A Droid Premiere: The Adventures of Tintin – Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

A Droid PremiereFirst, a bit of background. Many of our brethren are ignorant of the details of Tintin. So I’ll try to give a brief synopsis of who he is, and why he is beloved by millions around the globe. The character Tintin was created in 1929 by a 22 year old Belgian artist named Georges Rémi. Under the pen name Hergé, Remi took Tintin, the young investigative journalist and his faithful dog, Snowy to the far reaches of the world on 23 adventures. From the peaks of the Himalayas, to the Sahara desert, and the jungles of the Congo (and even to the moon), Tintin always found himself at the heart of a mystery, and through pluck, bravery and ingenuity, he would thwart the bad guy and save the day. In animated storybooks, Rémi created simple, vivid, expertly paced stories laced with visual wit. Some of the views of the time are antiquated, and there was recently a bit of a storm in a teacup concerning the portrayal of Africans in ‘Tintin in the Congo’ (Tintin’s second adventure, written in 1931). This aside, The Adventures of Tintin remains to this day a creative, fun, exciting and entertaining read for young readers, and a great piece of nostalgia for those who grew up on them.

Tintin-Secret-Unicorn-PosterSo how did probably the most successful director of the past 40 years come to direct the adaptation? As the story goes, Spielberg was in France doing press for ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc’, and one journalist compared Indy to Tintin. Once Spielberg found out what a Tintin was (the usual response from an American), he read and loved the books and sought out to make a feature film. Rights came and went, live action turned to computer animation and then to motion capture. Peter Jackson became involved with the intention of directing the second film himself (and since writing this the film has proven a hit, so it looks likely to happen!). Finally, after 82 years, 23 books, a TV cartoon series (which is excellent by the way), and a couple of misguided French live action film versions in the 60’s, we finally get Steven Spielbergs motion capture adventure film, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn”. The only director who Herge himself thought capable of doing justice to the material. Was he proven correct?

In a busy flea market, Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchases a replica of an old sailing ship named the Unicorn. The Unicorn was captained by the legendary Sir Francis Haddock, and Tintin is immediately approached by Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig), the man who has purchased the Haddock estate. He is desperate to complete the collection. Tintin declines the offer, and later discovers his home burgled. Within the Unicorn lies a piece of a puzzle. A puzzle that leads our inquisitive hero and his faithful dog, Snowy on an intercontinental race to track down the other pieces, solve the mystery, thwart the bad guy and return the birthright to the Sir Haddocks last remaining descendent, the miserable drunkard Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis).

Tintin-Secret-Unicorn-02With the release of ‘Tintin’, the subject of motion capture animation rears its ugly head. I’ve never had a problem with it, and have had a lot of fun with Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Beowulf’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’ in the past. But some people seem to have a major hang-up about it. The so called dead-eyes and the uncanny valley look of the process can be off-putting to some. First and foremost, if you’re one of these people, I highly doubt this film will make converts of you. But it may place a niggling doubt in your mind. I concede the look of the film takes a few minutes to get used to, but that is handled by the playfully brilliant opening scene. The opening scene is perfectly executed for two reasons. It allows you to adapt to the style of the film, and the humanistic animation style. And it also gives loving reference to the source material. It opens with a cameo from Hergé himself (well, a recreation) as a street artist drawing profile caricatures in the original comic’s line drawn style. It’s a clever nod of acknowledgement to the materials origins, and also serves to win over knowledgeable fans.

