Movie review – Steady Spielberg steers Tintin to the screen

2011-12-16 08:18

Film: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (UIP)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Featuring: Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Rating: 7/10

With Steven Spielberg at the helm and Peter Jackson as one of the co-producers, Tintin’s transition from comic book to screen was always in safe hands.

Still, the fans worried that the integrity of the red-headed investigative reporter and his dog would be lost in translation. There is no need to worry, Tintin has emerged onto the 3D movie screen resplendent in the latest motion-capture animation techniques.

Perhaps the filmmakers’ greatest triumph is capturing the feeling of Herge’s drawings so accurately in the on-screen version of his world. Jamie Bell as Tintin is an inspired bit of casting; he could have pulled off a live-action version.

In a way, as fabulous as the animation is, I still am a little wistful that they didn’t decide on live action. But of course, the rest of the casting would have been a challenge as Herge’s characters are drawn with exaggerated features that are more caricature-like.

Instead, because of the wonders of modern animation techniques, Andy Serkis – the creature specialist who has given life to Gollum and King Kong, as well as Caesar in The Rise of Planet of the Apes – is Captain Haddock, Tintin’s whisky-swigging sidekick.

Similarly, Daniel Craig is transformed into villain Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine, and British funnymen Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of Shaun of the Dead fame are the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson.

Tintin first appeared in print in 1929 and is very much a product of his times – his adventures spanning the action-packed 20th century, from pre-second world war Europe to the rise of communism and its attendant spy games.

“These stories could take place in the 1930s, the 50s, the 80s or now,” says Spielberg in the production notes, “and that’s part of their beauty. What we didn’t want in our movie were cellphones, TVs or modern automobiles. Our design cues came first from Herge, and not from any presumed period or setting.”

Jackson adds: “We wanted the film to have the retro, edgy feel of a crime drama. There’s so much suspense in the story that we felt we could incorporate people with trench coats, hats down in the rain, street lights casting shadows on the wet pavement – that’s the world we’ve created for our Tintin to live in.”

Though the makers have indeed made a visually spectacular film, the plot gets a little lost.

It starts well with a mystery about a miniature ship – the Unicorn, Captain Haddock’s vessel – which is how Tintin and his regular comic book companion Haddock meet.

While the plot clips along at a good pace, once it’s over there are a couple of things the scriptwriters seem to have glossed over. But it’s no big deal, as this really is the exploratory/set-up film of what could become another huge Hollywood franchise.

The question is whether Tintin is relevant enough to appeal to a new generation. With a budget of more than R1 billion, they’ll need to get a lot of bums on seats globally to justify making a sequel.

» The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn opens countrywide on December 23

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