SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't' seen "The Adventures of Tintin" yet but you plan on it, or you happen to be a passionate Tintin fan who gets dyspeptic at the thought of Spielberg's adaption, it's probably best that you don't read any further.
When Michael Farr, a world-renowned expert on everything Tintin, was writing a biography on the comics series’ creator, Georges Remi (better known as Hergé) he found a note while digging through the Belgian artist’s papers.
It said: “If there’s one person who can bring Tintin successfully to the screen, it’s this young American director.”
Farr, who has authored over a dozen books analyzing “The Adventures of Tintin,” told The Telegraph that Hergé was talking about Steven Spielberg because the note was dated 1983, right when they were in talks about acquiring the rights for a movie. The illustrator was apparently also a fan of Spielberg’s early films. Unfortunately, Hergé passed away in March of that year, long before anything came to fruition.
So when I heard that a big budget motion-capture movie directed by Spielberg was coming out in 2011, the Tintinophile in me was excited. Technically this movie has Hergé’s posthumous seal of approval. Also Peter Jackson, a longtime Tintin fan, was on board. (See Jackson dressed up as Captain Haddock in a motion-capture test here).
With that winning combination, it has to be good, right?
I tried to keep a completely open mind before I saw the movie and refused to read any reviews. OK, maybe I read one or two. But still, I was ready to embrace Spielberg and Jackson’s vision of the adventurous reporter with his trademark upturned tuft of orange/ginger hair.
Without giving too much away, I thought the opening sequence was great and the amount of detail in Tintin’s apartment and the flea market was absolutely spot on and fantastic. Even Hergé himself makes a cameo as a caricature artist.
However, my “Oh boy, oh boy” quickly turned to, you guessed it, “10,000 thundering typhoons” (For the newbies, this is just one of many colorful expletives uttered by Captain Haddock in the comics).
The movie was visually breathtaking - most of the scenes, outfits and color tones mirrored those in the books. It was also aggressively fast-paced, perhaps because it stuffed three comics into one movie; “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” “The Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure.”
The movie has been out in most of Europe and Asia since October, so there are already many lengthy fan-reaction threads on the Internet. The first few posts on a forum at Tintinologist.org, an English-language fan site, were quite positive. However, just a few praising posts later, some users responded with scathing reviews.
“I can’t help but be wowed by the special effects,” one user, Mamunadil said. “But despite the suspense, action and the dazzling special effects, the Tintin fan in me can’t help but feel cheated.”
“The movie will be liked only by people who are not very familiar with the Tintin comics (unlike me who has read the comics over, and over, and over again!!!),” another user, Snowy_1001 said.
Critics like Nicholas Lezard and Tintinologist Tom McCarthy were much, much harsher in their reviews.
Lezard’s headline in the Guardian was “How could they do this to Tintin?” and in his article he accused Spielberg and Jackson of suffocating the series.
“I found myself, for a few seconds, too stunned and sickened to speak,” he wrote. “For I had been obliged to watch two hours of literally senseless violence being perpetrated on something I loved dearly. … As it is, the film has turned a subtle, intricate and beautiful work of art into the typical bombast of the modern blockbuster, Tintin for morons.”
Tom McCarthy, who penned “Tintin and the Secret of Literature,” said in his Guardian article that the filmmakers didn’t quite understand Hergé’s creation.
“Everything that found its form so well in Hergé's remix loses it catastrophically in Spielberg's,” he wrote in his review for the Guardian. “The slapstick - oars swinging round and bumping on heads, feet tripping on cats, and so on - is gauche and anachronistic. … If your children love the Tintin books - or, more to the point, if they have an ounce of intelligence or imagination in their bodies - don't take them to see this truly execrable offering.”
But what Tintin fans know for certain is this: it's a Herculean task to adapt these comic books into movies, especially when everyone reads them at their own pace and appreciates a different quality.
“The Adventures of Tintin” is like soccer in the U.S.; a globally loved phenomenon that is not quite as big among American audiences, but is slowly catching on. Tintin is an institution that has captivated fans for years all over the world.
My mother grew up reading them in India and often fought with her brothers and sisters over the only library copy. Then she bestowed some of the series to me and I couldn’t get enough. At first I loved just looking at the colors, the drawings and would spend hours over one frame gazing at the details. As I grew older, I could be found giggling over the dialogues and the hidden gags that I spotted. Now, as an adult, I get the satire and the cultural relevance.
The Tintin books have intricate plots. Clearly, fans feel that intricacy has been lost in the translation to this movie. Even more disappointing to them is the fact that screenplay writers are Steven Moffat, the lead writer of “Doctor Who,” Edgar Wright, director of “Shaun of the Dead,” and Joe Cornish of “Attack the Block,” are something of a dream team, but they still didn't get it right.
Fans point to scenes like the Indiana Jones-esque motorcycle chase and the dockyard crane fight as being silly and foreign in the Tintin universe. Even Tintin himself was decidedly un-Tintin-like when he greedily urges Captain Haddock to unearth more treasure after he finds the stash hidden in the globe.
Fans also noticed the absence of the beloved Professor Cuthbert Calculus (who will most likely make an appearance in the sequel, although that's cold comfort to some) and fundamental changes made to Captain Haddock’s character.
Sure, this movie is being marketed as a family film and children will be watching. So it’s understandable why Captain Haddock was moralized, his swearing reduced and his alcoholism toned down. But the transformation just didn’t sit well with most Tintinites. No matter how amazing Andy Serkis is, he just didn’t sound like the Captain Haddock I imagined and the self-deprecation scenes were borderline Gollum.
“Not only does he have a SCOTTISH accent (where on earth did he get that from?), he gives moral, motivational speeches,” Mamunadil said.
Altering Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine’s character from a normal collector to an evil mastermind seeking revenge seemed a bit far-fetched according to some fans posting on the forum, as was the introduction of his incredibly obedient falcon, which are not part of the Tintin tradition.
Yet, if there is one person fans and critics alike are more than willing to blame for the outcome of the movie, it is Spielberg, the one anointed to bring Hergé’s genius to the big screen.
Unlike Jackson, Spielberg only heard about the comic series when people compared Indiana Jones’ exploits to Tintin’s. He once even called Tintin “Indiana Jones for kids.” It’s easy to see why Lezard called Spielberg “a burned-out sun,” especially after what he did to the Indiana Jones franchise and “nuked the fridge” with his “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (Let’s not go there now).
“Spielberg has proved that he doesn’t understand Tintin in the least,” Mamunadil said. “The movie lacks soul, thanks to the ‘creative’ liberties that Spielberg has taken.”
Fine, a lot of fans are not happy. It’s not anything new. This happens when books are made into movies. Elements have to be cut to make it more cinema-friendly. And we’ll never know who was responsible for the changes and why Jackson, as a fan, didn’t intervene. While fans feel a little let down, there is definitely a lot of good that can come out of this.
If Spielberg’s movie inspires a new generation to dig through their grandparents' Tintin collection or to add the comic series to their holiday wish list, I’ll be the first to say “Bravo.” Even the toughest critic of the movie has to give the makers credit for that.
Michael Farr told The Telegraph that introducing Tintin, Captain Haddock, Snowy and Professor Calculus to younger audiences through a different format could be key to spreading and sustaining the work of Hergé.
“Even if the film isn’t perfect in my eyes, that doesn’t really matter because a lot of people will discover Tintin who didn’t know him before and will then go to the books and will have the great pleasure that I and millions of others have derived from them.”
Have you seen the movie? What is you verdict? Do you think it did justice to the comic series? Let us know in the comments section below.