LIFELIKE: Likeable odd couple Captain Haddock and Tintin in The Adventures Of Tintin.THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (PG)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Stars: the voices of Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig

Screening: general release from Boxing Day

Rating: Four and a half stars

IN the words of intrepid reporter Tintin, ‘‘Great snakes!’’

How far animated movies have come.

Wearing a pair of 3D glasses at the movies these days is as commonplace as scoffing salted popcorn and enduring the rustling of junk-food wrappers. The sense of wonder felt when watching Avatar in 3D has been replaced with expectation. The ‘‘oohs’’ and ‘‘aahs’’ are becoming rarer.

So, how can a film adaptation of a comic written in the 1940s, based on the adventures of Tintin – a young Belgian reporter – and his faithful canine sidekick, Snowy, hope to compete in the cutthroat post-Christmas movie blitz?

It will hold its own, for two reasons. One, Tintin fans are curious to see their childhood hero on the big screen. And two, The Adventures Of Tintin brings back the wow factor.

This 3D version of Hergé’s classic comic strip is technically groundbreaking, creating a believable sense of time and place as well as edge-of-your-seat action. Director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson achieve this while staying true to the comic’s original charm.

The Adventures Of Tintin fuses three adventures into one: The Crab With The Golden Claws; The Secret Of The Unicorn; and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Clean-living Tintin (Jamie Bell) and the heavy-drinking Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis) join forces to seek the truth about The Unicorn (a ship), Marlinspike Hall and the Haddock family.

It’s an action-packed rollercoaster ride with a well-executed plot and effects so realistic you sometimes forget you are watching, well, a cartoon.

It is only the exaggerated features of the characters – the bulbous noses of Haddock and the twitty Thompson Twins (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost); the oversized chins and ape-like arms of the mutinous crew of the Karaboudjan; and the narrow-eyed, sharp features of the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig) – that remind us that these are not flesh and blood actors.

The settings are equally realistic, and the attention to detail remarkable. A cobbled street in Europe shrouded by fog is so lifelike you can actually feel the sting of the crisp morning air as it enters your lungs.

In the tradition of classic detective movies, clue after clue presents itself, a stranger warns our hero of danger and is shot dead, there are twists and turns in the plot and Tintin has his fair share of lightbulb – and life and death – moments.

He is knocked unconscious, shot at, kidnapped and held prisoner on a ship, stranded in the open ocean, flies a plane which crash-lands into a North African desert, and lands plenty of punches of his own.

Equal part action hero and sleuth.

Incorrigible drunk Captain Haddock is a constant source of mirth. In one scene, a plane is running out of fuel and he merely blows into the fuel tank, his alcohol-drenched breath bringing the engine back to life.

In another, after being rescued by soldiers in the desert, Haddock is dehydrated and – even worse – sober. When handed a glass of water he says: ‘‘What is this peculiar liquid? There’s no bouquet, no palate.’’

As a child I spent hours reading and re-reading Tintin’s adventures, and in one instance was even so bold as to write (in lead pencil) ‘‘I love Tintin’’ on the first page of a Tintin book borrowed from the library. Nerdy? Definitely. A criminal offence? Perhaps.

Tintin, with his ginger fringe reminiscent of a cockatoo’s crest, his three-quarter length trousers, long socks and blue sweater over a collared white shirt, looks as I’d imagined him. He is brave, intelligent and pursues truth and justice in the Belgian way.

This is not a film for young children. There are gunfights, fist fights, references to alcohol and drinking, and exceedingly nasty ‘‘baddies’’.

But Tintin purists will not be disappointed. I wasn’t.