Storylines In Review

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Top Ten Tintin
The Adventures Of Tintin make for suitable tonic viewing at this dreary time of year. But of the 5 feature films and 2 tv series comprising dozens of episodes, where to start?
When Steven Spielberg made Raiders Of The Lost Ark, he was told it was just like Tintin – of whom he had never heard, despite the adventure series’ cultural importance being widely recognised outside the US. Based on a comic strip series, which after serialisation were compiled into 48-page A4-format ‘albums’ [pub. 1929-], The Adventures Of Tintin series is like a set of graphic novels aimed at a YA audience, rendered in a bright realist style called ligne claire rather than the usual murky film-noir style of the standard superhero graphic novels. When his secretary got him editions of the compilation-albums, Spielberg was so intrigued he bought the film rights. Tintin’s creator, the Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, whose pen name was Hergé (based on his initials, reversed), was keen on Spielberg’s involvement, but died soon after, in 1983. Spielberg hired Melissa Mathison [E.T.] to write a script, but this was not used; it had young reporter Tintin battling ivory poachers in Africa, which is not the plot of any Hergé adventure, i.e. it was an original script. There was also the issue of making it as a live-action rather than animated film, which had been tried before with the 1961 Tintin Et Le Mystère De La Toison d'Or / Tintin And The Golden Fleece and the 1964 Tintin Et Les Oranges Bleues / Tintin And The Blue Oranges. However neither was an Hergé adaptation, being original scripts, and the live-action visuals were tame compared to those in the comic books.
Using traditional methods of animation, there had been an animated adaptation as early as 1947, when a Belgian-made stop-motion puppet version of Hergé’s Le Crabe Aux Pinces D'or / The Crab With The Golden Claws was produced. After that, Hergé had tried to interest Disney in an animated feature, but the studio declined. An animated cartoon series of 10 colour versions had been produced in Belgium 1957-63, by Belvision, made up of 5-minute segments meant for inclusion in children’s anthology tv show slots, totalling 103 chapters. These would later be combined, as with the 1963 L’Etoile Mysterieuse / The Shooting Star, where 11 x 5-min segments became a 43-minute compilation. As adaptations, these took a number of liberties. In 1969, the series led to a spinoff feature, the first animated Tintin feature film, Belvision's Tintin Et Le Temple Du Soleil /Tintin And The Temple Of The Sun, adapted from two Hergé albums (as the book compilations are called), The Seven Crystal Balls and its direct follow-on sequel, Prisoners Of The Sun. Belvision's second animated feature Tintin Et Le Lac Aux Requins / Tintin And The Lake Of Sharks (1972), was not from any Hergé work, the softcover graphic-novel version being made up of panels from the film.
The Tintin albums were translated into English from 1958 on, with character and place-names transformed, Tintin’s canine companion Milou (a term of endearment) becoming Snowy, the detectives Dupont and Dupond becoming Thomson and Thompson, the pendulum-dabbling Professor Tournesol [lit. sunflower] becoming Professor Calculus etc. Captain Haddock's ancestral home, Le château de Moulinsart, became Marlinspike Hall. (Though the pronunciation changed, Tintin kept his own enigmatic name, which may be related to that of the screen-star canine Rin Tin Tin, who in turn was named after a WWI-era good luck charm, Rintintin, which French children sometimes gave to American soldiers deployed there in WWI.) A lot of the punning word-play however, cf the Thom[p]sons’s spoonerisms, was lost as it did not translate. (Captain Haddock's pseudo-cursing ‘salty’ language nevertheless inspired some colourful expressions – Blue Blistering Barnacles! and Thundering Typhoons! being the most common.)
The definitive attempt to render the books on-screen, or at least most of them [21 of 24] was the 1991-2 French / Canadian coproduction Les Aventures De Tintin / The Adventures Of Tintin, made by Ellipse (France) and Nelvana (Canada) on behalf of the Hergé Foundation. This followed the original plots and Hergé’s ligne claire style so closely it was able to re-use panels from the comic-books. They were 22 mins each, made for a half-hour tv slot with commercials, and most of the books were adapted as 2 parters, totalling 39 episodes over 3 seasons. (The first two adventures, Tintin In The Land Of The Soviets and Tintin In The Congo were not adapted, being regarded as too full of racist and other outdated ethnic stereotypes – a problem with most of the stories, where the villains are usually ethnic caricatures. The earliest to be adapted for the tv series, Tintin in America, was only partly adapted to avoid the original’s ‘Red Indians’ sequence, and was only shown at the very end of the 3rd season. The 24th and final adventure, Tintin And Alph-Art, was never finished by Hergé and his widow declined to let anyone else do so.
So far, this 21-episode adaptation is the principal undertaking, and the series has had various home media releases, the definitive one being the 10-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay. This has 21 adventures on 10 discs, organised as much as possible into ‘canonical’ order, with each of the 2-parters amalgamated into one 44 minute presentation.
Meanwhile, Spielberg had not given up on the idea of producing a Tintin feature; his associate Peter Jackson suggested they use the new motion-capture technology he had used to create Gollum in his Lord Of The Rings trilogy. This combined aspects of live action and animation and Spielberg agreed. He got Doctor Who writer-producer Steven Moffat to do a new script. Due to the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, he couldn’t finish it before he had to return to Dr Who duties, and Spielberg and Jackson hired Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish to do a re-write and polish. The albums chosen for adaptation were The Secret Of The Unicorn and its sequel Red Rackham's Treasure, together with an interpolated sequence from The Crab With The Golden Claws, included to show Tintin first meeting his future associate Captain Haddock. The end result, in 2011, was the 3-D action extravaganza The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn.
A followup is now planned adapted by Anthony Horowitz based on Prisoners Of The Sun (though it will include much of The Seven Crystal Balls as this sets up the plot). There is also a yet-untitled third Tintin film which Spielberg and Jackson hope to co-direct in 2021. (Peter Jackson has said “it would be great” to make Destination Moon and Explorers On The Moon the basis for the third film.)
The 10-disc DVD set from Anchor Bay of the definitive 1992-3 series was the box set I just finished viewing. A friend of mine laughed when I told him I had been watching the complete adventures of Tintin and Snowy, but when you’re otherwise recuperating from spending part of the xmas hols in hospital having surgery by spending your time doing your year-end tax paperwork, it’s a real tonic. (I’d collected the books when I was younger, so there is a nostalgia element as well.) The works are also an exercise in looking on the bright side, for Hergé’s career had a dark background. Because he kept working through the German WW2 occupation of Belgium, Hergé was classed by some as a collaborator. Though the postwar Belgian authorities decided not to prosecute him, six of his wartime colleagues at Le Soir (Belgium's largest Francophone daily) were sentenced to death, while others got long prison sentences. The Crab With The Golden Claws, The Shooting Star, The Secret Of The Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure and The Seven Crystal Balls were all actually written and published during the occupation. Tintin the ‘boy’ reporter encounters dastardly machinations of all kinds but his cheerful Boy Scout ethic never wavers.
As to the ethnic stereotypes which are especially apparent in the early adventures (Jewish-tycoon villains with big noses etc), Hergé agreed to tone these down for later editions - he said his earlier views were simply a product of the conventional colonialist thinking of the time. Politically, Hergé was a conservative Catholic royalist, and works such as King Ottakar’s Sceptre and Tintin And The Picaros fit the ‘royal champion’ storyline as well as the ‘people’s champion’ storyline where he helps undermine an oppressive regime while helping restore the more enlightened ruler. Often it is more the latter, when he is simply trying to rescue a friend who is in trouble (usually kidnapped) in some remote region.
... Anyway, for those not that familiar with the Tintin canon, here are 10 selected adventures (in order of publication) together with recommended film / tv versions.
The Shooting Star
Tintin & Co sail to the Arctic to recover a crashed meteorite, in a plot setup compared to Jules Verne's 1908 The Chase Of The Golden Meteor. The 1992 Ellipse/Nelvana version is unfortunately only a 22-min condensed version. For a longer version, there is the 1963 Belvision 43-minute version L’Etoile Mysterieuse / Star Of Mystery, which takes a few liberties but has more of the original plot. [screencaps right]
The Secret Of The Unicorn
Tintin finds map-parchment clues to a pirate treasure hidden in the masts of 3 model sailing vessels.
The 1992 version is the most faithful adaptation. The story also forms the first half of the 2011 Spielberg / Peter Jackson 107-minute feature The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn, an exhausting nonstop 3D action extravaganza made using motion-capture technology, the feature’s 2nd half being based on the sequel, Red Rackham's Treasure [below]. The 2011 version also includes a sequence from The Crab With The Golden Claws, included to show Tintin first meeting his future associate Captain Haddock.

