‘Tintin’: A fan faces his hopes (and fears) with Spielberg film

Nov. 17, 2011 | 3:00 a.m.

adventures tintin2 Tintin: A fan faces his hopes (and fears) with Spielberg film

Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and Tintin (Jamie Bell) in "TThe Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.)

adventures tintin1 Tintin: A fan faces his hopes (and fears) with Spielberg film

Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), Snowy, and Tintin (Jamie Bell) in "The Adventures of Tintin." (WETA Digital Ltd.)

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"The Adventures of Tintin: Explorers on the Moon" by Hergé. (Hergé / Little, Brown)

Los Angeles Times television critic Robert Lloyd is a longtime “Tintin” fan and he will be writing a series of posts on the heritage of the character.

This post has been corrected, as detailed below.

Tintin is a comic-strip/comic-book character — a young Belgian reporter, nominally, but a reporter who has rarely done any reporting — and by extension the name for all the characters and things that fall within his world, as laid out in the 23 books (and an incomplete 24th, eventually published in sketchbook form) that comprise “The Adventures of Tintin.” Unlike Superman or Mickey Mouse, who have outlived their creators to be re-imagined to whatever purpose the current age or copyright-holder demands, Tintin’s adventures, which began in 1929 with “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets,” came to a close with the 1983 death of the man who invented him, George Rémi, pen name Hergé. To the extent that the characters have been marketed since — a remarkably limited extent, given the series’ global reach and the products typically wrung out of an American franchise — it is only in ways that refer to the original works.

Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi aka Hergé, father of the famous Tintin comics. (AFP/Getty Images)

Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi aka Hergé, father of the Tintin comics. (AFP/Getty Images)

“Tintin” is the soccer of the comics world, a global phenomenon the United States has been slow to appreciate. (The books have been translated into 100 languages, including Basque, Welsh and Yiddish.) That will change, to some unforeseeable extent, for better or worse, with the Dec. 21 arrival of “The Adventures of Tintin,” a motion-capture, computer-animated film based on the books “The Crab with the Golden Claws” (1941), “The Secret of the Unicorn” (1943) and “Red Rackham’s Treasure” (1944), directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Peter Jackson, and written by current “Doctor Who” show-runner Steven Moffat as well as Edgar Wright (the writer-director of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and the upcoming Ant-Man movie) and Joe Cornish (writer-director of “Attack the Block“).

As a fan of the comic, I’m both interested in this film and fearful; the extrusion into an illusionistic third-dimension is actually something of a comedown for these beautifully drawn comics, and it pains me to think of those kids new to Tintin who might regard the original books, if they ever see them, as an inferior version of the film they saw first. In any case, this seems like a good moment to speak of the original, to provide some background and context to the new film, which seems destined, from early notices, for a Spielberg-sized success.  (It has already opened in much of Europe.)

This is not the characters’ first adaptation to the screen. In the 1990s, nearly all the stories were animated for television as “The Adventures of Tintin” (a French and Canadian co-production that aired domestically on HBO and whose first season was recently released on DVD by Shout Factory); there were also, during Hergé’s lifetime, an original animated feature, a pair of live-action films (also with new stories), and a stop-motion version of “The Crab with the Golden Claws.” But until now, Tintin has avoided the big-budget American treatment.  (I say “American,” aware of the fact that Jackson is from New Zealand and Moffat is Scottish.) I have some hope that Moffat’s customary cerebral coolness, which suits the comic’s clean-lined aesthetic, will act as a corrective to Spielberg’s epic sentimentality. (“Tintin” is rarely sentimental.) As the steward of “Doctor Who,” Moffat also has some sense of what it means to take charge of a work whose fans go back generations.

tintin red rackham Tintin: A fan faces his hopes (and fears) with Spielberg filmFirst published in the pages of Le Petit Vingtième, the children’s supplement to the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle, and eventually in the weekly “Tintin” magazine, each story was subsequently published as a hardbound book, all of them 62 pages long. They begin with a trip to Moscow and end (if you include the unfinished “Tintin and Alph-Art”) with our hero about to be integrated bodily into a piece of modern art. In between, Tintin, accompanied by his faithful and mostly dependable fox terrier Snowy — Milou in the original French — travel the world and beyond, to Africa, the Arctic, gangland Chicago, the Wild West, Latin America, Scotland, the Alps, the South Pacific, China, Tibet, Eastern Europe and the moon. They encounter smugglers, revolutionaries, counterfeiters, kidnappers, thieves, saboteurs, kings, cowboys, Indians and a yeti. The earliest stories, although they are full of car chases and daring escapes, are episodic and gag-based, timed to the rhythms of a newspaper strip; as the series go on, they become increasingly intricate, thoughtful and character-driven — in the screwball whodunit “The Castafiore Emerald” (1963), the adventurers never even leave home.

Tintin and Snowy are eventually joined by a pair of unrelated lookalike inept detectives, Thompson and Thomson (Dupont and Dupond, in the French original), who specialize in slapstick comedy; a bibulous old salt, Captain Haddock, who becomes the series’ co-star; and a hard-of-hearing scientist, Professor Calculus (Tournesol, in French, which translates as “sunflower”). (Calculus first appears in “Red Rackham’s Treasure” but reportedly did not make the cut for the Spielberg film.) Recurring players include the opera singer Bianca Castafiore, the butler Nestor, and a few favorite villains. Like most comic characters, they do not age, even as the world ages around them.

