The full richness of Hergé's treasures remains elusively buried as the great Spielberg fails to convince.
"I believe I've captured something of your likeness," declares a portrait artist in the opening scene of Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, as he holds up a roughly inked sketch that is instantly recognisable as the face of Tintin from Hergé's celebrated comic book series.
Only then, by way of contrast, is the 'real' Tintin, posing for this caricaturist in a Parisian marketplace, revealed in his full 3D CG form (complete with voicework and motion capture performance from Jamie Bell), and we see at once both what has been gained, and what has been lost, in the plucky young journalist's journey to the big screen.
Spielberg had first proposed filming Tintin's adventures in 1983, but although Hergé (the penname of George Remi) was a fan of the director's work and expressed enthusiasm for the project, the Belgian cartoonist died before they could ever meet.
Now Spielberg returns to Tintin with the full backing of the Hergé estate, and is aided not only by a dream team of writers Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish and producers Peter Jackson and Spielberg himself, but also by the advances in the technology of filmmaking over the intervening years.
Drawing from the connected narratives of 'The Crab with the Golden Claws', 'The Secret of the Unicorn' and 'Red Rackham's Treasure', really this is material perfectly suited to that blend of epic-scale thrills and good-humoured nostalgia that has become Spielberg's stock in trade.
Certainly the animated world here is wonderfully detailed, climaxing in a busy chase sequence down, through and over a Moroccan medina that vividly achieves in a single, fluid, gravity-defying 'take' what would be impossible in a live-action movie – or indeed in the fractured panels of a comic book page.
Yet if in some respects these transglobal capers recall the escapades of another grand Spielbergian retro-hero, we miss Indy's rough-edged roguishness in the clean-cut, strait-laced Tintin, whose flatness of character no amount of state-of-the-art stereoscopic imagery can fully conceal. And while Tintin's adventures are realised in an energetically mobile form, his travels over land and sea also undeniably pass through many an 'uncanny valley'.
Tintin's signature quiff, in one scene diffused and multiplied across a wall of mirrors, in another made hilariously to mimic the shark's fin from Spielberg's own Jaws, proves far more compelling to watch than that creepy, dead-eyed face.
With Tintin himself something of a damp squib (as, arguably, he was in the original comics), it is left to the more eccentric characters in his orbit – his faithful dog Snowy, his dipsomaniac new friend Captain Haddock (mo-cap vet Andy Serkis, shrewdly underplaying all the bluster), archnemesis Sakharine (Daniel Craig) and the bumbling twin Interpol agents Thomson and Thompson (Pegg and Frost) – to keep things lively.
They do, but not quite enough to justify the creation of this would-be mega franchise, with Peter Jackson already slated to direct the sequel. These serial adventures could, of course, just go on and on – but even if they do capture something of the originals' likeness, and add the novelty of multi-dimensional motion, the full richness of Hergé's treasures remains elusively buried, while even the great Spielberg fails to convince viewers that there is more to the 3D bandwagon than moments of flash.
Hergé! Spielberg! Jackson!
3D, yet oddly flat, it feels as though it ought to be more exciting than it actually is.
A series of memorable touches does not make it a memorable film overall.