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Section Header
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:
John Williams

Orchestrated by:
Conrad Pope
John Neufeld

Labels and Dates:
Sony Classical
(October 25th, 2011)

Sony Classical
(December 13th, 2011)

Also See:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Amazing Stories (TV)
The Terminal
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Jurassic Park

Audio Clips:
4. Introducing the Thompsons, and Snowy's Chase (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

7. Sir Francis and the Unicorn (0:32):
WMA (213K)  MP3 (269K)
Real Audio (189K)

14. The Pursuit of the Falcon (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

18. The Adventure Continues (0:30):
WMA (200K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Regular commercial release, available internationally on CD in October of 2011 but not available in America on CD until December of that year. The album presentations are identical.

  Nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy Award.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
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Buy it... if there is no substitute for John Williams' intellectual superiority over his peers, for even when approaching 80 years old, his comedic adventure techniques dazzle you with complexities of structure and instrumentation not heard elsewhere.

Avoid it... if your expectations for this score demand that you be swept off your feet by the streamlined melodic grandeur of Williams' most famous scores, a characteristic absent from this otherwise trademark work from the maestro.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn: (John Williams) Little introduction to the French-language comic book series "Les Aventures de Tintin" by Belgian artist Georges Remi needs to be made for Europeans, though the long history of the concept on paper and in adaptations may be unknown to those elsewhere. Under the pen name of Herge, Remi maintained his distinct visual style and sense of humor while exploring the adventures of a young Belgian reporter named Tintin for many decades. The comics were in active production mostly from the 1930's to 1960's, and their immense popularity (despite some controversy over Remi's socio-political leanings) led to over 350 million sales of "Tintin"-related comic books and several series of animated and live action screen adaptations from the 1950's to the 1990's. Director Steven Spielberg discovered the comics only when his 1981 classic, Raiders of the Lost Ark, was compared to them, and he subsequently obtained the cinematic rights to the concept. Conflicting production schedules and wrangling between several studios caused the project to be delayed until the late 2000's, when Peter Jackson joined Spielberg and the duo aimed to make three motion-capture animation films based upon combined storylines from the comics. After the nervous studios distributing Spielberg's product were finally convinced that the animation technologies would be well received, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn was finished and embraced by largely warm critical reviews and excellent theatrical returns in the concept's native European countries. Loyalty to the original concept is key to Spielberg's approach, the look of the characters painstakingly matched to their comic counterparts and their personalities meant to be equally authentic. The fearless Tintin, who finds his way to adventure far more than to a typewriter for his stories, traverses the globe on wild excursions with his Wire Fox Terrier, Snowy, and his hilarious friend Captain Haddock while encountering recurring secondary characters like the hopeless investigators Thomson and Thompson and opera diva Bianca Castafiore. The setting of the stories is contemporary to the time of the comics' debut, though elements from the past are typical to the concept as well, and this timeless European quality is perfectly suited for Spielberg's fondness for rooting so many of his tales in 1940's sensibilities.

For The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Spielberg sought to combine the early 1940's comics of "The Crab with the Golden Claws," "The Secret of the Unicorn," and "Red Rackham's Treasure" into one narrative, utilizing an enhanced swashbuckling angle to visualize this first franchise entry. For film music enthusiasts, this opportunity not only meant that the collaboration between the director and composer John Williams would continue, but that some hope that a score of Hook quality would result. Neither man had tackled the animated realm prior to this project, and there was understandable concern about Williams' ability to maintain his standard of excellence while approaching 80 years old and absent from film scoring for most of the latter half of the 2000's. Since his outstanding year of production in 2005, the maestro had only written Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, though enthusiasts of the composer note that he was still active composing new material in the classical genre and most visibly for President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009. He also continued to conduct his own famous themes during this time, maintaining his good humor and public visibility despite a lack of new feature scores. Williams enthusiasts were teased for several years with the knowledge that the composer was set to return with at least four major scores in 2011 and 2012, and the duo of The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse, released within weeks of each other in late 2011, represented a sudden treasure trove of this new Williams music to behold. While the tone of the two scores is completely different, they both assuage fears that the 79-year-old composer has lost any of his compositional capabilities. Few mainstream composers continue such mastery at that age, and the simple fact that the complexity of these 2011 scores from Williams is indistinguishable from his music written decades prior is a fortunate stroke of luck in a movie business otherwise defined by cynical melodrama and pathetic exits from fame. Indeed, The Adventures of Tintin is an especially intellectually mindboggling composition during its entire length. Whereas War Horse remains more inclined to resurrect the broader strokes of Williams' long-lined melodic grace in its addressing of the historic drama genre, The Adventures of Tintin is an impressive summary of the composer's lighter comedy and adventure tones from both the bronze and digital ages of film music.

