Friday, 21 October 2011

A Tale of Three Tintins

For all of us who have grown up with the Tintin comic books, it's an exciting time. Steven Spielberg has been attempting to adapt the classic Belgian comic book series into a movie since the 80's, and finally his vision is ready. The new Tintin film utilizes modern motion-capture technology to create somewhat realistic animation where the facial expressions and bodily movements of actual actors are used. But this is not by far the first time Tintin has been on the big screen. Indeed, there has been two French live-action films of the adventures of Tintin. I take a look at the new blockbuster and its two predecessors.

The original cast of Hergé's comic book.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn 3D (USA, 2011)
Director: Steven Spielberg

There really was no need to worry that Tintin's world would be sanitized for American audiences. Spielberg's Tintin is a funny, exciting and tremendously entertaining adventure movie. For all the fear of the uncanny valley on the character's faces, the caricaturic features are actually quite vivid and the viewer gets used to them after a while. No one complains that Pixar's characters look creepy, and altough they may have realistic skin an details, the characters here are clearly cartoonish in a way that doesn't emulate real people too intensily. The world feels like the one Hergé drew. Indeed the movie starts off with Hergé's CGI alter ego drawing a portrait of our young hero at a scrap meet.

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a young reporter who happens to buy a beautiful model ship (of a vessel called The Unicorn) from a scrap meet. As his purchase arouses all sorts of hubbub from shady people, the curious newspaperman starts to investigate further, believing that there's a good story behind the mystery. When he gets shanghai'd to a ship run by smugglers', he meets the ship's captive Captain, Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis). Haddock's a pure-hearted old drunk, who has lost all control over the shady business going on at his ship. He also has information on a great treasure, told as a legend in his family for generations. He just needs to get sober enough to remember it.

The adventure takes the pair to the Atlantic, Sahara, Morocco and finally back home. Like any good buddy picture, the characters don't get along at first, but learn to like and respect each other by the end. True to the comics, Tintin himself doesn't really have any strong characteristics. So it stands to reason that the film's minor characters steal the film again and again. Captain Haddock's alcoholism may not be suitable for the younger children, but it provides some of the film's most hilarious jokes. Almost as funny are Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as bumbling Interpol detectives Thompson and Thomson. Familiar faces from the comics pop up now and then, but don't overcrowd the film. The focus is still on the main characters.

Tintin lives in an unmentioned European city that could be Brussels, London or any other one that has a sea port, really. The film is based on two comic books, The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, that came out in the 1940's. Thus the world also seems to be stuck during the olden times, judging by the car models, carter ships, aeroplanes and such. However, the strength of Tintin is that it works in any possible part of the world, any possible time and by any possible reader. It's an adventure for all ages.

The film deals a lot with reflections, mirages and daydreams. Many times something important is spotted through a reflection in a glass. It is after all, fitting, seeing as Spielberg is covering his actors with non-existent features, attempting to recreate visuals from a comic book. The film is a real dream within a dream within a dream. So it's funny that none of Hergé's patented surrealistic dream sequences show up. The same quality can, however be seen in the Catch Me If You Can-esque animated opening sequence that gives out nods to nearly every one of the Tintin books. These easter eggs are confidently spread in the film as well.

Even the film's 3D isn't just a distraction, as Spielberg has truly gone off his way to make use for the technology. Action scenes are shot with a long single shot, where the camera goes around to wild angles. There's a strong sense of being in on the action and forgetting you even are wearing a pair of painful glasses. The film takes a while to pick off steam at first, but after that the action varies from pirate battles to crane fights. The most outstanding scene is the motorcycle chase near the end, which would give Indiana Jones a run for his money.

The film's story is faithful to the comic book, and thus ends promising more. I hope there will be, because I was willing to follow Tintin and Haddock on new adventures straight away! I'd say it's among the best, the most innovative comic-book films with Sin City and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The film is excellent escapism from the dreary day-to-day life. It actually managed to do something very few films do, and made me happy, smiling for the rest of the day. Good Show!


