Spielberg’s Tintin: Thoughts of a Tintin Fan

Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn
As I start writing this piece, I realize that this is going to be the most difficult page and a half of my life. As a matter of fact, I can’t review this film in an unbiased manner considering my more than sacrosanct acquaintance with those 62 page scriptures. So I am just listing out a few points that I feel are worth noting, not necessarily in any order,

The Opening Sequence:

It was a delight! Despite the cutting edge technology being used, the animated title sequence looked vintage and straight out of the comic strip. The classic Tintin font for the credits, silhouettes of the journalist and his canine companion, tribute to most of the staple elements of the series including the moon rocket, everything was pitch perfect and looked like a real and heartfelt tribute the master rather than a mere attempt at building another billion dollar franchise. I know Spielberg loves Hergé and it showed. I was only hoping the film to not fall short of the standard set by the opening sequence as it did in case of X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The story:

Now, the most important thing a hardcore Tintin fan must note is that the story is remixed and enhanced one and if you are looking to watch each and every frame of the book to come alive, you will be disappointed. As I noted earlier in my anticipatory post, the story was supposed to fuse three adventures, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. But as it turned out, bulk of it follows the one in Secret of the Unicorn. Some parts of The Crab with the Golden Claws have been used, mainly to introduce Haddock and establish his character. I believe the only reason to do so is to help the poor kids who have never read Tintin, understand the origin of Haddock and his chemistry with Tintin. Similarly, Red Rackham’s Treasure has only been used to achieve the logical conclusion. Rest of the story mainly follows with the Unicorn storyline with some major tweaks and additional events that mainly provide an opportunity to stage more action and chase sequences.

The action: The “Indiana”ization

As I’ve now mentioned the action part, I have to say that while Spielberg is sincere in his tribute to Tintin, the director of Indiana Jones was looming large over the Belgian maestro. It starts like a classic thriller but the action comes thick and fast with wanton destruction of public property which is an apt display of Hollywood muscle power as well as the difference between their craft and that of a classic European work of art. Nevertheless, the chase sequences provide most of the enjoyment in the film. Especially the long drawn chase scene involving all the major characters through the narrow lanes of an African city and also the Francis Haddock and Red Rackham’s fight are some of the most exhilarating action sequences in recent times.

Characterization and humour:

The major characters are true to their original selves. Excellent casting means that Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg bring the familiar characters alive to a great extent. But elevation of Sakharine to the role of main villain, his backstory and complete elimination of the Bird Brothers is what is going to divide the fans. Nevertheless, Daniel Craig is more than effective as the villain and makes up for the disappointment. Another disappointing aspect is the absence Professor Calculus. The writers have plugged in Bianca Castafiore (I must agree that she’s been used well in her cameo) although she wasn’t there in any of these three adventures in question while Calculus should have been rightfully there, Red Rackham’s Treasure being his debut adventure. Nevertheless, the writers have done a great job in recreating the humour of the original series. While they have added some new situations and dialogues, they never betray the established traits of the characters, nor do they look forced or desperate. The drunkenness of Haddock as well as the bumbling nature of Thomson and Thompson has been used to good effect. Coupled with great performances and animation, the humour keeps people entertained when there is no action.


Haddock's manic energy
Now, I do not have any empirical data but I’m sure Captain Haddock is the most popular character in the entire series. It is he who has a backstory while Tintin remains the supposed journalist who is never seen writing anything or meeting his editor. That is where Andy Serkis does a great job in transferring the manic energy of both Archibald and Francis to the screen. As an old fashioned prick, I would say that I still prefer to read through Haddock’s curses than listen to it. Nonetheless, I think the success of this entire project depended on how effective Haddock was and thankfully the film doesn’t disappoint on this count along with the animated Snowy/Milou.

Final Thoughts:

So, eventually it turns out be an enjoyable experience even if some items from my wishlist were missing. The animation and production values are terrific, but then it is only expected from a film produced by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. They have tweaked it to some extent mostly to fit the requirements of a high value Hollywood production. But it is a relief to see that the original spirit of the series has not been tempered with. The next film is supposed to deal with The Seven Crystal Balls and The Prisoners of the Son, two of the fines action adventure comic books ever created. The long wait starts now!