Every moment of the score is absolutely saturated with Williams' trademark structures and instrumentation, though the level of complexity in the composition transcends even the composer's most densely packed prior achievements. One might get the cheerful sense that Williams used this opportunity to specifically thumb his nose at those who might question his ability to continue, for he manages to combine the intricate and challenging structures of The Terminal and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with a rich thematic tapestry that makes Hook sound comparatively simplistic. Simply put, no other composer is concurrently writing with this level of intellectual, classical style. So few of today's film scores will challenge an orchestra attempting to record its highlights, though you constantly get the feeling with The Adventures of Tintin that the majority of its parts would require substantial rehearsal to accurately replicate it. This density is a treat in and of itself, especially for listeners tired of hearing mundane blockbuster scores absent such nuanced activity. The Los Angeles performers are exquisite for this recording, their orchestral ensemble aided by harpsichord, accordion, and brief contributions by exotic instruments for two or three cues and a choir for one short sequence. Rather than relying upon bizarre tones for this worldly affair, Williams conjures his excitement through unconventionally difficult passages for woodwinds and piano. A slight infusion of jazz and European comedy exists in an otherwise standard orchestral adventure stance, though two notable source-like cues push the European elements, especially the French flavor, to the forefront. The comedy music is robust in the same manner heard in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, while the suspense and action sequences most closely emulate the Indiana Jones scores. The harshest critics of the score will likely pounce on the fact that Williams attempts nothing stylistically new in the details of The Adventures of Tintin, and this is perhaps a valid complaint. Also of potential harm for some listeners will be an emphasis of technicality for individual scenes and themes rather than an easily accessible overall personality. Those casually perusing the score for the first time will not encounter the composer's usual knack for overwhelmingly memorable thematic expressions of grandeur arranged into obvious concert fashion. Williams handles the many themes in the score with far more attention to singular moments, and the wide spread of melodic duties complicates matters for those seeking the blazing identities they fondly recall from the composer's classic works.

The depth of thematic development in The Adventures of Tintin is dazzling, but not in such a way that will cause any single idea to be blasted from stadium speakers at sporting events down the road. There are roughly ten themes and motifs constantly at play in the score, with rarely a moment that does not utilize at least some fragment of this palette. Each character receives a thematic identity, as do locales and other integral concepts, and many of them are afforded interlude sequences that are applied, as in Hedwig's theme from the Harry Potter series, to different secondary elements. The themes for the three major lead protagonists most prominently factor into the score, though they surprisingly aren't among its most enticing. The titular character's identity is ironically underplayed by Williams, a strange choice given likely inevitable franchise to follow this movie. Translated into the wildly haphazard, jazzy personality of the "Knight Bus" sequence in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the opening cue for Tintin is the score's most blatant nod to the time period of the tale, and the woodwind performances here are commendable. Unfortunately, the two phrases of the theme's primary construct are damn near lost in this style of performance, leaving later action sequences to better illumine the idea. The "B" phrase in Tintin's theme is interspersed in several early cues before "Escape From the Karaboudjan" finally allows it to flourish in fragments. Its main sequences of five and six-note phrases aren't fully paired until a satisfying brass performance about a minute into this cue, and subsequent revelations of these two phrases exist in "The Flight to Bagghar," "The Pursuit of the Falcon," and "The Return to Marlinspike Hall." The theme's obvious highlight is its victorious Amazing Stories-like expression at about 4:15 into "The Pursuit of the Falcon." More memorable is Snowy's theme, in part because Williams' main concert arrangement for The Adventures of Tintin exists in the track of that name on the album. The piano performances in "Snowy's Theme" are truly remarkable, though they supply bubbly supporting rhythms underneath the strings' conveyance of the actual theme. The perky nature of this idea is infectiously upbeat, representing Williams' closest maneuver towards traditional animated children's music in the work. Pieces of this theme occupy several early and late cues, both "The Secret of the Scrolls" and "Escape From the Karaboudjan" making fragmentary use while "Introducing the Thompsons, and Snowy's Chase" extend the concert rendition to a better degree. The idea returns with similarly affectionate tones in "The Clash of the Cranes" and "The Return to Marlinspike Hall."

