Film review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011), directed by Steven Spielberg
Based 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 buys a beautiful model of a sailing ship. 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. 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 was never 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 any 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 Mr T 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.) Some years ago, I bought a box set of the Tintin cartoons for Mr T 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.
Even if it doesn’t follow the book(s), I was still thoroughly entertained.
5 out of 5 bottles of whisky.