Tintin-Secret-Unicorn-01Steven Spielberg hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak. While I’m a big fan of ‘Minority Report’, and ‘Munich’ was quite good, for the most part his films since ‘Schindlers List’ have been middle of the road (‘Catch Me If You Can’) or downright terrible (‘The Terminal’). One thing that strikes me about his filmmaking style over the past fifteen years is that it feels pedestrian. When he gets a scene right, they are as good as anyone could make them, such as the telephone bomb scene in ‘Munich’ or the robot spiders scene in ‘Minority Report’, but it’s all to often that his films often lack energy, with his use of the camera settling in to unremarkable efficiency. In other words, his directing style felt complacent. ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ is the most obvious example. So why am I talking about this? Well, with the decision by Spielberg to shoot ‘Tintin’ as a motion capture animated film, he was forced to embrace new technology (he has previously stated he would always shoot on film). This is his first animated film, and as it’s motion capture he had to shoot on digital with a virtual camera. The result is astounding. This doesn’t appear to be the same Spielberg. ‘Tintin’ is easily the most energetic, fun and entertaining Spielberg film since ‘Jurassic Park’. He throws the camera about with wanton abandon, travelling through windows and walls, nooks and crannies while simultaneously keeping the audience perfectly aware of the geography of the scene. He appears to have embraced the creative freedom of being able to put the camera anywhere he wants. What this results in is a pacing that is nothing short of breakneck, as Tintin and Snowy (and the audience) get swept up in the mystery. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Tintin-Secret-Unicorn-03But this new found freedom and energy also creates ‘Tintin’s biggest problem. It’s not a big one, but it’s enough to keep this from being a four chang film. As a whole, it moves much too fast. From scene to scene, action set piece to action set piece. Although it’s not a major criticism, the breakneck pace is virtually unrelenting, with one scene leading into the next with few pauses in between. I would’ve loved the film to have taken just a little bit more time to unfold. I used to read the books at my own pace, often taking a few minutes to look over all the illustrated frames on each page. Spielberg’s obviously a speed reader, as ‘Tintin’ moves at ludicrous speed from start to finish. This problem is accentuated by the almost immediate cut from the epic Morocco chase scene to the thundering destruction of the finale. The pause between scenes being, oh, almost 30 seconds.

On that Morocco chase scene, I really can’t wait to watch it again. It’s an astonishing demonstration of sustained movement and escalation. It’s the entire bus sequence of Speed condensed into a breathless 10 minutes as Tintin and Haddock frantically chase the pieces of the puzzle through the oceanside Morrocan town, causing mass destruction as they go. It’s one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in a long time. It’s also capped off by a very funny joke that highlights the evident fun Spielberg is having bringing this character to the big screen.

The other astonishing action scene is the flashback to Sir Francis Haddock, as he is boarded by the dreaded pirate Red Rackham. As the crew of both ships swash and buckle, the two ships become intertwined and rock back and forth, creating a fury of movement and incredible visuals. As I said, this film features some of the best action in a long time, and the best thing about it is that it’s always clear what’s going on in the scene. This is a bit of a pet hate of mine as I always complain about films like Transformers 3’s film in a blender editing style. But the action in ‘Tintin’ is always clear, you always know the geography of the scene, and as a result you get caught up in the action instead of trying to figure out what that big swirl of colour was.

Tintin-Secret-Unicorn-04I find it a little difficult to judge a motion capture performance in the usual fashion, so I’ll just say that all the performances work. Daniel Craig delivers a snaky performance as the villain Sakharine, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost fall down and bump into things entertainingly as Thomson and Thompson. Snowy has the personality he has in the books, with him both causing trouble and coming to the rescue. Jamie Bell is suitably heroic as Tintin, and as in the books, the character is mostly a placeholder for young minds to project themselves onto. With no backstory, family or attachments other than his dog (and no actual job it seems, despite him being a reporter), the character is at first glance underdeveloped. But that is as it should be. We put ourselves in his shoes, and get caught up in the craziness around him. Which is where Captain Haddock comes in. Once again the stand out performance is motion capture expert Andy Serkis. Following on from his memorable performance as Caesar in ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, Serkis has once again proven himself to be the master of the process. The film rattles along in an entertaining fashion, but when Captain Haddock is introduced about a half hour in, it takes off. At the speed of light. As in the books, Haddock is a drunkard. A blustering, swearing (“Blue blistering barnacles!”), emotional drunkard. He injects a startling amount of personality into the film and serves as the perfect comedy foil for the straight man Tintin.