The third major theme in the score reaffirms that Williams envisions deep woodwind tones as the identity of skullduggery and sea captains of dubious merit in general. The standard bassoon, tuba, and accordion treatment of Haddock is first revealed with easy clarity in "Captain Haddock Takes the Oars" and the idea ends up being manipulated in tone more often than any other. Its transformation exists over the course of "Capturing Mr. Silk" to "The Flight to Bagghar" and, most poignantly, "The Captain's Counsel," by which time the theme is literally sobered up and takes on a sentimental side. The character's connections to the Marlinspike Hall setting is keenly suggested in several ways by Williams, first in twisted and even inverted form in "Marlinspike Hall" and finally in more straight forward reminders in "The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale." Of the less frequently referenced identities in The Adventures of Tintin, the easiest and clearest is that for the Thompsons. A lazy Franch jazz atmosphere of silliness and slight sleaze in "Introducing the Thompsons" is reminiscent of The Terminal if only because of prominent accordion and clarinet usage, and the idea is pushed into the latter halves of "Capturing Mr. Silk," "The Captain's Counsel," and "The Clash of the Cranes." From there, the themes' direct attributes to characters and concepts are a tad muddier, though the clear winner amongst these other melodies is Williams' sneaky representation of the Unicorn, a sunken sailing ship of fabled treasure that is the target of everyone in this tale. This creepy theme is a highlight of The Adventures of Tintin in each of its frequent applications, ranging from devious allusions within other themes (and those themes' incongruent instrumentation) to outward expressions of resounding majesty. Reminiscent of Williams' darker progressions from his Indiana Jones scores, the Unicorn theme's two phrases are introduced in "The Secret of the Scrolls" and are most prominently conveyed in "Sir Francis and the Unicorn," undoubtedly the score's most powerful resurrection of Williams' trademark bravado from years past (and an idea that wouldn't have been out of place in everything from Hook to the Star Wars prequel scores). Williams cleverly previews this theme on harpsichord in the latter half of "The Adventures of Tintin" and reminds of its allure in "Marlinspike Hall," "The Milanese Nightingale," "The Pursuit of the Falcon," and "The Clash of the Cranes." Memorable recapitulations of the idea exist appropriately in "Red Rackham's Curse and the Treasure" and "The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale," the latter setting the table for another adventure.

The secondary themes associated with the history of the scrolls, treasure, and villains in The Adventures of Tintin produce some engaging though nebulous material. A rising series of progressions on strings for Red Rackham first appears in the middle of "Sir Francis and the Unicorn" in sonic battle with other identities and is similarly extended in "Red Rackham's Curse and the Treasure" and "The Clash of the Cranes." Also heard early in "Red Rackham's Curse and the Treasure" is a churning, almost hypnotizing identity for the target treasure itself, and a reminder of this theme pops up again in "The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale." A theme seemingly for the exotic locale of Bagghar, performed in part by kemenche and tanbura, occurs near the ends of "Escape From the Karaboudjan" and "Red Rackham's Curse and the Treasure." In the middle of the latter cue, Williams reveals his swashbuckling motif for pirates in battle, its frantic string figures answering each other seemingly in a bit of swordsmanship within the ensemble. He expands upon this passage in the entirety of "The Adventure Continues," a curious choice with which to close out the score until you remember how fond Williams is of rollicking scherzos (and false endings). The final motif in The Adventures of Tintin is questionable at best; during the Red Rackham portion of "Sir Francis and the Unicorn," there are phrases that suggest that Williams may have intended to provide Sir Francis with his own motif, though this material may simply be an offshoot of the identity for the Unicorn. Of all of these themes, perhaps it's not surprising that the Unicorn theme prevails in your memory. Its timpani-pounding minor-key force is to The Adventures of Tintin what the Buckbeak flight cue was to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, a short throwback to the grandeur of Williams' best days. It proves that even in a score as overflowing with bubbly spirit as The Adventures of Tintin, the dark, sinister descendants of the map room cue from Raiders of the Lost Ark continue to rouse imaginations most effectively. This attachment is particularly important to the 2011 score because the thematic duties are spread out so widely during the entire score. Ultimately, with the lighter themes forming a general impression only in their sum after the score has finished playing, it's the resounding component of mystery that endures. It is truly unfortunate that Williams has seemingly abandoned his previous standard of presenting several of the major themes in his scores in a cohesive concert arrangement (for the end credits or otherwise), because the album presentation of The Adventures of Tintin could truly have benefitted from such a summary.

