The Adventures of Tintin : The Secret of the Unicorn  (2011)    0/100

Rating :   0/100            COMPLETE INCINERATION            105 Min      PG   

In brief : This would be a woeful and badly misjudged film if it were an amateur production. As it is, with the wealth of experience and talent behind it, it is simply unforgivable.

Mini review
As seen through the eyes of The Red Dragon (Contains spoilers)
Full review (Contains spoilers)

Mini Review : Expectations were high for this adaptation of a much loved classic comic book of the 20th century. Unfortunately, a true dearth of genuine thought in any major part of the production has created a hollow, slightly sinister shell, whose only real success in recreating the comics comes from literally reproducing some of their drawings in the opening sequence.

The pace of the film is frantic, leaving scant space for any characterisation and what little there is would have us believe Tintin to be a frenzied capitalist, child minded by his intellectually superior dog and happy to put up with the vagaries of an old drunkard so long as he has a purpose to serve. That purpose being the acquisition of treasure. A hearty attempt by the actors, but a shameful one by the filmmakers, leaving the film’s rating PG in order to make as much money as possible whilst fitting in a reference to bestiality, and flirting dangerously with the promotion of alcohol abuse.

Plot : Upon discovering an old antique model ship of the Unicorn, the young reporter Tintin is led on an adventure that sees him kidnapped aboard a mysterious ship, wherein he meets his co-adventurer Captain Haddock. The two discover that the ancestors of the captain and their captor fought over a horde of treasure, a now lost treasure which the pair must race to find before their dastardly competitor.

The Adventures of Tintin as seen through the eyes of The Red Dragon (Contains spoilers)

INTRO SEQUENCE : A creepy, dark, boyish character with no face descends into a nightmarish world of swivelling cameras and elevator musak. The audience discerns from the cinema ticket they have bought that this is probably Tintin. The length of this surreal haunted house ride, which rivals that of the five minute aired episodes of the 50’s TV series, together with a brief rip off of ‘Vertigo’, begets CONFUSION and DISSAPOINTMENT in the audience, themes which will become important as the film progresses.

STREET ARTIST : You look familiar, have I drawn you before?
TINTIN : Yes, many times.
STREET ARTIST : Of course! I have seen you in the newspaper!

The seeming incongruity of the opening dialogue is quickly washed away with the establishment of TINTIN as a slightly chubby journalist who is partnered with a small, white, wire fox terrier called SNOWY. SNOWY is then established as the more competent of the two as, whilst TINTIN panders to his ego, SNOWY notices and tracks several incidences of crime happening in the area.

TINTIN : Woah, I look great in this! Snowy come and look! What the devil have you been up to? Stop wasting time. Chasing cats again no doubt?
SNOWY : Woof. Nope. My job. Woof.
TINTIN : Woooooo look at this model ship! I want it!
SELLER : Two pounds for that young sir.
TINTIN : Darn it, I only have one pound left – I spent the rest on portraits and chips.
SELLER : Never mind, half price is still a pretty good deal, here you go.

Enter MYSTERIOUS AMERICAN immediately followed by DANIEL CRAIG. Both try to buy the model ship from SELLER, despite the fact TINTIN is now holding it. TINTIN’s determination to keep his hard earned bric-a-brac results is multiple accent fluctuations from DANIEL CRAIG.

MYSTERIOUS AMERICAN : Hey bud, you’ll give me that ship if you know what’s best for you, trust me. O shit it’s DANIEL CRAIG, I’m off, I remember what he did to that guy he just went to talk to in ‘Quantum of Solace’.

DANIEL CRAIG : Ah marvellous! It’s just what I’ve been looking for, no need to wrap it boy. What’s that? Yours you say, very well I’ll pay you anything you want for it, after all I strongly suspect it cost you your last pound. Still no! Look, this belongs to the house I just bought and as such generations of driiinking and irrrrational behaviour.

TINTIN : As strong a selling point as that is, I’m afraid the answer is still no. Though if you have money to burn, how about purchasing a wonderful portrait of yours truly?

TINTIN returns home, eager to investigate this ship, the Unicorn, further but is hindered by his inability to remember where anything is; in this case a magnifying glass. Luckily SNOWY is used to child minding his slightly slow friend and finds it for him. Use of the magnifying glass reveals the presence of SHAMEFUL EXCUSE FOR 3D ACTION CAT, which SNOWY dutifully chases, inaugurating the first of many such nausea inducing mini-adventures. The model gets broken and a clue falls out, which TINTIN then clods under the cabinet, despite SNOWY’S desperate attempts to catch it and his equally unsuccessful attempts to draw attention to it. The scene changes to the library, where we learn some semi-interesting things about the eponymous ship and are also given the line that sums up the whole film ‘Only a true Haddock will discover the secret of the Unicorn’. The audience are invited to insert a word of their choice in place of Haddock.

