Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

“How’s your thirst for adventure, Captain?” (Tintin)

It should be no secret that I’m a Belgian. And, as is mandatory on our dictatorial catholic schools, where the whips are aplenty and fagging is still a hip new thing, I have read all Tintin comics. When applying for a job, the topic would casually pop up: “What do you think of Thomson’s motivation on page 23 of The Temple of the Sun?”* To which we would find a fitting answer. Common practice.

Then came Steven Spielberg and we, the mighty Belgians, roared with outrage! What had he done to our ageless blank slate male? What had happened to the clear line drawing, Hergé’s trademark style? And – gasp! – character development? Seriously?!

In all seriousness, it turns out Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is actually pretty darn good.

The Secret of the Unicorn blends two albums together: The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws. When I first heard this, I thought it was crazy. Both albums are completely different: the former is set entirely in Brussels; the latter takes Morocco as a backdrop. But when you look at the film, it seems so obvious: this movie tells the story of Haddock: how Tintin met him, his backstory and even a bit of character development – how he kicked the bottle.

This works surprisingly well. In fact, I was amazed at how well this worked. While staying close to the source material (two comics that have aged remarkably well but feel old and stale nonetheless), The Secret of the Unicorn brings the characters (or rather: Haddock) to life in the spirit Hergé intended. And in doing all this, the movie stays dramaturgically correct. And incredibly witty. Not an easy feat. But hey, this is Edgar Wright. Easy feat is not in his dictionary. Not even in seperate entries.

That said, even if the story had been botched, it would have still been a thrill to watch. It feels like a roller coaster ride: there is a massive build-up to a roaring descent. Spielberg and Peter Jackson are obviously masters of the craft: the many action scenes are a pleasure to watch, be it the descent on motorcycle, the plane ride through the desert or the battle between two cranes. You can feel Peter Jackson, who did the tremendous action scenes in Lord of the Rings and King Kong. This guy is nothing short of a genious, a choreographer of (cartoon) violence.

Speaking of cartoons, the movie looks amazing. Where the trailers might lead you into the uncanny valley, the movie sets up the style perfectly. It never feels weird and it even “lifts” you into the film by starting with Hergé drawing Tintin, comic book style. A little detail that acts as a stepping stone into the film. There is never a moment where the characters feel unnatural or strange – you quickly accept the reality of the film and go with it.

Thoughts and things

  • I hope to see more of Thomson and Thompson in the next installment.
  • It was strange how the props switched between French and English. Important prop? English! Unimportant prop? French. Also, the model boat costing five quid was strange. That’s how you can tell this movie was ultimately made by an American.
  • One of the things done extremely well was capturing the time. I wonder how they’ll do that in the future films – seeing how later stories play in the sixties or seventies.

In all…

The Secret of the Unicorn is a very good film. If I had my doubts about Steven Spielberg when going into this, my doubts have been erased. The man can stay true to the spirit of the source material if he really wants to. He created a fast-paced, absurdly funny piece of cinema I could watch over and over again.

* This is complete bullshit. We all know Thomson and Thompson have a marginal role at best in that album.