Red Rackham's Treasure
See above. Having parsed the parchment clues [they think], the protagonists head for the south Atlantic, armed with a submarine shaped like a shark. First appearance of Professor Calculus, another future associate.
The 1992 animation version is more faithful than the 2011 Spielberg (with fewer added motorbike etc chases), but the 1992 version of the sequel only runs 22 mins, the 2-parter running 64 mins overall.
The Seven Crystal Balls
Tintin & Co encounter an Inca curse. The 1992 version is the most faithful rendering. The 1969 feature Tintin And The Temple Of The Sun [see below] has a truncated adaptation of this prequel.      
Prisoners Of The Sun
Immediate sequel to above: Tintin & co head into the Peruvian jungle to rescue Professor Calculus. The 1992 version is the most faithful rendering, but the 1969 feature Tintin And The Temple Of The Sun made by Belvision Studios, which was the first feature-length animated Tintin film [see screencaps right], has its merits.    
Destination Moon
This is one of the early 50s SF works which tries to imagine what a moon voyage would be like, though this prequel deals largely with industrial espionage intrigues. The only choice here is the 1992 version, as with the sequel below.
Explorers On The Moon
Sequel to above. The Anchor Bay dvd set has both Moon voyage adventures on one disc and these play straight through.
Tintin In Tibet
Tintin heads for Tibet to rescue a young friend he is convinced survived a plane crash in the mountains. This was Hergé’s personal favourite of his works, and the 1992 version is very faithful. (Hergé had a real-life friend, a Catholic Chinese student with the same name as the lad Tintin searches for in the story, who taught Hergé about Chinese culture, and who earlier became a character in The Blue Lotus. This is the only adventure without caricatured foreign villains.)
The Castafiore Emerald
This is the only ‘adventure’ (it’s more a comedy) not involving an expedition or other globe-trotting setup, being set at Marlinspike Hall, where Captain Haddock is beset by the arrival of Madame Castafiore, the opera singer nicknamed the Milanese Nightingale, whose presence gives him nightmares. It's also a crime mystery, with a country-house-weekend setup. The 1992 version is the only adaptation.
Flight 714
Based on the 1967 adventure Flight 714 To Sydney, this has Tintin & Co being hijacked and crash-landing on an island which turns out to have artefacts built by an alien civilisation. Again, the 1992 version is the only screen adaptation.
 
 
   
   
   
   
 
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[c] Storylines In Review 2019