Upon finding the Unicorn model has been taken, the protagonist speaks for the audience..

TINTIN : Of course it’s gone! How could I have been so stupid! {Cue dramatic stare into space with lightning, as if Tintin’s stupidity is of monstrous proportions } Quick Snowy, let’s break into DANIEL CRAIG’s mansion and get it back by golly, as surely this screenplay cannot have left room for anyone else to have taken it!

* * *

TINTIN : Damn, grrrr, these .. gates, grrrr – it’s like they’re made of iron! Wait, Snowy, how did you get inside? Did you go through that hole in the wall that’s right beside me? You know, if I just followed you most of the time everything really would be a lot quicker. Why does that symbol look familiar? Why, why, why? Hmm do you know snowy? O that’s right you can’t talk. Darn it, wait, that fish – it’s a Haddock! I knew it looked familiar. Of course!! This is the Haddock mansion! What’s that snowy, I alluded to knowing this less than ten minutes ago? Well, I FORGET THINGS, OK?! Hmm that Haddock is making me think of chips …What’s that noi – eek a huge dog! Run for it snowy!!

SNOWY : Woof. Look, I know my master is a dullard, but could you not eat him please? I tell you what, let’s play a game of tickles instead, fair enough? Woof

The dogs play with each other whilst TINTIN breaks in through a window and finds another model of a ship.

TINTIN : Well, well, well. It seems we’ve caught our thief. {Ironically, Tintin is referring to himself }

TINTIN’s alertness proves incapable of detecting the old butler moving in behind him. TINTIN is then knocked unconscious for an indeterminate amount of time.

DANIEL CRAIG : I see you let yourself in.
TINTIN : I came to retrieve my property! This ship belongs to me.
DANIEL CRAIG : Are you sure?
TINTIN : Yes! It’s mine! Mine, mine, mine!

Tick… Tock…


Erm, it seems .. I… may have made a mistake. Snowy broke the mast on my ship, not my fault because my place is a mess you understand, and this one appears to be, well, not broken.
DANIEL CRAIG : Indeed, well appearances can be deceiving.
TINTIN : Ahem, yes, indeed. But wait, it still doesn’t make any sense God damn it! Why are there two models of the same ship? Such a thing must surely be unknown in the history of model ship making. And you have one already! Why could you possibly want another one? I demand to know! Answer me!!
DANIEL CRAIG : Look you impertinent little imp, might I point out that you have just committed at least two felonies, and yet you somehow have the gall to demand information on something as petty as model ships whilst still in my home? I could also remind you that I’ve already said I wish to recover the property of this house, or indeed suggest that I am simply a collector, and I should most certainly call the police.

Instead DANIEL CRAIG taps TINTIN on both sides with his stick, in another SHAMEFUL EXCUSE FOR 3D ACTION. TINTIN is ushered out by the BUTLER.

BUTLER : It’s a pity sir – that the mast broke on your model ship sir … I hope you found all the pieces … (Whisper)… things are so easily lost (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

TINTIN repeats this line to himself over and over again until he reaches the borstal he calls home.

TINTIN : ‘Some things are easily lost’ what does it meeeeeean snowy?! What in the name of all that is holy was he trying to tell me? O why is everything so complicated. It isn’t like the good old days when my stories had depth and meaning to them. Hmm. Some things are easily lost…

TINTIN finds his apartment has been ransacked

TINTIN : Great Snakes!!! What is it Snowy? What’s this…… Aha! This was in the mast!

SNOWY : Woof. Yes, if you’d ignored me a second time I would have left you, along with the audience. Woof

TINTIN finds a secret note, which he will later erroneously refer to as being written in Old English. His musings over the latest event in the day to be confused by are interrupted by a knock at the door. Thinking whoever robbed the place is quite likely to come back and knock at the front door, our young hero pulls out a pistol from the secret pistol carrying pouch in his trousers, quite at the ready to pump whoever it might be full of lead, in keeping with his growing persona of cat burglar/assassin. MRS FINCH answers the door in a nonsensical zombie like fashion, not being long out of her pod from ‘Invasion of the Bodysnatchers’.

MRS FINCH : Mr Tintin is very particular about who he admits after bedtime. I have to go back to my cocoa. I’ve got a very good book and a cup of cocoa. It’s really lovely.
MYSTERIOUS AMERICAN : I’m trying to tell you Tintin (again) your life is in danger!
TINTIN : From who? Answer me!!

Thankfully for the MYSTERIOUS AMERICAN at the door it’s not Tintin’s pistol that shoots him, but the much more fast acting, rapid gunfire of the bad guys behind him in the most unsubtle, sure to evoke witnesses, execution ever. Whilst in his death throes, the MYSTERIOUS AMERICAN manages to point to, most of, the letters on a newspaper that spell ‘Karaboudjan’, a word that TINTIN will erroneously refer to as being Armenian {it is actually a fictitious word, being a combination of the large lagoon Kara-Bogaz-Gol on the East of the Caspian sea, and the name of Armenia’s neighbour, Azerbaijan/Azerbaidjan}

The lackadaisical arrival of the police investigators THOMPSON and THOMSON the next day, reveals the unlikely truth that the recently deceased was a member of Interpol.

