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Saturday, November 12, 2011


Release date in India:
November 11, 2011
Steven Spielberg
Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig

“Blistering barnacles” and “thundering typhoons”, an ageless hero, his alcoholic associate and canine best friend … I can go on about the reasons why I’ve always enjoyed Tintin. Earlier this year, after resisting the temptation for months on end, I even bought myself the 21 DVD set of animated Tintin films. I can’t claim to be as much of a Tintin expert as the little fellow I met in the lift right after this film’s Delhi premiere, but I’d say I know the boy reporter from Belgium rather well. Which is why it’s such a joy to report back to you that I really had a good time watching this film!
Directed by Spielberg, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn draws on all the Tintin books created by the Belgian artist Herge, though it is primarily based on three of them: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. It’s a performance capture 3D film that has used actor Jamie Bell to create the character of Tintin, Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) for Captain Haddock, and Daniel Craig a.k.a. James Bond as the evil Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine.
The film starts with Tintin and his dog Snowy ambling through a marketplace when our hero’s eye falls on a model of a ship called the Unicorn. As soon as he buys it, he’s accosted by a stranger desperate to buy it from him. The ship is later stolen from Tintin’s flat, sending him off on a series of adventures that take him from the ocean to a burning desert, all the way to a port town in Morocco and back home. Along the way he befriends Captain Haddock and briefly encounters Bianca Castafiore whose glass-shattering singing voice is familiar to all Tintin buffs.
Spielberg’s film is a humorous and suspenseful action adventure filled with high-adrenaline fights and chases, snappily edited by Michael Kahn and further elevated by John Williams’ music. 3D adds to the gasp-worthiness of The Secret of the Unicorn with cars racing towards us, the ocean threatening to splash out at us, and those planes and cranes hurtling around as if they may just lop off our heads. In some scenes the film does suffer from the usual dimness that is the bane of 3D films, but I’m not going to crib, considering the pluses the third dimension offers.
Some of the human beings in this film marvellously match up to Herge’s colourful world. Serkis’ Captain Haddock especially took my breath away because he feels like an entirely live human being, not the product of performance capture, and looks precisely like the Haddock of the books. I’m not sure why Spielberg chose to make him sound Irish, but I swear on all those billions of blue blistering barnacles, he seems like he just rose out of Herge’s two-dimensional pages and ballooned out into a whole, live man! The other remarkable characters are the film’s main villain Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine and the pirate Red Rackham.
Disappointingly though, the least appealing players in the film for me were Tintin himself and Snowy. Quite in contrast to Haddock’s lively and dynamic face, Tintin appears strangely flat and a tad expressionless. I’m not sure whether this is the fault of technology or Jamie Bell’s acting, but it took away some of the joy of watching this otherwise delightful film. Another downer is the fact that Snowy is not as central to the proceedings as you’d expect. We also don’t get to know the dog’s thoughts as we do in the books, which is a pity because I’ve been curious all this while about how Spielberg would handle that.
Still, the overall impact of this film is positive, energetic and thoroughly entertaining. Unlike James Cameron’s visually revolutionary Avatar, the technological milestones crossed by The Secret of the Unicorn don’t overwhelm the plot. In the past, I’ve found myself wondering why directors bothered with performance capture when they could just as well have opted for live action, but here the technique somehow manages to capture the look of Herge’s art work more effectively than a regular film might have. Considering the quantum of modern technology that has been invested in this film, it’s also lovely to see that Tintin’s cellphone-less, computer-less world comes across in the film as timeless, yes, but not dated at all.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was released in October in Europe – where Tintin is traditionally strong – after which it’s come to India six weeks before the US release. The idea has been to create worldwide hype before taking it to the moneyed audiences in the US, a country where Herge’s comics never achieved the popularity they did elsewhere. If this film fares well at the box office, co-producers Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson plan two sequels. Rarely has a film’s ending been such an unabashed ad for a follow-up as it is in The Secret of the Unicorn. So here’s my wish list for Parts 2 & 3 if they happen: I want Tintin to look more real, I want Snowy to think or speak, I’d like Thomson and Thompson to have more verve and chemistry, and oh how I’m waiting to meet Professor Cuthbert Calculus! Fingers crossed for Steven and Peter!
Rating (out of five): ***1/2

