December 21st, 2011 in Reviews by 0 Comments

Take one of the most popular and enduring comic books in the world. Filter it through the minds of two of the most popular and inventive filmmakers in the world. The resulting animated feature film should be magic, right?

That’s the lure behind this week’s family spectacle The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, based on the comics of Herge, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson.

Utilizing state-of-the-art motion-capture animation techniques, this new film finds Jamie Bell providing the physical and voice performances for the title character. In the comics he’s a boy newspaper reporter with Oprhan Annie eyes who, accompanied by his not-so-dumb dog Snowy, finds himself embroiled in adult intrigue.

In the movie he comes across a bargain at a flea market in the form of a model ship. No sooner does he purchase it than he finds two other interested parties hoping to buy it away from him. One is a frantic American who warns him the model is trouble. The other is the less frantic Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig).

Tintin refuses to sell, only to find himself enmeshed in a web of murder and intrigue surrounding the ill-fated ship the model represents: The Unicorn. Soon he’s pursuing Sakharine and his crew aboard another ship, piloted by the drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a descendant of Sir Francis Haddock, who sunk the Unicorn and made his family name infamous in the process.

So so the chase is on with Tintin and Haddock hoping to thwart Sakharine and recover the secret of The Unicorn before their foe does.

The movie is basically a big follow-the-clues-to-the-treasure story, punctuated by Indiana Jones style set pieces. It certainly moves along at a frantic enough pace to keep audience members interested.

Where the movie really shines is in Spielberg’s inventive use of motion-capture to create innovative visuals. The most notable example is a scene in which Captain Haddock, in the present, is pantomiming out a story about Sir Francis Haddock’s battle with the pirate Red Rackham. Spielberg lets the scene melts back and forth between past and present with the like-modeled Haddocks moving in perfect synchronicity even as their settings change around them.

That, along with some interesting scene transitions between scenes is where you feel like you’re getting something special from the film.

What doesn’t work so well is the modeling and appearance of the characters. The structure of the characters is somewhat cartoony but the texture and features of the characters are hyper-real. This unfortunately lands them uncomfortable close to the Uncanny Valley, in which computer generated humans are so close to being convincing that the ways in which they are unreal becomes unsettling.

We wonder if the movie would have worked better if they had kept the character designs closer to Herge’s drawings, or gone completely the other way and made a live-action film.

Regardless, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is still fairly entertaining and should hold the interest of younger viewers, even if it doesn’t reach the level of all-ages magic that we might have expected from its pedigree.

Author: Rob Worley

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