The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn- Don’t Keep This Fantastic Film a Secret
Tintin is the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater all year. I’ve seen it twice, and both times, as the closing credits rolled, I felt myself longing to immediately see a sequel. That never happens. Steven Spielberg has accomplished what the fourth Indiana Jones movie should have been: an earnest pulpy adventure with a clever script, easy-to-like characters, and non-stop action. Most impressively, this film breaks new ground in both 3D filmmaking and motion-capture animation. The 3D is as bright, colorful and fluid as any film that has ever been made, and every problem that anyone has ever had with mo-cap characters has been solved by this effects team. It’s Indiana Jones meets Pirates of the Caribbean meets eye-popping technology.
The opening credits reveal Tintin (Jamie Bell) as a young journalist who, with his faithful dog Snowy, has garnered quite a reputation for exposing villainy and serving justice. He buys a model ship from a market, and immediately afterward, he encounters two men: an American (Tony Curran) who warns him that the ship brings danger, and Sakharin (Daniel Craig), the seer of the estate once owned by the family who captained the original ship the model was based on. Tintin immediately senses a story at hand, so he does further research to try to uncover the truth about the ships. Anything else I reveal could expose some of the film’s many surprises, but I can reveal that the hijinks involve a drunk sea captain (Andy Serkis), two bumbling British cops (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg), a rascally pickpocket (Toby Jones), and action sequence after action sequence.
Motion capture animation has never worked for me in an entire film. Individual characters, especially those in Peter Jackson films (Jackson is directing the Tintin sequel and produced this one), have been realistically created… but human characters have remained out of the grasp of filmmakers. The mouths move in strange unrealistic ways, and the eyes have looked lifeless– how can one create the windows to the soul in an inherently soulless computer creation? Well, the technology has caught up, and this team has created a series of human characters full of life. Tintin, the captain, and Sakharin are all unique in the way they look, behave, and carry themselves. The eyes and mouths didn’t bother me, possibly because instead of going for photorealistic character design, going instead for a more traditional level of exaggeration in the facial features. Most impressively, the characters don’t look like the actors who play them. In the past, the Tom Hanks characters all looked like Tom Hanks, the Jim Carrey characters looked like Jim Carrey, etc. Here, you will not recognize Craig, Frost, or Pegg at all. It’s a marvelous, unprecedented technical achievement.
It helps that Spielberg is the director, since no man in the history of cinema is as skilled an action director, and he sees in mocap a brand-new toy box to play with. He minimizes the cuts, allowing the camera to flow smoothly and to appear as “one take” as often as possible, to make the 3D as immersive as possible and to place you directly into the action. There is one sequence in particular, which takes place in Morocco, that I firmly believe will go down as one of the best and most ambitious action sequences in the history of cinema. It’s one uncut shot that tracks action as it goes throughout an ENTIRE CITY– the stakes, the geography, and the visual storytelling are unparalleled. The other sequences aren’t far off: on a boat, on a plane, and in a car, Spielberg has made a thoroughly kinetic film. Even Snowy the dog gets his own action sequence, making him the coolest cinematic dog this side of Lassie.
I read the Tintin books when I was a kid. I re-read the books recently, to try to compare this movie to the books, and I was struck by how much faster-paced the film is. They’ve combined action elements from three books to create one cohesive story. Yet despite the notably faster pace, it captures how I remembered the books were. When I was a kid, these adventures were exciting and grabbed your imagination. This movie, in a faster-paced, ADD-riddled society, manages to grab the imagination in an equal fashion. You don’t have to have ever read the books to enjoy this film though. Anyone who likes Indiana Jones will like this. Or Pirates of the Caribbean. Or movies. This is Spielberg doing what Spielberg does best, and his first animated movie is my favorite of his in a decade. He has harnessed a technology and used it to its fullest potential to date. If parents takes their kid to Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 and they skip Tintin, someone should call Child Protective Services. Give your child a gift this Christmas: take them to one of the best movies of the year.