THOMSON : I’m incompetent.
THOMPSON : Really? I’m incompetent too!
THOMSON : Not nearly as much as I am. Here, let me show you by tripping over this cat and falling down the stairs. Owe.
THOMPSON : Oh really Thomson. I swear you put that cat there just to prove your point!
THOMSON : Well, we may be incompetent, but our plan to catch the pickpocket in the area is somehow almost about to work. Cheerio Tintin!

The inspectors leave, followed closely by SNOWY who has spotted a familiar figure..

TINTIN : Snowy?
SNOWY : Woof. It’s the pickpocket from the opening scene! Woof.
TINTIN : Snowy, what is it?
SNOWY : Woof. Oh seriously!! I’m a DOG and I can understand you! Woof.

Unfortunately for the intrepid fox terrier, TINTIN and SNOWY are then caught in a space-time continuum flux and, having been directly behind the others, are then transported some 200 metres further down the road. This effect is accentuated by eerie fog and what appears to be a Frenchified version of the Darth Vadar theme tune. It also allows for another pointless chase sequence wherein the pickpocket fails to steal the investigator’s wallet, and then legs it – although he does succeed in stealing TINTIN’S containing the note not written in Old English. TINTIN then runs into the middle of the road, where he is profoundly CONFUSED by the moving traffic. Luckily, the universe decides to make up for it’s previous transgression by having several men bundle TINTIN into a wooden crate marked ‘Karaboudjan’; thus saving our hero the headache of trying to work out what the word meant, and also the embarrassment of finding out it is not Armenian. SNOWY’s true identity of Indiana Jones in dog form is then revealed, as he enjoys another 3D escapade to catch up with the crate as it’s loaded onto a ship with the not Armenian name, helped on by a familiar sounding John William’s theme.

Upon regaining consciousness TINTIN discovers he has been probed by several men, locked in a cage, and is presently being confronted by DANIEL CRAIG, who at least offers him the comfort that he is not the only character who only has one set of clothes. TINTIN learns that there is a second riddle, though he considers them to be poems, and that DANIEL CRAIG is willing to go to great lengths to own both of them. After considerable mental stress he concludes that there is still more to discover about the story. SNOWY releases him from his bonds, allowing him to successfully achieve something for the first time in the film so far by escaping to the cabin above via the outside of the ship, albeit not before smacking himself and one incumbent CAPTAIN HADDOCK in the head with his makeshift grappling hook.

Meanwhile the resident seafaring goons, upon discovering the door to where they left him is either stuck or barred, and having been told to extract information from the unarmed TINTIN using whatever means necessary, decide the best way to do this is to blow the door off with TNT and then spray the interior with bullets. Then proceeding to not search the room, they decide he must have escaped.

CAPTAIN HADDOCK : So you thought you’d sneak in behind me and catch me with my trousers down!!!

The captain has been drinking heavily, and thus assumes he is now confronted by one of the young boys at port.

TINTIN : Hmm, I’d rather you kept them on.
CAPTAIN HADDOCK : O so that’s how he intends to finish me off, at the hands of a baby faced assassin!
TITIN : Assassin? How do you know I’ve killed people with my secret gun from it’s secret pouch? Who have you been talking to? Answer me!!
CAPTAIN HADDOCK : Argh what’s the use?! He’s turned the whole ship against me! NOBODY takes my ship!
TINTIN : Except him? Wait, you’re the … Captain?
CAPTAIN HADDOCK : Aye, I’ve been locked in this room with nothing but whiskey to sustain my mortal soul for days.

TINTIN opens the unlocked door, establishing the captain as an incompetent drunk and quite possibly the most hopeless character we have met so far, which is quite an achievement.

TINTIN : You are a drunk sir, I’m even more glad than I was before that you kept your trousers on. Now, if you’ll excuse me, several men with machine guns are trying to find me.

TITTIN and CAPTAIN HADDOCK bond whilst beating up a guard, whereafter formal introductions are made and TINTIN takes a large five second pause to process the importance of the captain’s surname. Meanwhile DANIEL CRAIG forgets he needs TINTIN alive and issues orders to kill him, and lets the audience know that both he as well as TINTIN intend to use the captain to uncover the secret of the Unicorn. The captain reveals that he did in fact learn the secret, but he then immediately got wasted and forgot it. He also reveals information that suggests there were three model ships made, TINTIN’s face glints evilly as he realises this.