Tintin and the Golden Fleece (Tintin et le mystére de la Toison d'Or, France/Belgium 1961)
Director: Jean-Jacques Vierne

If you're wondering why I didn't use a chronological order to discuss these movies, the reason is simple. Americans aren't too familiar with Tintin, and thus Spielberg's film works well as an introduction to the character and his world. The two films produced in the 60's already assume that the viewer is familiar with the characters and thus doesn't attempt to introduce them one bit. You're whisked into their world straight away.

French fits into these character's mouths a lot better than English. So I'm about to use the French names of the characters and places as well. Captain Haddock is spending his life peacefully at the Moulinsart Castle. When his old friend passes away and leaves a ship for him in his will, he reclutantly agrees to accompany Tintin and Professor Tournesol (Calculus) to Istanbul, Turkey. It is revealed that Haddock's new ship, The Golden Fleece is a worthless piece of old junk, yet it brings about buyout bids from shady businessmen. The sentimental Haddock refuses to sell because of his loyalty to his old friend, but it soon brings Tintin and himself in mortal peril.

This film is clearly aimed at children, which explains the colorful imagery and the easygoing athmosphere. The central mystery is a lot more stupid and simple than it was on the comic book The Secret Of The Unicorn, which it more or less replicates. But the look and the sound of the characters is maintained pretty accuratelly. Georges Wilson in particular is a perfect Haddock, grumpy and hot-headed by surface, but sentimental, loyal and good-hearted by nature. It helps that he can swear as well, too. Jean-Pierre Talbot is an OK Tintin, but seems a bit creepily old. He seems more like a scout-master than a boy scout. The film's jokes are no match for Hergé, but as we'll soon see, they could be a lot worse. There's money in the budget for gadgets, gizmos and animnal extras. Even Tintin's dog Milou (Snowy) seems to be well-trained and for once, he actually has something to do in the film. The film's pace is leisurely, but it works well as entertainment for a sunday afternoon. 


Tintin and the Blue Oranges (Tintin et les oranges bleues, France/Spain 1964)
Director: Philippe Condroyer

Once the swingin' 60's got really rolling, we got some far-out stories for even our children's entertainment. Pity the premise is clearly the best thing about the next (and so far, last) live action Tintin movie. Professor Tournesol's colleague Professor Zalamea sends him a package which contains weird, blue oranges. Before the Professor has a chance to study them (or Haddock has the chance to eat them), a burglar steals them. Tournesol, Haddock, Tintin and Milou decide to go to Valencia, Spain to meet the Professor in person. But little do they know that he's been kidnapped, and the same fate awaits also Tournesol (really, when isn't he kidnapped?). Tintin must get to the bottom of the mystery.

I do love how oranges bleues sounds in French. Luckily it's repeated all the time.
While the previous Tintin at least attempted to do a film for all ages, The Blue Oranges is merely for children, and is almost unbearable for an adult. More than Tintin or Haddock, the film's heroes are a group of violent Spanish children, brandishing bludgeoning weapons. They start out by beating Haddock and in the end save Tintin with violence. Way to teach the kids not to beat each other up, Tintin. Talbot (as Tintin again) has grown even more creepily old, while Haddock has been replaced with Jean Bouise, who brandishes an unconvincing fake beard and acts like a total idiot or a douchebag the whole time. This isn't my beloved Captain!

The film has little action (altough the few scenes are kind of okay). Moreover, it has plenty of attempts to comedy, which are, simply put, dreadful. Captain Haddock's dancing and even the bumbling antics of Dupond and Dupont (Thompson and Thomson) only manage to raise shame in the viewer. Unbelievably the comic book genius René Goscinny himself was one of the film's four writers. None of the magnificent wit from Asterix, Iznogoud or Lucky Luke is apparent on the screen. The film moves at a glacier pace and doesn't really go anywhere. The bad guy is just the kind of racial stereotype the real Hergé attempted to avoid (but didn't always succeed). To top it off, the film has a horrible, repetitive Spanish soundtrack. This is the Hercules in New York of Tintin movies!


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