Steven Spielberg is taking a chance but may work some magic with his new film “The Adventures of Tintin” as he introduces a European icon to American audiences on December 21. And he is stirring a little controversy as well.
The Adventures of Tintin, also known as The Adventures of Tintin: the Secret of the Unicorn, is based on a series of comics created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi in the 1920s. The Tintin character is the intrepid boy reporter in the strips that for fifty years entertained first Belgium and France through the Great Depression and into World War 2, and then in translation entertained many more in other languages. The Tintin strips are timeless stories of adventures that satirized Fascists and other bullies of the day with slapstick humor borrowed from Charlie Chaplin. But somehow, Tintin has never been a hit with Americans. But that could change: even soccer can be adopted and adapted by Americans. And director Spielberg is hoping that the success of the film in Europe, which premiered on October 22, will advance by word of mouth to the U.S.
Spielberg has chosen three stories written during the war years as the basis for his new film. Many Tintin fans think these classics: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure, were the best that ever emerged from the series. It was in these that Hergé, which is how Georges Remi signed his works – mastered his drawing and storytelling, while also creating Tintin’s immortal companions Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, as well as the Thompson Twins. Tintin's reach is worldwide. His adventures have been translated into more than 70 languages and more than 230 million books have been sold since 1930.
It is Tintin’s creator that is controversial. During the Second World War, his strips were distributed by Le Soir, a collaborationist and pro-Nazi newspaper. This forever tainted Remi in the eyes of critics, some of whom even forbade their children from reading Tintin. But Remi’s fans note that he was actually apolitical and much more influenced by Boy Scouting than the Fascism and Nazism of the time. It hard not to like Tintin, though. The boy reporter’s earnestness in pursuing evil doers, his pluck and courage, are compelling.
Tintin has been converted into animated films in the past, with a look that closely followed the originator’s drawings – many of which were based on newsreels and National Geographic photos. Spielberg’s version uses modern movie magic, borrowed from co-producer Peter Jackson’s WETA workshop, which made the spectacular effects for The Lord of the Rings series. The new film uses performance capture animation: which is to say that real actors, like Andy Serkis – who portrayed the monstrous Gollum in The Lord of the Rings – to give three dimensions to Hergé’s two dimensional images. The results look brilliant as actor Jamie Bell brings to life the Tintin character.
So far, box office receipts look good for Tintin, which is competing with other Christmastime productions such as Martin Scorcese’s Hugo, as well as Spielberg’s own War Horse, which comes out on Christmas Day. In Belgium, Britain and France, the film opened with 8.5 million dollars in the till. On its first weekend, it was on top of all overseas releases at 56 million dollars in 21 countries. In north Africa it earned 21 million dollars. But can the receipts be equalled in the US where Tintin is unknown. Time will tell, because this Tintin film is just the first in a planned series that Spielberg and fans can hope to be as successful as Indiana Jones ever was.