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Can Spielberg and Jackson do justice to the look of the Tintin comics?


Or will fans simply declare “Blistering barnacles!”…?

Can Spielberg and Jackson do justice to the look of the Tintin comics with 'The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn' (2011)?

[The following article is the writer’s personal opinion as a devoted Tintin fan, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Shadowlocked as a whole.]

When the talent attached to the upcoming CGI performance capture adaptation of Herge’s Tintin comics books, set to be a trilogy starting with The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, was announced, many fans (including myself) could barely contain their excitement. Steven Spielberg! Peter Jackson! John Williams! Steven Moffat! Edgar Wright! Simon Pegg! Nick Frost! Andy Serkis! Cary Elwes! Toby Jones! Tony Curran! Mackenzie Crook! Etc.!

On paper, Steven Spielberg + Peter Jackson + John Williams + Steven Moffat + Edgar Wright + Simon Pegg + Nick Frost + Andy Serkis + Cary Elwes + Tintin = guaranteed awesomeness.

However, as promotional materials for the first film have been released, there’s been scepticism over the look of the film. My personal reaction was “Woah!”…but not in a good way.

Producer Peter Jackson says: “I’m thrilled that Tintin is a CG movie. While you can adapt the characters and story for live action, it’s never going to look like Tintin. We’ve made it true to the look of Herge’s books.”

Much as it pains me to say this about the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, what we’ve seen of this Tintin movie so far is, rather than being true to the look of Herge’s books, only a pale imitation.

The colours are essentially the same as in the comics, but the details…just aren’t. Some of the CGI looks good, but then you see the characters’ faces, and they just look wrong. Maybe they should have just animated the characters without faces, like in Mark Gatiss’ Doctor Who episode ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’…

Director Steven Spielberg says: “Five minutes into watching this movie everyone will soon see the medium is not the message, but the characters and the story and the plot is.”

"“The medium is not the message” is no excuse for presenting the look of the film wrong. It’s almost there, but not quite, which is ironically much worse."

But Roger Ebert says: “A film’s not what it’s about; it’s how it’s about it.” And what if the medium gets in the way of the message? “The medium is not the message” is no excuse for presenting the look of the film wrong. It’s almost there, but not quite, which is ironically much worse.

Steven Spielberg says that he and Peter Jackson are “Two huge Tintin fanboys trying to bring the movie to you in a way that you’ll like.” Of course, this is subjective, and what works for them might not necessarily work for other fans. This film could well split the Tintin fandom; into ‘Tin’ and ‘tin’ factions… (like Thompson and Thomson?) However, we won't be able to tell for sure without seeing the movie.

Maybe it would have been better after all to have gone for a visually much looser, live action adaptation instead (like, say Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra), or even just a separate adventure film inspired by Tintin.

Though while the look may be wrong, perhaps “All that glitters is not gold… / … / diamonds in the dust can be found…”?

The nature of an adaptation of a popular franchise means that it brings both enormous commercial potential (which helps studios to justify the significant expenditure required for the budget and advertising) and a huge weight of fan expectation. There’s a specific expectation (or set of expectations) that a film carrying a pre-established brand name has, compared to an original film that arguably only has the expectation of being good, in general (though obviously a particular premise can have a lot of potential, and can catch the imagination; and also it’s up to the studio to market the film correctly in order to communicate effectively and with integrity what kind of film it is).

It’s interesting to compare this with the Harry Potter film franchise. The Harry Potter films preserved the spirit of the books (except for Goblet of Fire), and, though everyone imagines Hogwarts differently, the general visual style was in keeping with the tone of the books. Also, with the last film, there were some definitive areas where the film failed to do justice to the book, but overall, it was still an awesome adaptation, bringing the book/story to life in an epic way. So, at least in some cases, a slightly less than perfect adaptation still be very worthwhile.

The latest trailer describes Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson as “The two greatest storytellers of our time”. Is this an accurate assessment? They’re definitely two of the greatest, but the two greatest? The trailer-text writers have perhaps overlooked (among others) the realm of television, which includes such visionaries as Joss Whedon (who is, in fact, the greatest storyteller ever), Steven Moffat (who, incidentally, worked on the script for Tintin before leaving to take over Doctor Who), David Simon and Ed Burns (The Wire), and Kurt Sutter (Sons of Anarchy). And even sticking to films, Peter Jackson is a strong contender, but though Steven Spielberg is one of the greats, he’s not as consistent. The hyperbole is probably due in part to the fact that these two directors are famous, and so the general public is aware of their talent.

