The Adventures of Tin Tin    
Directed by Steven Spielberg     
Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Craig      
107 minutes   

When intrepid reporter and popular Belgian sweater enthusiast Tin Tin comes across a mysterious model ship at a market stall, he and his faithful canine companion Snowy are caught up in an exciting and dangerous race against time to uncover the secret of the Unicorn. Accompanied by the hapless detectives Thomson and Thompson and the intoxicated mumblings of the colourfully uncouth Captain Haddock, Tin Tin goes after the scoop of a lifetime and investigates the history behind a Haddock family mystery, while avoiding – with questionable success – a premature death at the hands of sinister goatee-sporting antique dealer, Ivanovich Sakharine.

Anyone with even a passing interest in comic books couldn’t help but be impressed by the talent lining up to interpret and translate Hergé ‘s classic war-time comic strip adventures into this jaw-dropping 21st century motion capture 3D epic that crashes cinemas before Christmas. Director Steven Spielberg – a relative rookie in the animation department – has teamed up with CG wizard Peter Jackson (producing this time round) to recreate Hergé ‘s hand drawn hero in scintillating 3D with enough computer generated buffoonery and heartfelt Indiana Jones-inspired adventure to get the festive film season off to a jolly old start.

Jackson’s digital effects workshop WETA, responsible for the revolutionary motion performance innovations behind The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, have raised the bar once again to give Spielberg’s boyish enthusiasm for “unapologetic shameless adventure” a gorgeous vitality, bringing Hergé ‘s creation to life in vivid detail with truly breathtaking visuals. Never before have digital effects looked quite so special.

Putting their talent where their mouths are, Spielberg’s crew of distinguished cast members collectively boast an impressive resume as a ballet dancer, a double agent and a giant gorilla. Jamie Bell slips seamlessly into the title role, our daring reporter with an eye for danger and a penchant for the peculiar. Daniel Craig is the malevolent Mr Sakharine, lending his moody tones to the villain of the piece, an alarming cross between a pixelated portrait of Richard Branson and Steven Spielberg, with the former’s capital and ambition and the latter’s obsessive eye for control. Doing his best thick Scottish accent as Captain Haddock is motion caption maestro Andy Serkis, as comfortable by now in the distinctive performance capture attire as in his own skin.

Each character brings their own peculiarities to Hergé’s colourful and richly nuanced world where it seems every eventuality is a distinct possibility as Tin Tin, Snowy and Haddock traverse the globe as if with the turning of a page. From tanker to bi-plane, ocean to desert, from Brussels to some place hot we can’t pronounce, Spielberg’s scope is ambitious to say the least, stitching together his plot from three of Hergé’s books, and for the most part, his ambition is realised. You can’t resist being swept along by the sense of adventure which Spielberg has captured and distilled to great effect here with characteristic flair. The spirit of Hergé is most certainly alive and well in The Secret of the Unicorn and a few small details lovingly rendered earn the viewer’s attention and reward it with interest.

Hergé ‘s winning formula balanced the exuberance of Tin Tin’s high octane adventures with charming and relatable characters and witty, engaging dialogue and the film remains faithful to the carefree sense of adventure which was the at the heart of its one dimensional-forebears. Its 90s cartoon incarnation saw the comics come to life and offer its young audience entertainment that was at once more traditional than its peers but all the more fresh because of its old-fashioned manner. Rather than playing down to its young audience the Tin Tin comics and cartoons offered hungry and impressionable young minds a sophisticated, cultured and courageous role model while inviting older viewers to indulge their half forgotten childhood fantasies on one of Tin Tin’s adventures.

Where Spielberg and Jackson’s interpretation falters slightly – disorientated, perhaps, in the digital ether – is the connection between the characters and the audience, which is notably lacking. We feel an outside observer at times, appreciating the view yet unable to engage with it and not quite knowing why. While the set pieces are stunning in their composition and impressive in their delivery, they don’t strengthen the whole or lend it any of the integrity which the plot is missing, so crucial scenes aren’t as memorable as they might be. The film is undoubtedly entertaining but it’s also vaguely disappointing.

Tin Tin is most certainly a triumph in all things visual. You can virtually smell the passion and the dedication painstakingly programmed into every pixel. What it lacks in narrative integrity and character depth it makes up for with giddy enthusiasm and thrilling set pieces. Older viewers and expectant Hergé fans may be left wanting but children of all ages will leave wanting more.    

Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity. 

Ronan Wright is a graduate in Film Studies from The Queen’s University of Belfast. As well as contributing to MercatorNet as a film critic since March 2011 he has run Filmplicity, a Belfast-based film...