Tintin sets off on an adventure to discover the hidden treasure left by the ancestors of drunken sailor Captain Haddock, hoping to get there before the evil Sakharine.
Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have been responsible for some of the grandest spectacles in the history of blockbuster cinema, one of them all but creating it and the other redefining it, at the same time helping kickstart the event movie franchise. The pair team up here, as director and producer respectively, to create The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, the first movie of a planned franchise adapting Belgian artist Herge’s classic comic books, first seen in 1929.
Spielberg and Jackson deploy WETA Digital, the effects geniuses behind such technical triumphs as Lord of the Rings and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, to create a fully digital film, the characters created via cutting edge motion capture technology. The result is a phenomenal technical achievement however there’s no getting around the hollow feeling of the characters, each one resembling a dead eyed mannequin. The look of the film is stuck somewhere between live action and cartoon, leaving the characters looking like bizarre digital caricatures, devoid of any of the simplistic charm of Herge’s original drawings.
Heading up the mo-cap cast is Jamie Bell as the titular boy reporter Tintin, who we find at the film’s opening purchasing a model ship called the Unicorn from a market stall. Tintin soon discovers that the model ship contains a vital clue to the whereabouts of some hidden treasure and he is soon thrust into action as the sinister Sakharine (Daniel Craig) attempts to get hold of the ship. Tintin is soon kidnapped and finds himself onboard the Karaboudjan, an old steam ship captained by the drunken Scottish sailor Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis).
Haddock, it transpires, is the descendant of Sir Francis Haddock, a 17th Century Naval commander who’s ship, the Unicorn, was taken from him by the evil pirate Red Rackham. Tintin and Haddock join forces to escape and wind up in Morocco just in time to foil Sakharine’s plot to acquire the clues necessary to find the missing treasure.
The plot certainly moves at a clip but always just feels mechanical, constantly driving towards its next big set piece. The relentless action and shiny CG characters makes this feel more like a videogame than a real film, never slowing down for anyone to have a conversation that amounts to anymore than Tintin explaining what’s going on. This will all keep the attention of younger viewers, but the script offers nothing for adults to cling onto, no sly humour or knowing wisecracks. This is particularly disappointing when you consider the film was written by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block).
Though the quality of Spielberg’s craftsmanship is obvious and the effects are beautifully rendered, the end result is a blockbuster kid’s film with none of the crossover appeal that makes Pixar’s films so well revered. The fact that Herge’s work is highly distinctive and Spielberg has a strong personal stamp on his films makes the generic, robotic feel of Tintin all the more disappointing, lacking the class and warmth of the director’s best work. The film will play very well for young audiences but adults will struggle to get through it without nodding off, something you would never expect to say about a Spielberg or Jackson movie.