For no apparent reason the captain then breathes a concentrated blast of rotten air from his lungs onto TINTIN’s face, revealing his alcohol abuse has at least granted him a sonic close-range weapon. Desperate to secure entry into the liqueur store rather than escape, the captain sends TINTIN to retrieve the key from the sleeping crew hands. One of whom, he tells him, lost his eyelids in a game of cards – TINTIN believes this – and another he suggests is a convicted sheep shagger, confirming this present incarnation may in fact have more in common with Captain Pugwash than Captain Haddock. Indeed, so demonically possessed is he in his craving for alcohol, he proceeds to snatch a bottle from TINTIN’s hands just as he is about to apply it to the back of a stooges head, potentially resulting in immediate capture and death.

They escape on a lifeboat (after some more Indiana Jones esque 3D fare, and finding out the Karaboudjan’s destination – the fictional Moroccan port of Bagghar, where the third model ship is to be found). Meanwhile THOMSON and THOMPSON accidentally apprehend the pickpocket and recover TINTIN’S wallet.

TINTIN : Can you get us to Bagghar?
CAPTAIN HADDOCK : Of course I can! Who do you think you’re talking to?! Only, don’t leave me alone with this here bottle. Seriously. I mean it. If I drink this, I will literally set fire to this boat whilst we’re in it.

CAPTAIN HADDOCK accidentally knocks TINTIN and SNOWY unconscious and proceeds to set fire to the boat, oars included, before pouring the rest of the alcohol onto the fire and causing a small explosion. Thankfully the hull of the small lifeboat proves to be mostly fire resistant and the trio are able to sit on the upturned, ruined boat.

CAPTAIN HADDOCK : Don’t blame me laddie, it should be bloody obvious by now I can’t be trusted in any way shape or form. It’s all my ancestor’s fault you see – Sir Frances Haddock, Captain of the Unicorn, was so very successful that I decided the only way I could compete with him was to become a drunkard. Which, by the way, I have been enormously successful at.

Fearing his actions may not have alienated the audience enough, CAPTAIN HADDOCK then tries to commit suicide. Right on cue a small plane sent from the Karaboudjan descends on them and completely ignores the previous order not to kill CAPTAIN HADDOCK. It is possible DANIEL CRAIG forgot to mention this to them. TINTIN proves his marksmanship skills honed from his days as a trained child assassin by shooting down the plane with one bullet. He also takes a moment to fire off some cheese at the same time.

The intrepid trio apprehend the plane, with TINTIN flying it directly into a severe electrical storm. This allows for a specific mini-adventure entitled ‘Fear and Loathing in an Aeroplane’, wherein SNOWY and CAPTAIN HADDOCK duel it out to see who can suck the most globules of surgical spirit, in no way, shape or form promoting and trivialising competitive alcohol abuse to the films primary younger audience. CAPTAIN HADDOCK is able to use the results of this via his sonic breath weapon to climb on to the front of the plane and blast enough vapour into the fuel tank to keep the vehicle in the air, proving being an alcoholic is not only funny, but can also save your life if stuck in a small plane during an electrical storm. TINTIN offers the disclaimer that the bottle is for medical emergencies only. Audience members are invited to question whether or not it would’ve been a good idea to add that surgical spirit is usually at least 70% proof, and as such completely lethal. Especially for all the children in the audience with access to medicine cabinets.

‘Fear and Loathing in an Aeroplane’ ends with a particularly violent crash that sees TINTIN smashed through the windscreen and all three of the intrepid adventurers nearly diced by the propellers. The wind largely prevents any bloodshed, gracefully maintaining the parental guidance certificate.

Now stranded in the Sahara desert, the captain looks at his empty bottle and delivers the only hint of pathos in the film so far.

CAPTAIN HADDOCK : You don’t understand! I’ve run out – I’ve run out! You don’t know what that means.

Whilst dying of thirst, the captain sobers up and begins to remember the tale his grandfather told him of the Unicorn. Exhaustion kicks in before the memory fully returns. Before the three are vulture food, they are found and taken to a French outpost to convalesce. TINTIN is told the captain is suffering from dehydration and as such is delirious. Despite sobering up being the catalyst for the return of his memory, SNOWY decides to switch his drinking water for some more surgical spirit, perhaps hoping to continue their previous game. After consuming a potentially lethal dose of ethanol, for some reason the captain’s memory does come back and the audience are able to continue the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ esque reimagining of his tale.

We see Sir Francis Haddock battle with the pirate Red Rackham for control of the Unicorn, and also learn of the secret hoard of gold hidden on the ship. Both the audience and the captain realise Red Rackam is the ancestor of DANIEL CRAIG, as they have exactly the same face. Sir Frances scuttles his own ship to prevent the gold from falling into the hands of Rackam, who issues forth a curse on the Haddock line (not at all like the cursed gold in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’) shortly before he explodes. The captain concludes DANIEL CRAIG is looking for revenge and the gold, and TINTIN reasons the captain is himself integral to solving the riddles hidden in the model ships. They resolve to beat him to it, and trek across the Sahara to Bagghar.

