Blu-Ray Review: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: SECRET OF THE UNICORN Shines at Home

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic
During the closing months of 2011, fans of Spielberg were gifted with two interesting cinematic presents. There was War Horse (Blu-Ray review here), the classically framed epic fable that didn't entirely satisfy its lofty ambitions, and The Adventures of Tintin, the first of two films that was done in tandem with Peter Jackson and his VFX powerhouse Weta Digital.

In the supplementary materials, Spielberg tells the tale of first hearing about Tintin when reading a French language review of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here in North America, save for those more attuned to things Francophilic, or areas such as Québec and other parts of Eastern Canada, Tintin simply did not have the cultural impact that it did almost everywhere else in the world. In fact, the popularity of another Belgium comic, The Smurfs, was far more of a cultural touchstone on this side of the Atlantic than the madcap adventures of a young reporter. Heck, even Goscinny's Asterix saw more play in my childhood than Hergés characters, save for a certain band that named themselves after those Thomson/Thompson characters (who we're told, over and over in the making-of documentary, are NOT twins!).

Peter Jackson, meanwhile, tells of the Tintin books being his favourite from a early age, even going so far as to be at the library as a child, attempting to translate the speech bubbles word by word when the pictures in rare occasions didn't provide the entirety of the story's narrative drive. Spielberg makes a point to say that these two points of view, the neophyte fan (Spielberg worked on this project for more than 20 years!) and the life-long admirer joined creative forces for a project of such titanic collaboration as to hearken back to the guy who made Jaws hooking up with the guy who made Star Wars.

There's much to admire in this motion captured world that these two artists and their near-thousand person crew managed to create. Using the latest tools of virtual camera technology, Spielberg was able to work using the same paradigms he always shoots live action (master shot, to close ups, to two-shots) all on a chicken-wire and mesh cage virtual stage in Los Angeles. In 30 days he shot his entire film, a month later the cut by Michael Kahn was done, and the whole thing was sent for a further two years of production by the New Zealand crew.

With this new freedom, Spielberg is able to perform some extraordinarily dexterous shots. A fly through a North African town is the showpiece shot, an astonishing, triumphant chase of a bird and a piece of paper that's dizzyingly fantastic. It's a particularly effective shot in 3D, one of the many times (the beautiful credit sequence, the pirate ship battles) where the extra dimension did wonders to instill a sense of both depth and scope to the picture.

As a straight out, unapologetically action-filled romp, it's hard not to love a lot about the film. Sure, there are moments of slightly clunky pacing, but it all pretty much works out in the end. The script is by a pantheon of modern Brit cult icons, with the first draft done by Stephen Moffatt [one of the principals behind the BBC's modern Doctor Who and Sherlock shows], with and Edgar Wright [Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim] and Joe Cornish [writer/director of Attack the Block] taking over to finish the project. The performances, from Jamie Bell, Daniel Craig, and especially Andy Serkis are a tremendous amount of fun.

Having zero expectations for the story, holding no emotional attachment to the source (I couldn't care less that they renamed "Milou" to "Snowy") we get the kind of film that acts almost like some yappy dog, almost apoplectic in its desire to please.

The Discs

Paramount brings Tintin home in a pretty stunning 4-disc set, including two Blu-Rays (2D and 3D respectfully), a DVD and a Digital Copy disc.

The 2D version looks about as great as can be, capturing in intricate detail the stunning models and settings that Weta managed to bring to screen. While it's no surprise that a straight-to-digital transfer would look this great, it sometimes behooves one that's been a film collector for so long that to have something this pretty looking at home remains what for years was but a dream.

For those equipped to play it, the 3D version looks equally fantastic. They've done a pretty spectacular job with the 3D, allowing it to flourish when required, and dialing things way back when the shot calls for it. I can only hope that The Hobbit will employ a similar strategy when we see PJ's vision on screen next December, even if it's produced in an entirely different fashion.

If you missed a chance to see the film in 3D, or still can't stomach an entire film using the process, I recommend giving both the title sequence and the bird/motorcycle chase a chance, they're simply wonderful examples of the creative use of z-space, and end up being far superior to their capable, yet lacking 2D versions of the same sequence.

The 7.1 DTS lossless surround mix also lives up to the level you'd expect. The Williams score, with its blaring trumpets, often echoes both Raiders and the work that Jarre did for Lawrence of Arabia. In an animated film every minute sound must be carefully orchestrated, and the fabulously balanced and bombastic soundtrack enables you at home to hear each and every intricate element.

advTintinUnic-ext2.jpgSupplements

The main supplement for the film is an extended, 90 minute documentary that splits itself into specific sub-categories ("the score", "conceptual design") in order, I believe, to adhere to a particularity of disc production costs. There's a quirk in the contracts of participants in these films, if you have, say, a 10 minute documentary, you don't need to pay as much for the usage as you would for one that would be considered "feature length". As such, you'll often find these things split up in seemingly arbitrary ways.

Luckily, on this disc, the Laurent Bouzereau produced piece plays very much as a whole (with a "play all" feature helpfully included!), starting off with the ubiquitous on-set Spielberg champagne toast, and ending with the same. In between we get a real sense of the production, the process of motion capture, the passion and challenges undergone by the crews operating on opposite sides of the world. More details from the perspective of the animators would have been a welcome addition, but finding a way to tell that two-year long tale in more specific detail may well be covered with the release of Jackson's own upcoming Tintin film.

In closing

Tintin would have completely rocked my world as a child, it's the closest that Spielberg has come to having the unabashed freedom to revel in adventure since Raiders. While it may not be quite as astonishingly great as the first man-with-whip-and-hat film, it shows a vitality and vigour from Spielberg that's been lacking occasionally from his recent projects.

The disc itself is certainly reference material for both 2D and 3D presentations, and the documentary does better than most in granting an intimate look behind the scenes. In short, the Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn 4-disc collector's edition is most certainly recommended on all grounds.

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