The Critics: The Adventures of Tintin


3 out of 5

Dir: Steven Spielberg

Hergé apparently once said that Steven Spielberg was the only person who could ever do his Tintin comics justice on the big screen. A bold assertion that now, almost twenty years after first obtaining the film rights, the American director has attempted to live up to with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. The end product is spectacular, impressive certainly, but despite the who’s who of production, writing and acting talent attached, it fails to meet its lofty expectations.

The film’s visual style will be a major area of contention, with Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson opting to use the motion capture animation found most notably in the recent work of Robert Zemeckis, and Jackson’s own The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The result is, intermittently, both dazzling and uncanny. Environments and action scenes are stunning, vivid affairs, and characters move with a striking realism; however herein lies the issue. The pursuit of photorealism has landed Jamie Bell’s Tintin and co. somewhere between the expressive, slightly abstract animation of Pixar and the live-action adventures it aspires to, ultimately failing to capture the best of either. There’s a vacancy to the characters that fosters a sense of detachment, and even mo-cap master Andy Serkis’ swashbuckling Captain Haddock is a cold presence onscreen.

Where the Tintin diorama truly comes to life, however, is in its set-pieces. Spielberg’s penchant for outstanding action sequences is indulged, and the cast staggers from car chase, to plane crash, to industrial crane duel, with barely a pause for breath. The memorable pirate ship skirmish is a highlight; wheeling vessels and thundering canons engaging where the captains and crew do not. It’s here that the movie’s real value lies, and it succeeds in inspiring several flashes of genuine exhilaration. Even these moments though, for all their showmanship, are marred by a ponderous plot –there’s an awful lot going on in Tintin, but much less really happening – and despite the gratuitous pointing and gesticulating in an attempt to justify the unnecessary 3D, Tintin, Haddock and villain Ivanovich Sakharine (a serviceably devious Daniel Craig) remain decidedly two dimensional.

Spielberg and Jackson have crafted an impressive picture then, and one which certainly delivers on spectacle and bombast. As a rollicking blockbuster it checks all the boxes, but beyond the ostentatious pomp, there’s an underlying sterility. The Adventures of Tintin has the form of a great adventure film, but it lacks the soul.


  1. ‘Uncanny-ness’ tends to get mentioned each time a newer & better motion-capture/CGI endeavour appears – of course it stems from a poetic translation of an idea coming out of Mashiro Mori’s work – the ‘Uncanny valley’ ( – a term used to describe the ‘ug’ factor which makes the ‘acceptability’ of puppet-like objects plummet as they approach ‘almost’ real. There’s something I’ve been thinking about since watching Tin-Tin, that people often forget – the uncanny valley does have two sides – neither of them vertical. I think CGI is struggling up the steep final slope, and the summit of acceptability will eventually be reached. The good news is that this does not seem to be about disposing of actors – as people once thought – but about giving performers (led by actors like Andy Serkis) a broader pallet of ‘CG makeup’ with which to deliver their craft.


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