Saturday, 12 November 2011

Review: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Having already lent itself very well to television and film adaptations, it was really only a matter of time until Herge's The Adventures of Tintin series was brought up to date with some shining CGI and motion capture, riding the crest of the latest 3D wave. This is Spielberg's first animated feature; in fact, he originally wanted to make a live action version of Tintin, but was persuaded to do otherwise by none other than Peter 'Lord of the Rings' Jackson, who became a producer on the film. Jackson claimed that live action could never truly do justice to Tintin's world, so beloved by those who were childhood fans of the comic books (like me). In my opinion, it is perhaps unfortunate that Spielberg gave in.

The production team behind Tintin faced the same problem as that behind the Chronicles of Narnia, and indeed any modern update of beloved children's classics. They all have to make the decision between making a film suitable for children, a film that families can go and see together with nobody getting scared or offended, and making a film which is going to satisfy and impress those who are now adults, but were huge fans of the stories when they were young, and still are. Most films aren't able to find a balance between the two and aren't brave enough to make a scarier, adult-oriented version for fear of being given a certificate that will price them out of the family market. So, they go all out for wholesome childhood entertainment, which pleases the kids but bores the adults, or, they make an attempt at finding a balance, and fail miserably, turning their endeavour into a dull lump which jumps from one side of the fence to the other, disappointing almost everybody. Unfortunately, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, is the latter.

I'll admit it certainly looks very good, and they have clearly made the effort to study the visual style of the books carefully, taking much of their inspiration directly from the original drawings. But, the CGI still can't quite sustain the velocity of the action; the original Tintin books jump from situation to situation so quickly that they read like a Bourne movie. While there is very definitely a strong argument for keeping Tintin animated (and this version certainly seems to amuse children no end), a well done, slightly more adult-oriented, perhaps a bit gritty, or even violent action version of Tintin would have been a bolder move, and made for a much more intriguing film. Watching this version, I frequently found myself bored by it, which I never do when reading the comic books. While there is a lot of shooting, explosions, and even a scene in which a man gunned down on Tintin's doorstep leaves a clue for him using his own blood, this film was not in any way tense, or thrilling. Considering that the original books (although fantastical in places) are essentially the most tension-filled, high-octane, people getting coshed left right and centre investigative spy thrillers you can lay your hands on, it's quite an amazing feat that Spielberg has pulled off in making them into something this dull.

Then again, this is most definitely a Children's Film, and I am no longer in the target audience. Judging by the giggles coming from seats around me, it's certainly worth a look if you're under ten. And, I wouldn't go quite as far as Nicholas Lezard in the guardian (whose review, 'How could they do this to Tintin?' you can read here) who, although he offers excuses for it, compares sitting through The Adventures of Tintin to witnessing a rape (one wonders what the editors were thinking when they gave that one the green light). That sort of comparison, of course, is entirely uncalled for: I hardly ever say this, but people: it's only a movie.

The best part of the film is the opening credits, a 2D extravaganza in the classic style of Tintin's old-school romps.The comic books are still there; I'd advise you to read them, they're brilliant.  Leave the CGI to the kids this time.

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