Spielberg’s Tintin: Ruminations and Anticipations from an Indian fan

Image Courtesy: Toonbarn

The Adventures of Tintin is about to release. Steven Spielberg is back with something that I always wanted to see, a Tintin film backed by Hollywood biggies, their wallet and their technology. If that is not enough, Spielberg also has Peter Jackson by his side. So, I take this opportunity to indulge in some nostalgic rambling about the most important source of entertainment as well as learning from my eventless and solitary childhood.

The Comics Scene in the 1990’s India:

In the 80’s and 90’s small town India devoid of satellite channels, kids did not really have too many options. Especially for the ones who were twelfth men in their respective gully cricket teams, reading comics was a more respectable pastime. The comic scene was dominated by Anant Pai’s oeuvre and to a lesser extent by Diamond comics. For slightly older ones, there was Raj comics, Manoj comics and some other brands. While the American superheroes were also familiar, not many were aware of European classics like Tintin and Asterix as they were rare as well as expensive. Thankfully, even in those hostile conditions, certain people took the trouble to sensitize themselves about more eclectic works and also introduce them to others. In that sense I was a comics snob and mostly concentrated on Tintin and Asterix.

Why Tintin worked and still works:

Hergé passed away in 1983. The cold war was also over after a few years. Most of the major plot elements in Tintin were no longer relevant by the 90s. But still, Tintin remained and still remains an immensely enjoyable series in many ways. Hergé differentiated it from others by virtue of sheer ambition. He sought to explore every nook and corner of the world, authentically portray diverse cultures and geographies, drew allegories of contemporary international politics, ensured pinpoint precision and achieved the finesse of gripping detective fictions as well as classic satires. Tintin worked for everyone, primarily because it dealt with important issues like international politics, organized crime, corporate greed, space race and slavery while maintaining a consistent balance between humour and adventure. Besides, there was always a sense of profound humanism that could connect to everyone instantly. This humanism can be seen in its most endearing yet vulnerable form in Tintin in Tibet.

The diversity of plot elements in Tintin can somewhat be attributed to the diverse nature of its source materials. Hergé, as it can be assumed from his repertoire, was a well-read man. Initially, Amazonian rainforests, Incas and ancient Egyptians seemed to be his primary interests. Real expeditions into Egypt and Peru influenced his characters and plots. It is also agreed that Gaston Laroux’s Bride of the Sun inspired the basic plotline of Prisoner of the Sun. But at the same time one cannot help but notice the influence of early masters such as Arthur Conan Doyle in building up the adventures. Similarly, the impact of Nazi occupation in the early stories and that of the Cold War in the later adventures was more than noticeable. Later on, the focus shifted to more relevant and contemporary political events but his penchant for research and detailing remained the same.

Tintin in India:

Tintin never had a complete adventure in India and this is one of the saddest realizations for an Indian fan. He visits India in Cigars of The Pharaoh, but that was before Hergé discovered his mojo for research (which incidentally started with its follow up adventure, Blue Lotus after Hergé was inspired by his Chinese friend Chang Chong-jen to know more about the cultures he depicts). That is why depiction of India in that adventure remained a repetition of popular western stereotypes replete with maharajahs and fakirs. In comparison, Blue Lotus had an authentic depiction of China under Japanese rule. Decades later, Tintin landed in Delhi en route to Tibet. This time, visuals were more authentic with depiction of several landmarks in the city and also a reference to Mahatma Gandhi. But unfortunately Tintin never got to spend enough time in India.

Expectations from Spielberg’s Tintin:

Spielberg is apparently fusing the plotlines of three adventures in his film, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. The biggest question here is whether he can avoid the pitfalls of adapting from a highly celebrated source. I have had the experience of watching a few animated Tintin films. Most of them were disappointing, especially because they seemed to skip a few exciting frames here and there. Besides, a lot of humour in the dialogues is lost in the films. There is a certain charm in reading Captain Haddock’s abuses that cannot be relished to a similar extent with moving images simply because you never get enough time to grasp those. It takes someone exceptional to make it work and who better than Andy Serkis to do that?