Next: Who Is Tintin?

[For the record, 9:05 a.m., Nov. 17:  An earlier version of this post incorrectly listed Steven Moffat as the lone writer of “The Adventures of Tintin.” Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish share the screenplay credit.]

— Robert Lloyd


tintin poster Tintin: A fan faces his hopes (and fears) with Spielberg film

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‘Tintin’: Spielberg felt ‘more like a painter than ever’

Andy Serkis’ Captain Haddock is ‘shipwreck of a human’

Spielberg touts ‘Tintin’ with Peter Jackson’s help

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9 Responses to ‘Tintin’: A fan faces his hopes (and fears) with Spielberg film

  1. mitra says:

    This is so exciting. I grew up with TinTin, and can't wait to see the movie. Thank you Steve & Peter.

  2. Rudy says:

    I've been a fan of Tintin comic books for over 30 years. Although I'm looking forward to see the Spielberg's movie, I have a feeling I may be a tad disappointed because of the missing details like no Prof Calculus, etc.

    • Kay says:

      Professor Calculus isn't in the The Crab with The Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn. He appears in Red Rackham's Treasure, so it was easier to write him out. If the film does well in the United States, they plan on making another 3, so heres to hoping Calculus is in the next 2! :)

  3. Ben says:

    I have been reading these books every nights when I was a kid. I own them all, and have read them over and over. I must say I am excited about the movie, but as a fan, a few things scared me in the trailer: Renaming the detectives and the dog is sort of stupid. How using "snowy" makes a difference? English speakers needed a difeerent name? Milou was too complicated, boring,…? I don't know, but I find this naming thing too bad. Also,I hope that the fact 3 books were actually mixed up to make the movie, won't sort of disrupt the flow that exist between all the books and particulary these 3 books, which represent a very specific time in the serie: this is when TinTin gets to meet every main characters that will follow for the rest of the books series. Before these 3 books, Tintin only meets secondary characters (Tchang, Rastapopoulos, for example), and lives his adventures somewhat alone.
    Anyway, great post, I can't wait for the movie, and hope Spielberg will do well. He has in the past, so I am not too worried. :)

    • Brian says:

      We don't get to see it in Toronto for another month! I came late to the books, but when i did, I made sure to read them in French, even though I only bought them on trips back to Montreal. Like you, I was really annoyed when I discovered that they had changed all the names in the English versions. "Snowy" sounded stupid to me. But it wasn't Spielberg who did it. They have had those names ever since the books were originally translated. Don't ask me why. (As an aside, I did find it cool when I belatedly realized where the British pop band from the '80s, "The Thompson Twins", got their name.) But I have heard from a friend who is in Europe right now that they moved Moulinsart to England! That's going too far!

      • jock123 says:

        Casterman, the French publisher made an ill-fated attempt in 1952 to have three of the books translated into languages for foreign markets. In Britain they released two books as albums (Unicorn and Rackham), and a third (Ottokar) was serialized in the weekly comic. the “Eagle”. However, the translations were poor, the initiative was unsuccessful, and the books sank almost without trace.

        When picked up again in these markets, greater effort was made to make them palatable to locals, and – just as when Tintin became “Kuifje” in Flemish – names were changed if it was felt that they would work better. Tintin and Milou/ Snowy became “Tim und Struppi” in Germany.

        It wasn’t unique to English that Marlinspike appears to be in another country; Moulinsart is Mühlenhof in German, Molensloot in Dutch, Maesymwstwr in Welsh, etc.

        Hergé was not only happy that “Milou” became Snowy, he liked the name so much that he actually makes a reference to it directly in “Tintin au Tibet”, in French! The monks refer to a little dog, “as white as the morning snow”, specifically as an acknowledgement of the name given by Michael Turner and Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper, who were not only great friends of Hergé, but also champions of Tintin when many people believed that Methuen were made to try to sell comics in hard-backed books.

        So it may sound stupid to you (really – more “stupid” than “Milou”?), but it sounded great to Hergé! :-)

      • ben says:

        Jock123. Thanks for the story on "snowy", very interesting.
        I think the reason we think the name was stupid is that he is named after his color I believe. Just sounds to simple when you have been a fan and know the little dog as Milou.

        ANyway, thanks for the references!

      • Ben says:

        Are you kidding me? Moulinsart to England? LOL, I can't even comment on this one.

        I realised after my post that the names were probably changed during their translation of the books in English. Oh well.

  4. gaucho420 says:

    I'm French and I''ve read all of Tintin as a kid in France, probably each book 5 times at the very least and I am very excitted. I've also seen the original french cartoons of tintin in movie form and I love them all.

    I think this movie will do just fine for new and old fans. I didn't expect it to be a literal translation, both in look and in story, of the books, but I am more than shocked than Hollywood is putting out this flic.

    So no fear, but hope and dreams that it does the series justice. Tintin, Proffesor Tournesol, Captain Haddock, Milou and the Dupont brothers are simply beloved characters from my youth and its almost like a dream come true to see them here in the US.

    Tonnere de Brest, they'd better be good! And Milou beats the pants of Snowy any day of the week and ten times on Sunday!

    Snowy?? PFFF…but good catch at the person who pointed out it was referenced in the Tibet Book, but it will always be Milou to me.

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