Tintin (Jamie Bell), his faithful dog Snowy and Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) set off on a treasure hunt for a sunken ship commanded by Haddock's ancestor. But someone else is also in search of the ship.
One need only a limited expectation that a film’s value lies in the spectacle of its 'colour and movement’ to argue that Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is anywhere near the great director’s best work.
Scripted by cool-kids-on-block Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright, the ...Tintin story condenses the key elements of three original 'Tintin’ plots (The Secret Of The Unicorn, The Crab With The Golden Claws, Red Rackham’s Treasure) into one tale of ambiguous clues, sunken ships and ancestral treasure-hunting that brings our hero (Jamie Bell) and his bumbling, alcoholic offsider, Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) into the dangerous world of the unscrupulous Red Rackham (Daniel Craig). Belgian comic-artist Hergé’s intrepid boy-journalist and his dog Snowy find themselves at the centre of a breathless, vivid cartoon that allows the dual Best Director Oscar-winner to thoroughly immerse himself in the latest technologies of his craft.
Working with like-minded producer Peter Jackson (who doubled as 2nd unit director), there is no question that Spielberg’s first directorial foray into the world of motion-capture moviemaking has rekindled the spirit of Indiana Jones in Hollywood’s most successful filmmaker; from the gorgeous opening credit sequence, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a work of stunning film artistry.
Spielberg’s toy box (which includes 3D textures as small as dust particles in torchlight and as vast as a Middle Eastern seaside city, and a freedom to whirl his 'camera’ every which way) enables him to construct a new giddy spin on a time and place with which he has found much success in the past (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List and the film that most resoundingly echoes with the spirit of ...Tintin, the vastly-underrated Empire of the Sun).
However, the prescient words of Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the chaos theoretician from Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park (1993), hang heavily over ...Tintin. Passing judgement on the ethics of recreating dinosaurs from fossilized DNA, Malcolm remarked, '...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should." Jurassic Park perfectly maximised the wonders of CGI, yet Spielberg tempered his usage of the technology; he balanced its impactful qualities with vital, old-fashioned assets such as solid storytelling and character flavour.
Spielberg’s dinosaur adventure came from his love of old monster movies like King Kong and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn may draw its narrative from similarly cherished works of yesteryear, but it more closely resembles the shallow spectacles he has produced of late, namely the Transformers franchise. These films exist to showcase technical whiz-bangery, which is the only reason that films about 5-storey robots should exist. But are the quaint adventures of an inquisitive 1940s-era Flemish teenager sturdy enough to support the machinery of modern moviemaking? Retro-themed projects in which Spielberg has indulged such directorial extravagance – the notorious flop, 1941, and the regrettable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – have been his least satisfying works.
The very nature of motion-capture technology defines what is so right and also just a little bit wrong with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. Hergé’s beautiful drawings always seemed so alive on the page; his Tintin was a perfectly real young man to generations of readers. Steven Spielberg has digitally-painted an animated playground for his version of the adventurer but his Tintin never becomes more than just another element within that vision. Hergé’s hero has lived for decades, elevated beyond his 2D panels; Spielberg’s cartoon creation is steadfastly bound to his 3D world.