THOMSON and THOMPSON also decide to travel all the way to Bagghar to return TINTIN’s wallet, reuniting him with the first clue. Meanwhile DANIEL CRAIG is undercover as Mr Sugar Additive, and he unleashes his secret weapon of the Milanese Nightingale, an opera singer whose voice will resonate with, and then smash, the bullet proof glass protecting the third model ship. Clearly this was a back up choice instead of using the captain’s sonic breath weapon. During the Nightingale’s performance, the owner of the third ship is revealed to be none other than STEVEN SPIELBERG, who giggles inanely at the show. The captain’s permanently hungover mind can’t take the sound of opera and he leaves, considers taking a drink, but thinks better of it. His reward for this is to have the bottle smashed over his head by his ex first mate. The fact that he has the first clue then taken off him, leads TINTIN to almost confront him over his alcoholism for the first effective time.

DANIEL CRAIG’s devilish plan succeeds and so begins another 3D mini adventure as everyone chases the new clue and each other, during which they destroy several parts of the town’s infrastructure, and induce motion sickness once more in the audience. At the end of this DANIEL CRAIG is successful, leading TINTIN to despair. CAPTAIN HADDOCK suggests that there will be plenty of people that will call you all sorts of things, but you must never call yourself them; pay attention to the signal you give out to others, and if you believe in something fight for it, find a way to push through any obstacles that stand in your way.

This is interpreted literally as the protagonists corner DANIEL CRAIG at his next berth, and proceed to destroy several millions of pounds worth of dock land property trying to catch him. A police car is also violently crushed, with the fate of its occupants unknown. CAPTAIN HADDOCK’s old friend the bottle comes in handy once more as a weapon, until DANIEL CRAIG suggests he would be better served simply drinking it. CAPTAIN HADDOCK is in the process of agreeing with this before the surprise intervention of TINTIN. The captain then throws the villain overboard, and adds a final flourish by kicking the bottle which then lands on DANIEL CRAIG’s head, who is promptly arrested. The audience is pithily, and falsely, led to believe he has ‘kicked the habit’.

After all the excitement the scrolls combine to reveal latitude and longitude co-ordinates, which lead them right back to where it began, the Haddock mansion. Finding a walled-off part of the cellar, the final part of the riddle is solved as the captain’s knowledge of the seas allows him to find an island on an ornate globe that doesn’t exist. An island that, once pressed, reveals a hidden stash of treasure and Sir Frances’ hat.

CAPTAIN HADDOCK : WOOHOO! This calls for a celebration! Just a wee tipple you understand…

CAPTAIN HADDOCK downs two glasses of champagne.

CAPTAIN HADDOCK : I’m surprised there’s not more. I mean, you said Red Rackam had raided most of the South American coast.
TINTIN : Actually I never said that, but there is another clue here under the treasure pointing to the rest of it lying at the bottom of the sea. Screw journalism, how’s your thirst for money captain?
CAPTAIN HADDOCK : Unquenchable.

Thus the film ends cyclically, with CAPTAIN HADDOCK remaining an alcoholic, and TINTIN stroking his ego as he was at the film’s beginning, consumed by the desire for yet more unnecessary wealth. Perhaps he ought to have just accepted the blank cheque offered him for the original model Unicorn. A fitting tale of greed and folly for our financially tumultuous times.



Full Review (Contains spoilers) : From the befuddling bore fest that is the opening credits, to the stupefying heights of Captain Haddocks terminal alcoholism, this film fails dramatically at every turn.

‘The Adventures of Tintin’ were a hugely successful series of comic books by Belgian artist Georges Prosper Remi, better known by his penname Herge. Their publication began in the late 1920’s and continued right up until the mid 1980’s (Herge passed away in 1983). They have previously been converted into live action films, computer games and two separate TV cartoon series. Needless to say, expectations were high for a Spielberg production (his first animated film) in collaboration with Peter Jackson on production credits, Michael Kahn the Oscar winning editor, and the combined writing talents of Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish. They, just as their predecessors, must have had to address the two fold challenge of adapting the comics; firstly how to bring the adventures to the big screen whilst maintaining their spirit, and secondly how to deal with the thorny issue of Captain Haddock’s very adult alcohol problem in a child orientated film. Their response seems to have been to fudge the former and bolster to excess the later.

