The long-awaited (at least for me) adaptation of Tintin truly understands its source material. This is proof that an adaptation needs to be its own thing. But that it also needs to give that sort of familiarity so that the fans get what they’re expecting.
First, let me start by saying that I love the Tintin comic books (as most Belgians do). I also love the 1991 television series and the movies (both live action and animated) made before that. Does this one fall under the same unconditional love? You’ll find out soon enough. I wanted that out of the way because, although I’ll do my best not to make too many comparisons between previous incarnations of the character and JamieBell/Weta Digital portrayal of him, Tintin (pronounced [tɛ̃tɛ̃]) almost feels like an imaginary brother to me. And I got to say; the Tintin in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is definitely my Tintin.
The movie opens, after jaw-dropping credits, on non-other than Hergé himself facing his creation. Sketching the young reporter who soon turns to the camera, asking an absent Snowy (thus the audience) what he (we) think(s) about the sketch of the Tintin we know and love. Get it? This is the character we all have been reading about for years; he has been a source of inspiration for his creator. Now, let’s move on… The film is roughly a mix of 2 books: The Secret of the Unicorn blends into The Crab with the Golden Claws after the first 30 minutes or so, while keeping scenes from the first, and most of the last act is completely original writing. Some scenes were altered to make them more Hollywood-like if you will (such as Red Rackham’s ship swings over the Unicorn in a storm) but Spielberg succeeds in keeping the character true to themselves throughout the film. Gags are directly taken out of the comic books (Captain Haddock’s parachute caught in the plane rotor mirrors a gag seen in Red Rackham’s Treasure).
The characters are true to those of Hergé and the story is in a pure traditional Tintin-style.
The most impressive work is the visual recreation of Hergé‘s drawing. Some shots seem to come from directly from the comic strips. Spielberg used a lot of handheld camera movement to stick to Hergé‘s style of continuing action from one comic strip box to the next, preferring two or more shot types in one by moving the camera forward or backward, thus making the film fast-paced. The best example is the incredible continuous shot during the pursuit of the falcon across the city of Bagghar in which we follow both Tintin and Haddock in non-stop action stunts. But the film can also slow down at times and focus on characters. They kept Haddock’s alcohol addiction from the comic books (absent from most adaptations) and somehow made him more likable than ever. Snowy’s loyalty for Tintin is shown multiple times through facial and body expressions, as well as in dedicated sequences in which he rescues him. Tintin’s young age (he’s believed to be between 14 and 19 years old) is more prominent than in the 1991 television adaptation or the 60s movies whilst still believable in the universe of the film.
In short, I love this film. Spielberg’s direction is impeccable. The characters are true to those of Hergé and the story is in a pure traditional Tintin-style. Add to it the sublime music composed by John Williams and you have yourself a great action-adventure film for everyone. It is not perfect, though. The story can seem over-complicated at times, liking characters across timelines as if we were in a Back to the Future movie and the whole curse subplot was unnecessary. But the visual beauty of Weta Digital’s work (even 7 years later) is stunning to look at. I still have a blast every time I watch it and, trust me, I watch it at least once a year since its release.