Tintin-Secret-Unicorn-05Given the speed in which the film moves, a lot of exposition is done on the move. As in the comic books, the characters are told in broad strokes. Haddock in particular is a drunkard who can’t live up to the legend of his family name. Tintin embodies the characteristics of an every man. As we read the books, and now watch the film, we project ourselves onto him as he boldly stands up against the bad guys and fights for good. It’s incredibly basic characterisation, but it’s as Hergé wrote them and they work.

Despite amping up the pace with non-stop action scenes, Spielberg has indeed remained true to the spirit of Hergé’s beloved creation. Don’t listen to the moaning, it’s a lot of fun. It’s Spielberg’s best film since ‘Schindlers List’ and one of the best films of 2011. Hergé was right. I hereby bestow ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’ three and a half white man worshiping Congolese out of Four.



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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

59 responses to “A Droid Premiere: The Adventures of Tintin – Secret of the Unicorn (2011)”

  1. jeffro517 says :

    I did a short look at this film in my New Releases of 2011 series. Thanks for taking this on in depth!

  2. Continentalop says :

    Man, o’ man. That is some serious racist shit with the Congolese porters at the bottom. About as bad as Ebony White from the Spirit strip.

  3. Jarv says :

    Nothing to add really, aside from that I’m one of the mocap agnostics.

    Said it recently, will wait for the DVD.

    Still, good to see it wasn’t butchered.

    • Droid says :

      Yep. I think you should enjoy it in the comfort of your own home. Although you will miss out on the spectacle of the action sequences.

      • Jarv says :

        That is true, but I reckon it will be better for me that way.

        Incidentally, there’s one bit that I saw that looks almost identical to the bit of footage of Bioshock 3 that I’ve seen.

        Goes to show how far games have come on.

  4. Jarv says :

    That’s a very convenient picture. Nice of Hergé to draw it for you.

  5. trixfred30 says :

    I reckon Spielberg nailed it. Some would say it doesn’t stay true to the books but you can’t replicate comic books on screen (Watchmen anyone!) Anyway the kids liked it and they won’t even read the books (I blame Call of Duty for that)

    • Droid says :

      It isn’t necessarily 100% accurate storywise, as it combines portions of several different books. But it does accurately capture the spirit of the books. The sense of adventure and the themes of good vs evil. It celebrates these simple themes and as a result it feels like a TIntin film. The kids are missing out.

  6. MORBIUS says :

    Wait! Where is your review of the movie those 3 sots
    from the guardian wrote about? Did you not see the
    same film? Or is there another Tintin directed by Spielberg?
    What gives?

    Only have a cursory knowledge of Tintin, but have always
    planned on seeing it in a theater. Your review reads like it will
    be a good experience. Did you see it in 3-D?

    And I feel sorry for Sir Francis Haddock, I believe I would also
    dread being ‘boarded’ by the pirate Red Rackham!

  7. Bartleby says :

    I’m still disappointed that Spielberg didn’t slow down the action enough so we could have the wide variety of beds featured in the comics. You would assume that a pop director like The Beard would know that panel shots of people sleeping would provide the depth and emotion it’s sorely lacking now. As a kid I could sit in bed looking at comics of Tintin sitting in bed reading books where presumably others were sitting in bed and it made me feel connected to the universe.

    There is absolutely nothing half as profound as that here.

    Ok, jokes, aside, great review. You still cool with getting it republished over at MM? I’m having a devil of a time sitting on mine til December, but it would be cool to put one up from the non-American perspective.