The film opens with an excessively long intro sequence. The silhouette of Tintin jumps to and fro on the screen as familiar images from the comics pass by around him. Dull black, green and yellow colours permeate everything as eerie disembodied music plays. The filmmakers seem to forget that this is the intro to their much anticipated film, and as such the first line of the story, in effect a statement of intent. Though, at least in its pallor they are consistent. Indeed, extremely poor music is a constant in the film, though it does markedly improve when the intrepid Tintin meets Haddock about one third of the way through. The music aids in giving the whole a hollow inauthentic feel, with French influences that would be more at home inside a desperate Pigalle café than here. To make matters worse, the score in several places sounds reminiscent of some of John Williams’ earlier work, in particular that of Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

After the intro we become party to the fully fleshed out world of Speilberg’s Tintin universe. Or rather, what should be a fully fleshed out world. The backgrounds and props all look detailed and well done, but the human characters look more like pallid, ghostly, plasticine shells of people than anything else. Tintin’s face first greets us with a slightly manic grin, appearing with significantly more podge on it than its 2D counterpart. So much so it’s impossible not to see shades of a modern day ned menacing around with bottles of Buckfast and Iron Bru hidden under a creepy, overly long raincoat. This image is strengthened early on when he breaks into the mansion of one Sakharine (played by Daniel Craig), thinking he may have stolen something from his apartment. In the comic he knocks on Sakharine’s door and asks him. Indeed, the character of Sakharine in the film is a merging of several from the comics, as is the whole story of the film; mashed together from ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’, ‘The Secret of the Unicorn’, and ‘Red Rackham’s Treasure’, with some things distinct from any of the comics. Most notably the majority of the action in the fictional Moroccan port of Bagghar, and the ensuing climatic dockland fight scene.

It’s not just the look of the characters that seems unfinished and unreal, but also their movements and their machinations. At times it’s almost like watching stop motion animation with a couple of frames missing, and the decisions of mostly everyone onscreen seem insanely dumb to say the least – such as the goons sent to extract information from Tintin who decide to burst in spraying the room with bullets, a room they believe to contain an unarmed boy, admittedly one who had managed to free himself and jam the door, but still! In fact it is Tintin himself who often seems to be the most devoid of intellect as he stumbles inanely along, merely an increasingly irritating device for forwarding the story than anything reminiscent of the hero many know and love from the comics. It is Snowy that proves the more capable of the two; a promise which is drowned out by the focus on alcohol in the second half of the film.

Throughout the viewer is constantly bombarded with all manner of excuses for chase sequences in order to try and justify the production being released in 3D. This includes a short one with the pickpocket, Aristides Silk, only made possible by inventing several score yards of pavement between Tintin and the Thom(p)sons where there were none before. This all gets very repetitive, very quickly. Red Dragon did in fact go to see the film in both 3D and 2D and can confirm if anything it’s actually a little worse in 3D. Certainly some of the sequences were nauseating enough without a third dimension being added to them. This effect also adds to the general sense of everything moving too quickly, with pointless and silly action replacing any form of characterisation. Things continue in this fashion from start to end, until the bombshell drops that is Captain Haddock.

In the comics the captain is first introduced in ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’, which is also the first adventure that was published during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, and as such the first written for a paper under German control. Herge was forced to abandon the Tintin story he had been working on and was put under strict censorship, ending the possibility of any more politically charged storylines. Indeed, after the war he faced charges of collaboration and anti-Semitism, partly for working for the German newspaper, but also for certain character depictions, such as seemingly portraying the bad guys in ‘The Shooting Star’ as decidedly Jewish. He always denied the charges, but admitted in later years that at the time he did think that perhaps the ‘new order’ may be the way forward for the world, but that this thought was hideously misplaced given the revelations of the aftermath of World War Two. ‘The Shooting Star’, together with the three comics used as material for the making of this film, were the only fully completed Tintin stories released during the German occupation. It is perhaps both slightly odd and ironic that Spielberg, having not only made the haunting ‘Schindler’s List’ (93) but also having fired Megan Fox from the ‘Transformers’ series for saying working for Michael Bay was like working for Hitler, should choose as the basis for his film the very stories which only exist as a direct result of Nazi intervention. Perhaps, had the filmmakers chosen some of the stories with a little more political intrigue in them the film would have had a lot more substance to it. There were no shortage of ‘banker’ like bad guys in the series, for example, that no doubt would find a lot of resonance with audiences today.

There is a strong theory that Captain Haddock is the legacy of this censorship, a creation in its maker’s image, representing the anger, despair, and frustration that Herge himself felt in the situation he found himself in. ‘The Crab with the Golden Claws’ has Tintin meet him for the first time aboard his ship, the Karaboudjan, a hopeless drunk maintained in a state of inebriation by his treacherous crew as they use the ship to smuggle opium. As the story progresses he then gets drunk and sets fire to their escape lifeboat, smashes a bottle over the back of Tintin’s head whilst he’s flying the plane they’re in, and tries to rip Tintin’s head off when he hallucinates the young reporter is a bottle of champagne. This is tempered though, by Tintin saying he needs the captain’s help but that he must promise to stop drinking, asking him to think of his reputation and what his poor old mother would think. At the end of the comic Haddock is seen to be giving an address against the demon of alcohol, seemingly reformed. Red Dragon’s own personal view is that this hypothesis is probably correct, and that Herge perhaps may have thought ‘OK, so I can’t do this, this, and this right? Well fine, let’s make a character who shouldn’t normally ever be a part of a children’s comic series and see if you bother to censor him.’ The ensuing character not being censored, went on to become the series’ most popular, not withstanding the eponymous hero. In ‘The Shooting Star’ the captain also holds the dignified position of the head of the S.S.S. (a society against drinking), but then abandons it with abandon, a thinly veiled dig at the S.S.?