PS: Don’t miss the opening credits and look out for the tribute to Herge in the very first scene

Release date in the US:
Scheduled for December 21, 2011    
MPAA Rating (US):
PG (for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking)
CBFC Rating (India):
U without cuts
Running time:
109 minutes

Photograph courtesy:


  1. Thts a review which captures the essence of the movie.The movie is really a joyride!

  2. Finally, a review that does gracious justice to Spielberg's imaginative effort without taking itself too seriously. It's amazing how most critics have rated this fun film as average. This only confirms the old rule, that one MUST see the film all critics have blasted in disparate chorus. For this review, I say: Yes, Anna, Yes!
    Since I agree-and rather vigorously-with all the good things you have said about the film, I will confine (restrain?) my reply to addressing your critical comments.
    3-D: The dimness is a drag but it is minimised if one opts to sit closer to the screen. My hit and trial experiments say that the fourth row from the screen is best in the usual PVR-sized theatres. That may not, however, work for everybody. That said, I will try see the film again in 2D. It's too good not to experience in another dimensional setup.
    Tintin: Yes, a tad expressionless, but quite like Tintin really, for one never ever really sees him in paroxysms of emotion in Herge's panels. And I guess having him as a calm foil against all the raging characters in the film gave was just the right relief. Then, the Tintin we've known is quite English: stoic, hanging on in quiet desperation, and all that. And yes, the trademark two drops of sweat did appear, for a nanosecond in the incredibly well done credits. And 'Great Snakes!'
    Snowy: No thought bubbles, yes, but he fit right in. And the circular focus did close in on his happy dog face. I think Snowy was very well done. Any more and it would have induced 'Lassietude'. Then again, why do a Shrek on Herge?
    And we all missed Calculus, but hey, we got that lovable rogue Allan, and didn't he just leap out of the comic universe from childhood light years away?

  3. Hi Nardeep,

    I’m thrilled to receive an endorsement from a true Tintin buff. I hope other readers of my blog follow your recommendation for 3D viewing. Unfortunately for me, I get severe headaches if I sit too close to the screen in a movie theatre, so I won’t be able to test your advice.

    You raise an important point about the character of Tintin in the film. I did consider the possibility that the contrast between Tintin and Haddock registered at a sub-conscious level and contributed to my enjoyment of the film. I also considered whether Spielberg had deliberately made Tintin expressionless as an interpretation of his usually unruffled demeanour in the books. But I decided to make the point anyway because I feel Spielberg has confused calmness with expressionlessness. Besides, Tintin’s face is also slightly flat here. Did you notice the beginnings of crow’s feet around his eyes? If they could have got that delightful bit of detailing in, why not a hint of some expression at least occasionally?

    Incidentally, you’ll never find a film that “all critics have blasted in disparate chorus” ... but I’m sure you know that already. :)

    Warm regards, Anna

  4. OK Anna, here's a quick question. Will it be fun for a 5-year-old? She hasn't read Tintin but yes I too have the entire collection (I asked my parents to gift it to her last year on her birthday when they didn't know what to get her and my dad's sure I had them buy it more for me than her), so she's watched several of them and is familiar with the characters.

  5. That's a tough one, Geetika. The film is colourful and energetic so she will probably enjoy it even if she doesn't understand it, but it's so hard to tell with a child that young. Did she like the animated series? If yes, then certainly she's likely to like this film too. The only guideline I can give you with confidence is that the premiere theatre was filled with children of all ages and it seemed to be a universal hit with them. My friend's 11 year old son who I met at the premiere declared it a 4.5 star film! Hope that helps. :) Anna

  6. So happy the shop is open!! Got some lovely things that sound great-thanks so much!