in which Captain Haddock mistakes Snowy for a Sumatran Rat-Monkey (from Jackson’s Braindead). The pace may be premature, the first act is a drag but there is some fun to be had by the time reel three kicks in. A flashback to a naval battle is worth the price of admission, and there is something to be admired in the imagination on display. Just don’t expect it to last in your memory by the time the iris closes on Snowy.