It does, however, have to be remembered too that this was a very, very different time from now. Everyone the world over had more important things to worry about than whether or not Captain Haddock was a good or bad influence on their children. Most of the people in Europe, where the limited readership was, were more concerned with whether or not they and their children would be alive in a day/month/year’s time. Also, the captain is essentially initially portrayed as a monster, not someone anyone would want to be like. Tintin is always trying to reform him and is largely successful, as is the voice of authorship, such as when Haddock is given a very austere note from his doctor saying he absolutely must abstain from any more drinking. It is true that Snowy also seemed to get drunk on a regular basis, and even Tintin on occasion, but it also has to be factored in that this was, after all, a comic and the drunkenness was usually of a comic nature. Neither did the world then have the wide spread problem of cheap, easily available, alcohol, leading to abuse by minors and vulnerable people that plagues many a modern day society. The two cartoon series produced based on the comics, one in the late 50’s (which often departed from the original stories, and also contained some horrific racial stereotypes, but which is still fairly well known) and one in the early 90’s (which was much more faithful to the comics), both interpreted Haddock through this lens. The result was that the 50’s show essentially removed the drinking problem altogether, and the 90’s one toned it down into a caricature of the rum loving sea dog, primarily for comic effect (Snowy is also shown to turn his nose up at the smell of whiskey). These decisions make sense for more modern shows aimed at children.

How, then, did Spielberg and co decide to handle Haddock for their aimed at children adventure story? Why, they decide to make Haddock even worse than he was in the comics of course! His adventures with the bottle go as follows…

He is initially found drunk on the Karaboudjan, just as in every other retelling, but this time his mental health is so hideously deteriorated that he almost literally doesn’t remember anything about anything, and considers himself kept prisoner, despite the fact the door to the room is unlocked. Upon the promise of escape with Tintin, he decides to first put both their lives in danger by having Tintin steal the key to the drinks locker. During this theft he warns him to beware of one of the sleeping sailors, saying that the fellow was once fired as a shepherd on account of his ‘animal husbandry’. He might as well have just said he’s a sheep shagger. Tintin’s response upon finding his endeavours were to procure more alcohol is to look dumbfounded, compared to telling Haddock he should be ashamed of himself in the comics and cartoons. Perhaps it is the real Tintin who would feel ashamed upon watching this. Finally, trying to leave the boat the captain is so desperate for a drink that he snatches a bottle from Tintin’s hands just before he can knock out one of the guards with it, endangering them all once again.

Straight afterwards he sets fire to their lifeboat, essentially killing them but true to the comic. Then, in a major departure from the original material, we learn he drinks due to the fact that his ancestor of some three centuries ago was so successful that he feels he can’t compare, which must be the worst, most unbelievable excuse for being a drunk ever. As if that weren’t bad enough, he then tries to kill himself via drowning, but changes his mind when he espies a plane, showing he was quite happy to leave Tintin to his own fate and it was indeed the fact that they seemed doomed to thirst and starvation, and not regret over his drinking or misdeeds, that had prompted the suicide bid.

Perhaps the worst example of them all occurs when they are in peril in their small plane flying through a lightning storm. Cowardice strikes him and he reaches for no less than a bottle of surgical spirits to console himself. He and Snowy then have a contest to see how much they can drink as bubbles of it float around the plane, seeming to defy the laws of physics. Surgical spirits are 70-100% pure ethanol. But hey, that’s all right kids because Snowy and Captain Haddock had a fun drinking contest with it so you go right ahead to the first aid box/medicine cabinet and try some. Never mind the fact this will result in severe burns to your mouth and insides, and potential death. Or, why not give some to your dog? In the comic it’s a bottle of whiskey that resides in the plane, but the whole episode seems to have been inspired by the 50’s cartoon series, which was so dire in general that it should never have been counted on as a good source for anything. Haddock manages to save the day by breathing fumes from his breath into their fuel deprived plane. In fact, it is only through his alcoholism that any of them survive at all. So that’s all right then.

Upon sobering up in the desert, Haddock starts to remember elements of the story of the Unicorn. For some reason, upon later finding out he’s suffering from the effects of dehydration, the filmmaker’s way to get him to remember the rest of the story, via the previously precocious Snowy, is to get him drunk again. And on surgical spirits. Without his consent. Nuff said.

Running away from some live opera Haddock is tempted by some booze, and for the first time refuses. His reward for this is to have the bottle smashed over his head by one of the bad guys.