As a diehard George Lucas fan (unlike some of my colleagues and fellow Star Wars fans here at Shadowlocked, who have articulated their views here and here), it pains me to say this, but, despite being fans themselves, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson may be going to ruin the Tintin franchise.

Am I becoming cynical, like so many others? Hopefully not, because it seems far less fun than the alternative. And is it like being a werewolf, where you just turn once every full moon (and savagely rip to shreds every around you), or is it more like being a vampire, where once you’re turned, you’re effectively a vampire for life (or undeath), constantly yearning to suck the life out of everything around you? (But maybe you can regain your soul and fight the bloodlust, like Angel or Stefan or Mitchell? Except it means you’re broody all the time, and you could go all “Grrrr” and slaughter-y any moment.

Speaking of vampires, don’t get me started on the proposed Joss Whedon-less Buffy the Vampire Slayer reboot. That’s pretty much just creatively indefensible, unless you have insane troll logic.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn started previews yesterday, Monday October 24, in the UK. As a big Tintin fan, I can’t wait to see it. I’m crazy excited; but not that hopeful.

Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, please prove me wrong. To do so, you’ll need to have made not only to make a great movie out of Tintin / the Tintin franchise, but a great Tintin movie.

However, I thought similar things about the Lord of the Rings films before I saw them, and they turned out to be some of the best films of all time, equalling the brilliance of the book and bringing the story to life in epically cinematic fashion. If Peter Jackson could do that (as director and one of the screenwriters), then perhaps he can achieve a similar thing here, even just as producer.

But what if it’s really good, but still annoyingly poorly adapted, visually? How am I supposed to feel then? I don’t want ambivalence! Or, wait, maybe I do...

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn goes on wide release on October 26, 2011 in the UK, and December 21, 2011 in the US.

See also:

Tintin, the movie: will it work?

Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece review

A purist's defense of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings screenplay

Dream casting: The Stand movie

Why 'The Stand' should never be a movie

The wasted potential of Cowboys & Aliens

A rationale for CGI luddites


If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.



#1 Nice One Mark Iveson 2011-10-25 22:22
Excellent companion piece to my previous article Calvin.

I guess all we can do is wait and see!
#2 Nice... L Connolly 2011-10-28 08:14
...piece Calvin - I can certainly sense your concern.

I too share these worries. While not as devoted as others, Tin-Tin was a very important part of my childhood - right up there with the likes of The Crystal Maze (god, how I miss that) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - so a butchering of cinematic proportions would be oh so painful to view.

As it stands, I just cannot decide how I feel about this. One has to respect the obvious talent of Spielberg and Jackson, but even for them this is a big project. Have they become so big that a unified flop of epic proportions cannot hurt them? I hope not, because it is this fear that should drive a director/producer/anyone involved.

As ever, beautifully written, and credit to your Whedon-esque dedication that you slipped a handful of Buffy/Angel references in there haha.

Oh, and one more thing - I have to throw Eric Kripke's name into your 'greatest writers' list. Supernatural not only produces quality content, week after week, series after series, but he is humble to the genres master (check this weeks Whedon-infused review).

Nice one Calvin!
#3 Brave man, Calvin! Bran 2011-10-29 08:40
It's a brave man willing to cast doubt on the internet on a project by Spielberg and/or Peter Jackson. You're likely to bring hordes of keyboard warriors down on you, flinging all kinds of opportunistic snark.

Mind you, your article is well reasoned and well written, so thanks for that. And I happen to agree with you, utterly and completely.

I've loved the Tintin books since I first encountered them as a teenager, so like so many others I was really excited to hear the Boy Reporter and Cap'n Haddock were coming to the big screen. When I heard it was Jackson making it, I was still hopeful; when I heard it was Spielberg, my hopes faded somewhat. (I'm not an unreserved Spielberg fan, by any means; I admire and freely acknowledge his technical expertise, but I have severe doubts about his artistic and narrative judgement. Spielberg, after all, was the one who was sure Hogwarts had to be relocated to the western US for the HP films to be successful.)

So, my ethusiasm was tempered somewhat. But I figured I'd wait and see what came out of the collaboration. Alchemy, you know; who knew what it would cook up? But like you, Calvin, when I first saw still frames and later a trailer, I thought "Woah!" It's just ... not Tintin. I look, and look, and I can't see Hergé in this, for the life of me.

I'm trying really hard to reserve judgement until the film is finished and up there on the screen, but I'm not excited any more, nor particularly hopeful.

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