    I also really loved the movie, although Im tempted towards four stars. I did read Tintin but I wasn’t as enamored of it, so while you are correct about the lack of time to drink in the detail and what not, and the forward momentum of it, I think the Berg’s pacing really worked in making the whole venue more immediate than it would have been in any other format. I think the difference is like comparing a liesurely train ride with a roller coaster. Both are valuable, but each looks lacking in some form when compared to the other, depending usually on what you want. Whats neat about this is its been awhile since anyone has made an adventure movie that threatens to extend the tension and excitement through an entire running time, beginning to end. What else this year has done that? Even big silly balls-to-the-wall action flicks like Fast Five had segments where they drag a bit.

    I cannot imagine this ever working in any other vein than what the Berg did here, although I do confess if any animator working today could have done justice to that immense detail and slightly prolonged pace of the original books, it would probably be Sylvan Chomet of Belleville Rendezvous and The Illusionist.

    I’m still surprised how fast it zips along but how structurally sound the whole thing is. Makes me wonder if he’s done anything half as lovely with War Horse.

    • Droid says :

      I think he could’ve slowed it down in places. Like the desert sequence for example. Some wonderful visuals in that sequence and it whizzes by. But the main thing is the cut to the crane scene immediately after the Morocco scene. It could’ve used a couple of minutes downtime before the finale.

      It’s a film that, in it’s current form, could not have been made as live action for any less than double what it cost them. The Morocco scene on it’s own would’ve been virtually impossible. Probably would’ve had to build a town. And he couldn’t have got the shots he did.

      You can publish it over at MM. I can tinker with it to remove references to the “brethren” and such if you like. I asked before, but you didn’t respond. You done with PCN?

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        You asked about PCN? I must have missed it. Sorry.
        PCN is on hold, only because MM is the one I’m on the press list for and the one that is more established.

        With PCN, Im realizing I can’t really do it myself. It probably requires a team to be successful, and I haven’t had any time to cobble that together. If I can think of a reasonable venue/approach to it, I’ll probably get it up and going.

        You lot have any ideas? The title doesn’t lend itself only to movies, afterall. Im not great at the whole social media promotion of things either. Hell, I wish I was the link whore and shameless self-promoter I’ve been accused of being. The site might actually be lucrative. Im not currently making any kind of money off of it.

        As for the review, I’d love to post it. Yea, a few things like changs, etc, could be changed, but it’s a very good review. Just send me an edited version you are happy with, and I can post it, or set you up as a contributer and let you pub it yourself. Let me know.
        As for those pacing elements, it’s not that I don’t agree, I just think for me they weren’t big enough issues to hinder four stars. I won’t rate it til I’ve seen it again though.

      • Droid says :

        Okay. Not sure how to go about monetizing a website. Jarv might be better in that area. Do you have ads and such on it? I guess you just have to frequently update the content with new material. Not necessarily new films or whatnot, but when you look at some of the stuff that has generated hits here, it’s pretty interesting. I’m surprised by how many hits Jarvs schlock reviews get. Adrienne Barbeau seems to be a popular internet search.

        I’ll give the review a once over and alter it for mass consumption.

      • Jarv says :


        Pretty easy, actually. Don’t try to work out what Google is looking for, the full map is almost impossible to decipher, but there are a variety of things you can do to improve the likelihood of being hit. I haven’t done it here, due to supreme laziness, but it’s not hard. There are basically tricks that you can apply at each phase.

        Regarding SMM- there are, again, a variety of ways you can promote it. Twitter, Facebook and even Linkedin are the obvious ones. The same principles apply every time, though- tag it properly, make sure it goes out to each on the network and encourage activity.

        There’s a pretty easy and fully comprehensive pyramid that I’ve got somewhere that I can email to you that explains the order, and how to do it. Get structure right first, then get content up- and it has to be done regularly. Then build links, Tagging, backlinks and so forth. Finally, once everything else is in place, then you do SMM.

      • Jarv says :

        Once you’re scoring (I think you need 6,000 per day) you can then do Google ads and so forth.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        PCN wasgetting more hits than Moonwolves, but not quite popping into that next arena, where studios/marketing takes notice, etc.

