The life’s work of Belgian illustrator Georges Remi (whose nom de plume was Hergé), the Tintin comic series – originally published in French between 1929 and 1976 – has evolved in the intervening decades into a multi-billion euro business that includes dozens of international translations and more than 200 million sales, animated television series and films, two live action movies and even a dedicated museum in a Brussels suburb. A mysteriously youthful journalist with an even more inexplicable tuft of ginger hair, together with his devoted dog Snowy, Tintin resolutely follows his nose for a story as it takes him around the world, solving mysteries, exposing villains and engaging in swashbuckling adventures.
Now, thirty years after he first secured the film rights, Steven Spielberg has joined forces with fellow producer and director Peter Jackson to add a new chapter to Tintin’s tales, grafting state of the art 3D performance-capture technologies onto a characteristically fast-paced, globe-trotting treasure hunt, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of The Unicorn. After a sweetly animated opening credits sequence, which outlines the story to follow in abstract vignettes, we first meet baby-faced Tintin (Jamie Bell) as he is getting his caricature painted in a Brussels street market. As he pockets the artist’s familiar line-drawing, Tintin’s attention is drawn to a complex model of a 17th century sailing ship called The Unicorn. Having bought the model for a couple of pounds, Tintin is buttonholed by the sinister Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who offers to buy the ship from him, at any price. Despite being warned of dire consequences if the model is not restored to the original owners, Tintin declines to sell it on and is quickly drawn into an intrigue involving a vast treasure lost at sea centuries before, when a certain Captain Haddock’s ship was sacked by the dread pirate Red Rackham (also played by Craig).
With the only clue to the origins of the treasure stolen by a pick-pocket, who is in turn pursued by bumbling detectives Thompson & Thompson (Simon Pegg & Nick Frost), Tintin is kidnapped by Sakharine’s goons and thrown in the hold of a steam ship, hijacked from the grizzled Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), the only surviving descendant of the doubloon-losing original. Teaming up with the whiskey-soaked skipper, Tintin undertakes a daring mission to solve the mystery, taking in shipwrecks, plane-crashes, swashbuckling duels and dangerous feats of derring-do.
Spielberg’s first animated feature film is, essentially, a throwback to his original Indiana Jones trilogy, a slapdash, rip-roaring adventure that balances the stirring romance of old-fashioned serial adventures with the limitless toy-box of slick modern computer-generated imagery. In a succession of dazzling set-pieces, the director takes full advantage of the total freedom offered by the computerised medium but the script from British talents Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, values complicated action and a breakneck pace above the solid basics of character, wit and progress. The big set-pieces are exquisitely handled but the human details are found wanting. Tintin, in short, remains a rather dull fellow (even for a Belgian), dependant on the supporting cast of colourful caricatures and the curiously weightless stunt sequences to give him life.
Even with his bank of computers and an army of highly-skilled technicians (the end credits run a full eight minutes) Spielberg doesn’t quite match what Hergé managed with pen and ink. The first in a proposed trilogy, a cliff hanger ending sets up the next installment, to be directed by Jackson.