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The only other aspect of The Adventures of Tintin in need of discussion is the pair of source tracks that exists back to back on the album. The sappy French romance personality from viola, accordion, and swooning strings in "The Milanese Nightingale," sprinkled with other tones of vintage jazz, is a pleasant though unsubstantial diversion (until a hint of the Unicorn theme at the end). The other source track uses the nuisance of its character's operatic vocals to break bullet-proof glass in "Presenting Bianca Castafiore," courtesy of Williams' adaptations of Gioachino Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" and Charles Gounod's "Je Veux Vivre" from "Romeo et Juliette." Renee Fleming's performance leads to a high note at the end that is accompanied by the sound effect of shattering glass, though perhaps more troubling than the effect in the music's mix is the terrible splice in the performance at the start of that note. At least Williams' humor leads to an extension of "Je Veux Vivre" into the start of "The Pursuit of the Falcon." Overall, these two source cues can be skipped and the remainder of The Adventures of Tintin on album will yield a strikingly intelligent handling of the topic. While the intricacy of the composition will be the first thing you notice, the most important aspect of the score to its cohesiveness in the absence of simple thematic dominance is its perpetual sense of movement. Along with the density of notes in this score consequently comes propulsion that is rarely heard for such length in film scores of this era. Even if you have no interest in keeping up with the multitudes of thematic references that sometimes dance through the score at a dizzying pace, the rhythmic flow of the entire package yields a demeanor of breakneck adventure that will grip you. The other aspect of the album that will impress is the astounding mix of the ensemble, perfectly balancing the clarity of each element with a vibrant atmosphere of reverb to address the fantasy of the concept. It's the type of score that demands a lossless presentation, and unfortunately Sony's American release of the CD follows its European counterpart by two months, forcing Americans to lose the dynamic edge heard immediately in the solos of the first two cues if they choose the flatter MP3 download alternative. Ultimately, there are downsides to how Williams arranged his themes in The Adventures of Tintin, and for some, the magic of the maestro's classics will be missing in this frenetic romp. Rarely does the score soar in ways that will meet expectations made unreasonable by Williams' absence. In short, it is no Hook. And yet, you can't help but marvel at his ability to so intelligently annihilate his competition in the industry of film music even when approaching the age of 80. Blessed we be. Price Hunt: CD or Download

    Music as Written for the Film: *****
    Music as Heard on the Album: ****
    Overall: *****

Bias Check:For John Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 3.74 (in 69 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.59 (in 337,522 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

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 Track Listings: Total Time: 65:32

• 1. The Adventures of Tintin (3:04)
• 2. Snowy's Theme (2:10)
• 3. The Secret of the Scrolls (3:13)
• 4. Introducing the Thompsons, and Snowy's Chase (4:08)
• 5. Marlinspike Hall (3:59)
• 6. Escape From the Karaboudjan (3:21)
• 7. Sir Francis and the Unicorn (5:05)
• 8. Captain Haddock Takes the Oars (2:17)
• 9. Red Rackham's Curse and the Treasure (6:10)
• 10. Capturing Mr. Silk (2:58)
• 11. The Flight to Bagghar (3:33)
• 12. The Milanese Nightingale (1:30)
• 13. Presenting Bianca Castafiore* (3:28)
• 14. The Pursuit of the Falcon (5:43)
• 15. The Captain's Counsel (2:10)
• 16. The Clash of the Cranes (3:48)
• 17. The Return to Marlinspike Hall and Finale (5:51)
• 18. The Adventure Continues (2:58)

* contains excerpts from Gioachino Rossini's "The Barber of Seville" and Charles Gounod's "Je Veux Vivre" from "Romeo et Juliette," performed by Renee Fleming

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes a long note from Spielberg about Williams and the score, including a brief discussion about the major themes. Some pressings of the CD add a comma into the name of the fourth track ("Introducing the Thompsons, and Snowy's Chase").

  All artwork and sound clips from The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn are Copyright © 2011, Sony Classical (International), Sony Classical (American). The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 11/3/11 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2011-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved. Was the white dog really a manifestation of Georges Remi's initial belief that the New Order would be good for Europe?