I’m not a huge fan of the concept of heroes. I find them generally rather unsatisfactory – I don’t see what’s so great about a character who’s so very good when it’s quite plain that there’s no other way they could be. I don’t know if that makes any sense. What I suppose I’m trying to say is that all too often, the character lacks any sense of realism. The more flawed the better.
This is why Captain Haddock is a hero of mine. He’s a bad-tempered, clumsy, middle-aged drunk. He’s impulsive, and prey to his own emotional outbursts. He’s a magnet for life’s little annoyances, whether of his own making or pushed upon him by whatever deity governs the Tintin universe. Yet at the same time, he’s also a very loyal individual with a strong sense of morals who is constantly battling his own failings to do what is right. This, I think is the appeal of the character – he is ultimately good, but it’s not easy.
Hergé, creator of the Tintin series, seems to have been Haddock’s biggest fan. The Captain was introduced in the ninth book, The Crab with the Golden Claws. In this, he was a purely supporting player, a pathetic alcoholic who hinders Tintin as much as he helps him. By The Secret of the Unicorn, two volumes later, he’s practically an equal protagonist. It’s quite clear that Hergé saw something of himself in the character, indulging as he did in the author’s own interests in exploration, fashion and the odd tipple. He also gave the rather introverted Hergé a means to work through and laugh at his own frustrations in life.
This is a rather longwinded way of telling you that I went to see The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn last night at Feltham Cineworld, which is perhaps the most un-Tintin location in the world. As you’ve probably gathered, I’m something of a fan of the original books, so this was a film I simply had to see by law.
On the whole, I thought it was a pretty awesome film. It mashes up The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and bits of Red Rackham’s Treasure, with elements of original story to give the whole thing an overarching antagonist.
For a Tintin geek, there was a lot to enjoy. As well as the three books the story is based on, I spotted references to The Black Island, King Ottokar’s Sceptre, Cigars of the Pharoah, Tintin in America, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, The Shooting Star and Land of Black Gold. That’s excluding the overt references in the title sequence. There’s a blink-and-you’ll miss it cameo by Cutts the butcher and an appearance by Le Petit Vingtième, the rarely-seen newspaper that Tintin actually writes for. No doubt a Tintinologist could find many more.
The animation is worthy of note. It utilises motion capture, a form of animation whereby a real life actor’s movements are rendered in CGI. Attempts at full motion-capture animation have an unfortunate tendency to fall into the Uncanny Valley (see The Polar Express), and based on the early trailers I feared this might fall victim to that. However, it’s not so – perhaps because the film doesn’t go for outright realism with its characters, but caricatures. After the initial jolt, you quickly become used to the animation and get absorbed into the world.
The attention to detail in rendering said world is breathtaking. The setting is fairly ambiguous in terms of time and place, but nevertheless a stunning amount of work has gone into every setting. This is very befitting of something based on the stories (if not the ligne claire art style) of Hergé, who researched his artwork intricately. Such is the quality of animation that despite the obviously exaggerated characters, I often found myself forgetting that what I was watching was actually a cartoon.
I have to say, the film falls down a little where it departs from the original books. Trying not to give too much away, the flashback to Francis Haddock’s confrontation with Red Rackham in The Secret of the Unicorn differs significantly from the original album, abandoning Hergé’s meticulously-researched and historically-accurate sea battle in favour of a conflict in which, how can I put this, a ship swings over another ship by the rigging. Red Rackham’s treasure is no longer brought over to the captured Unicorn from the damaged pirate ship, but is a secret cargo aboard the man o’ war (how much cargo space does a warship have, anyway?) – that’s fine, but if we’re saying the treasure isn’t Rackham’s to begin with, the film’s major antagonist doesn’t exactly have the motivation to go after it. Given that the antagonist was basically invented for the film, this is a slightly bizarre point. Complicating matters further is that by the end of the film, they’ve decided that the treasure actually was Rackham’s, from “plunder[ing] half of South America.” I’m guessing this line was to set up a sequel centred around The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun, but it complicates further a plot that doesn’t make much sense.
That being said, there’s a lot to enjoy about this film. It’s a fun old-school action adventure reminiscent that stands out from the kids’ movie crowd. It’s more cartoony than the original comics, certainly, but if you can let that go it’s a fresh take on Hergé’s world. And if audience reaction is anything to go by, your kids will love it.