The main bad guy taunts Haddock at the end, suggesting he should just drink from the bottle he’s holding in his hand, as he isn’t good for anything else. We are led to believe he will actually resort to doing just that, and it is only the timely intervention of Tintin that stops him. He then kicks the bottle and it lands on the defeated villain’s head – has he then ‘kicked the habit’?

No. The last scene has Haddock guzzling two glasses of champagne.

He does have a moment of character, when he tells Tintin not to despair and though there will always be people who put you down and who will be ready to label you, you must never do it to yourself – that you must fight for what you want and push through any obstacles. It’s a nice speech for the film. It is nevertheless far too little, far too late. As is Tintin’s only real condemnation of his habit, that comes only when it looks like it’s cost him one of the clues he needs.

Haddock then becomes both a condition and character treated with irreverence. We are supposed to warm to him despite his faults and as such his actions are open and encouraged to be aped by the PG audience. Yet, his actions and persona are those of a dangerous madman, only still breathing through the luck of the gods. Indeed, they are all only still breathing because he is an alcoholic. The hiring of Andy Serkis for the role seems apt as the character has an awful lot in common with Gollum; consumed by his precious alcohol, constantly at war with himself and screwing the party over for his obsession, and yet, like Gollum, this mysteriously ends up helping everyone.

Tintin fares little better with his thieving activities, his seeming stupefaction at everything from the storyline to moving traffic, the rather sinister and all too ready way he pulls out a hitherto unseen pistol, and the way his driving motivation seems to be wealth. Wealth turned to greed as in the final scene the duo, despite having found a small hoard of riches, are preparing to set out for some more. His attention to detail is also in serious question, as he erroneously refers to the first clue he finds as being written in Old English. Fitting, perhaps, that the Golden Globes should choose to play this particular clip shortly before it somehow won in the best animated feature category. Thankfully the Oscars this year have snubbed the film almost completely. Steven Moffat, when asked in an interview, denied that as a reporter Tintin would have partaken in the modern day scandal of phone hacking. Based on the evidence of this film it seems entirely likely he wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

Red Rackham, the pirate whom Herge based on real life pirate Calico Jack (John Rackham), whilst watching his treasure being sunk into his soon to be grave, issues a curse on the Haddock line. This curse doesn’t appear in the comics, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ (03) anyone? Bizarrely, the character of Omar Ben Salaad, seems to be moulded in the image of no less than Steven Spielberg himself, unless the animators have made a very unfortunate error. One hopes that the original character’s occupation of opium trafficker has been written out of any backstory or possible sequels (the plan is to make two more, with Peter Jackson directing the next one). Unless when Ben Salaad titters away at the opera singing he is actually laughing at the audience.

The voice work is in general OK; Andy Serkis is quite good, Daniel Craig isn’t too bad, Jamie Bell isn’t too good, but there are a couple of poor films now mounting in the director’s recent backlog, namely ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’ (08) and his version of ‘War of the Worlds’ (05). Spielberg has himself described this project as an unashamed and unapologetic adventure, one guided by his instinct rather than by thought. The old artistic debate of heart versus head. His next release, ‘War Horse’, will be a good test of whether or not he is back on form. Also, not enough was made of Thomson and Thompson, the blundering police inspectors who were a constant entertaining presence in the comics, and who barely make an appearance here, though when they do they are well voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

It’s a fast moving film with no backbone that completely and utterly fails at an entertaining adventure story, especially one aimed at kids. It does however, accidentally succeed at belonging to another genre – the stoner movie. With it’s eeriness, quick pace, nonsensicality, manic music, and the voice of Haddock and other sound effects occasionally booming way out of proportion to anything else going on, it could play quite well as a centrepiece of the genre; ridiculing the script and construction of the first third, getting high upon the arrival of Haddock and the escapades in the plane, then the challenge of not vomiting or falling asleep during the water cascade scene.

For those of us not on drugs, watching this film may well leave you feeling a little light headed or in need of a nap. Rest assured, should you decide to take one you won’t really miss anything.

The Red Dragon


“Great snakes!”   Jamie Bell/Tintin

“Thundering Typhoons!”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

“Ten thousand thundering typhoons!”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

“Billions of blue blistering barnacles”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

“I don’t remember anything about anything.”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

“I know these waters better than the warts on my mother’s face”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

“And, and, and, stay clear of Mr Gitch. Sacked as a Shepherd on account of his … animal husbandry.”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

“By Jupiter I have a beard! Since when did I have a beard!”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

“Failed? There are plenty of others willing to call you a failure, a fool, a loser, a hopeless souse, don’t you EVER say it of yourself. You send out the wrong signal, that is what people pick up, do you understand? You care about something, you fight for it. You hit a wall, you push through it. There’s something you need to know about failure Tintin. You can never let it defeat you.”   Andy Serkis/Captain Haddock

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.