        PCN still hasn’t popped the bubble on that. Strangely, Cinematropolis did in its first few months, but it was boosted by being a wordpress site and more prominent.

        You are right, it needs nearly daily new content. I really need to find some video game fiends who can review that stuff for me.

        Maybe, I’ll try to bring it back over the Thanksgiving break. My new floors are down, things are starting to stabilize (until the baby shows up and shatters things anew) so it’s probably time if Im ever gonna do it.

      • Droid says :

        Our name doesn’t exactly aid us in the hits department.

      • Jarv says :

        No, it really doesn’t. Neither does the title bar and so forth. We can change a few things.

      • Droid says :

        I’ve been considering working on a new title bar for months now.

      • Jarv says :

        That’s not what I mean- when you open it in Internet Explorer, in the blue bar at the top it says:

        “Werewolves on the moon”. That’s practically meaningless, however, if we changed the site title to “Werewolves on the Moon: Film Reviews and the teachings of the Church of Chang” (which may be too long) then Google will pick up a lot more.

        There’s lots of stuff like that we could do- it’s quite a common mistake: you pick something that sounds cool (as we have) but it doesn’t attract google. Unless someone searches “Graboid”. Google primarily operates off the homepage as well. It’s complicated, but not impossible.

      • Droid says :

        Ah, okay. But that said, our title bar image could do with a bit of a spruce.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        yea, that was never supposed to be a long-term title bar. I just threw it together back in the day to get something up there.

      • Droid says :

        And we’re too lazy to do anything about it. But it’s served us well for over two years now.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Right Jarv. It doesn’t need to be a full subtitle. Just a tagline, description built in somewhere. For example, what about ‘Gordon and the Whale’ and ‘Hey You Guys’ etc. They arent perfectly descriptive, but somewhere they have identifiers as movie review sites, etc.

        I really need to learn more about all this. Feel free to send me that stuff you mentioned if you get a chance Jarv.

      • Jarv says :

        No it doesn’t, but it has to have the words you want Google to hit, preferably in some kind of context.

      • Jarv says :

        I’ve realised that I’m talking at cross purposes here.

        When you dump the google key words off a page, it produces a whole mile of text. Title bar, AND then title on the page appear independently, as does subtitling. So if you repeat yourself across the board, Google will hit it 3 times.


      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah Hey U Guys says this on Google:

        HeyUGuys – Movie News, Reviews and Interviews

        and on there banner.

      • Jarv says :

        HeyUGuys – Movie News, Reviews and Interviews

        Perfect. Boring, but that’ll attract Google.

      • Jarv says :

        Forget the actual banner. It’ll be a jpeg- and google doesn’t hit words in Jpegs.

      • koutchboom says :

        Not banner, that blue bar thing on top whatever that’s called.

      • Jarv says :

        Title bar? Yup, that’s the one. Perfect for them and that will draw a lot from Google.

      • koutchboom says :

        Also the head guy on that site does stand up comedy, maybe you should to?

      • Jarv says :

        Yes. That’s nowt to do with the price of onions other than that he’ll have a handle ON SMM

      • Jarv says :

        Other things, and this is a great tip that we should all do and none of us do.

        Instead of using bold in titles in reviews, change it and use the style settings. Google checks everything with an h1 tag first of all- and these are inserted by WordPress if you select Heading 1. Livewriter is probably the same.

  8. Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

    I couldnt agree more. The Moroccan village scene is one of the best action scenes I’ve seen in ages.

    Loved it!

  9. Just Pillow Talk says :

    Not a fan of mo-cap, but this sounds good. I’ll probably get around to it when it comes out on video. The question then is: Can the Berg still direct a live action type film again and capture the same sort of magic he apparently has done here with an animated movie?

    • Droid says :

      You should give it a chance at the cinema. It’s a big screen experience.

