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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
  • Composed by John Williams
  • Sony Classical / 2011 / 65:32

The greatest Belgian since Hercule Poirot, even the great Herman von Rompuy is left trailing in Tintin’s wake in the eyes of the world.  I remember spending a lot of time in my youth watching the animated series based on his adventures.  Like most Americans, Steven Spielberg had never heard of him, but apparently it was pointed out to him when he made Raiders of the Lost Ark that Indiana Jones’s adventures weren’t all that dissimilar and, three decades on, the legendary director has made The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (which takes elements from several of the stories by Hergé) – a motion-capture animation intended to launch a new series of films (with the second to be made by Peter Jackson).

The most successful film composer of his – and possibly any – generation, John Williams, seems to have effectively retired these days, being enticed back on to the scoring stage only at the behest of his friend and greatest collaborator, Spielberg.  Tintin is the near-octogenarian’s first score for an animation – though the style is very much in keeping with his scores for family-orientated films of the last decade or so, with some parts familiar from Harry Potter, some from the Star Wars prequels, and most of all Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull.

John Williams

The main title music is a little deceptive, a jazzy romp not dissimilar to the composer’s final Potter score’s “The Knight Bus” – it’s a great standalone piece, but the style doesn’t reoccur.  From then, Williams presents “Snowy’s Theme” (Snowy being Tintin’s dog) – and this cue highlights my one real disappointment with the score, which is the lack of truly memorable thematic material.  There are numerous themes here, but even the most major of them is unlikely to stick in the mind in the way that the composer’s remarkable array of past triumphs do.  Snowy’s Theme is quite playful and very tuneful, but… well, I can’t see it ending up being played in concert in the years to come in the way that so many of Williams’s themes are.  Tintin’s theme itself is more memorable, but lacks a single, cohesive arrangement, appearing more in fragments here and there (and again it’s a bit like one of the minor themes from the Star Wars prequel action sequences).

So, with that out of the way, I can turn to the score’s virtues, of which I can happily report there are many.  Chief amongst them is the composer’s remarkable technique – it’s such a pleasure hearing an orchestra being given such a fine workout, and every moment of the music is shot through with Williams’s mastery of every section of his orchestra.  It’s true that all of it sounds pretty familiar – hardly surprising, given the composer’s age and the sheer quantity of his earlier music – but few people will have any complaints about that.  Quality is quality – and John Williams doing his thing is what attracted so many people to film music in the first place (including me).

Highlights in particular are “Introducing the Thompsons, and Snowy’s Chase”, a magical little piece full of childlike wonder and adventure; “Sir Francis and the Unicorn”, with a dynamic action phrase that I wish Williams had had more time to explore in the rest of the score; “The Milanese Nightingale”, with its sweeping accordions and continental romance giving a perfect picture of time and place; and “The Pursuit of the Falcon”, the album’s standout piece of action music, a frenetic and frenzied explosion of orchestral power that represents the composer at his finest.

By the time the rousing finale, “The Adventure Continues”, rolls around, this has proved to be a highly enjoyable album.  I must admit though, that for some reason it took it quite a while to win me over.  It was only after listening a large number of times to the album that the intricacies of the composition revealed their brilliance.  I know that some people disagree, but I do think the score’s themes fail to leave the same kind of impression as the composer’s finest, and for that reason the score can’t be considered up there with his best, but I’m not sure I’ve heard another film score in 2011 which comes close to matching this one’s technique.  Let’s hope Spielberg keeps on cranking the films out so we have plenty more opportunities to hear this great film composer in action.  ****

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  1. Chris Avis on Monday 5 December, 2011 at 04:07

    Tintin didn’t do much for me, but War Horse is spectacular. It’s the best score we’ve had from Williams in at least a decade. If you found Tintin lacking in thematic material War Horse ought to be right up your alley. It’s also one of the few modern scores I’ve found myself continuously replaying and enjoying more and more on repeat listens.

  2. Rodney on Monday 12 December, 2011 at 12:40

    In total agreement with your review. The themes aren’t exactly up there with his best and in the cinema the main theme was particularly disappointing but it’s still John Williams, which makes it a fine score nonetheless. Definitely gets better with repeated listens.

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