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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Album Cover Art
Composed, Conducted, and Produced by:

Orchestrated by:
Conrad Pope
John Neufeld
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Sony Classical
(October 25th, 2011)

Sony Classical
(December 13th, 2011)
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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.
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Decorative Nonsense
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Availability | Awards | Viewer Ratings | Comments | Audio & Track Listings | Notes
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.
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WRITTEN 11/3/11
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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."

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Average: 4 Stars
***** 666 5 Stars
**** 417 4 Stars
*** 218 3 Stars
** 110 2 Stars
* 74 1 Stars
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Alternative review at
Southall - December 28, 2011, at 1:43 p.m.
1 comment  (2102 views)
The old Tintin theme was better   Expand >>
Theowne - December 23, 2011, at 3:22 p.m.
5 comments  (4040 views)
Newest: January 3, 2012, at 12:41 a.m. by
A decent effort.
Chris Thompson - November 10, 2011, at 3:43 p.m.
1 comment  (1650 views)
Clemmensen Tintin review = childish Nazi humor   Expand >>
Azeroth - November 4, 2011, at 1:50 p.m.
2 comments  (3063 views)
Newest: November 5, 2011, at 11:24 a.m. by
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Captain Future - November 4, 2011, at 12:43 a.m.
1 comment  (1791 views)

Track Listings Icon
Audio Samples   ▼
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 Icon
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").
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Was the white dog really a manifestation of Georges Remi's initial belief that the New Order would be good for Europe?
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