      Not too sure with The Berg and live action. And since he has historical stuff like War Horse and Lincoln coming up, I doubt we’ll see either way with a fun action film. Wasn’t he attached to Robopocalypse? I have no idea what it’s about, but it sounds like it could be fun.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Droid, they did a promo thing for us a bit back–several minutes from War Horse–and it looks like it is more of an adventure movie set against the backdrop of the war. There’s a scene involving the main character on the horse going through a minefield that is ridiculously well done.

        No, it’s not going to be pulpy, but it’s certainly more in the vein of his adventure work than say, SPR or Munich.

      • Droid says :

        Okay. Well, I hope it’s good. I’d like Spielberg to get on a hot streak.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah I’ve been thinking that this year is going to be Berg’s year.

      • Droid says :

        Could be. But you need to see the films first. And I need to see War Horse before declaring it his year.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah but like I’ve clearly explained before, Berg’s one you can easily count on.

      • Droid says :

        I’ll make this clear, I don’t want to get back into this. But on his track record for the past 15 years, the only thing you can count on is mediocrity. Hopefully Tintin brushed away the cobwebs and now he’s back to his best.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah Berg’s solid, he’s never really let me down except for Indy 4, but I was never a big Indy guy so it didn’t bug me too much. Also you forget Real Steel and TF3 are Berg Joints as well (we’ll ignore Cowboys and Aliens for the second, but no one saw that so who knows? It could be awesome?). Clearly this is Berg’s year, C&A withstanding.

      • koutchboom says :

        OH also Super 8, which is probably as good as Cowboys and Aliens.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        yea, you and me both.

      • Jarv says :

        May as well make it 3.

        Between us, we’ve got the knowledge, skill and tools to do it. So why haven’t we?

        Can’t be arsed.

        Still, it’s served us well for over 2 years now.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Yea, Im in no way calling War Horse preamturely great, it could be dross. I’m just now hopefully optimistic in the wake of Tintin.

        And my point was it seems like an adventure movie, so if it is good, it’ll go in that category.

  10. koutchboom says :

    I like how the trailers for this now are comparing Jackson to Berg. I mean I know people can only think so far back. It’s just funny. It says something like:

    “From the two greatest storytellers of all time”


    Petey Jackson!

    As if they are in the same boat. I should see if Indy 4 was promoted with Luca’s name or not? Granted that had the giant LUCASFILM banner in front of it, but not everyone is going to make that connection.

    I mean I understand throwing Berg’s name on Reel Steel, C&A and Super 8 and I GET putting Jackson’s name on this, it’s just funny.

  11. ThereWolf says :

    Nice work, R2.

    Not that I don’t believe you or anything but… I can’t promise to put Tintin on my rental list even. I watched the trailer without a flicker of interest. The review makes me slightly more curious though, so, maybe one day…

    Thanks for the potted history of Tintin too. I was aware of the name in passing but not what it was all about.

    • Droid says :

      Thanks, Wolf. I must say, you’d be missing out if you didn’t even give it a chance. Just stick it on your LoveFilm list when it comes out on bluray. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  12. Toadkillerdog says :

    R2 – good review. I do plan on seeing this and I hope it is a great as you say

  13. bill madlock says :

    Good review Droid. Plan on seeing it here. As for the Unfortunate Congo logo, having read my ’36-37 Captn Easy and Wash Tubbs compilation the other day, was struck by the same depiction of all the black porters and maids in there. Good Tintin like adventures going on and then Blammo! Sambo time. Oddly enough the Missus who is black finds that stuff to be almost funny as its just So over the top. Almost being the key here.

    Warhorse sounds like Black Beauty set in Ww1. Is this meant to be Oscar bait? Never heard of it before.

    • Droid says :

      Ta, Bando. That’s the thing isn’t it. They’re such ridiculous charicatures that you really can’t take them seriously. Especially since they’re a product of their time. Surely there’s more important things to get upset about than a cartoon from the 30’s.

      I don’t really know what Warhorse is about either. I’m optimistic though.

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