Ten thousand thundering typhoons, it’s Tintin!

The first international one-sheet for The Adventures of Tintin has just broken over on Empire. I picked up three dog-eared Tintin books on the fringes of London Fields a couple of weekends ago – The Calculus Affair, The Shooting Star and The Black Island – for the princely sum of three pounds. It’s been a while since I read any Tintin, maybe twenty years, but with a movie version just around the corner it seems like a good time to be revisiting them.

They’re quite different stories in terms of subject matter – the abduction of the inventor of a revolutionary sonic weapon, a race to reach a meteor that has landed in the Atlantic, the pursuit of money forgers from the white cliffs of Dover to a remote Scottish isle – taking in an eclectic mix of colourful characters and exotic locations. What they share is Herge’s considerable talent for blending the farcical with the fantastic, the genuinely sinister with the playfully incidental.

Take The Black Island. Tintin finds himself in the clutches of one Dr J. W. Müller, an adversary of Tintin’s who reappears in Land of Black Gold and The Red Sea Sharks. Müller condemns Tintin to admission to a private mental institution of which he happens to be medical superintendent, one at which “not all my patients are insane when they are admitted”.

Tintin escapes, of course, only to end up unconscious in the heart of Müller’s burning mansion. The local fire station is notified, and there follows an episode extending over several pages involving the theft of the key to the fire station by a magpie, and several grown men’s Dad’s Army-esque efforts to retrieve it.

One of the challenges for the forthcoming film version will be to find this particular balance, evoking a real sense of jeopardy inflected with Herge’s old-fashioned and often peculiar sense of humour. His authorial self-indulgence is well afforded by the page – indeed, it creates the breathing space that allows you to relax into any one of Tintin’s often convoluted adventures – but the cinema screen may be far less forgiving, especially if the film hopes to break out of geek dad audiences and draw a mainstream, family crowd.

The other aspect of the film I’m interested to see evolving is the visual style. I’ve posted everything that’s so far been released below, all of which hints at how Jackson and Spielberg are going about bringing the books to something larger than life.

Looking at these again brings to mind a post I read recently on Fast Company’s very excellent Co.Design blog speculating that the recent closure Disney’s Imagemovers Digital mo-cap production company was a result of the ‘uncanny valley’, so-called because it describes an abrupt slump in empathy experienced by humans when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual humans.

Fortunately for the film-makers the gentle realism and attention to detail characterising Herge’s locations and settings was is accompanied by an exuberant appreciation of the art of caricature.

Professor Cuthbert Calculus, for example (who makes his first appearance in Red Rackham’s Treasure, one of the three books on which the film is based) has a preposterously distended cranium and ridiculous general demeanour (as preposterous and ridiculous, at least, as those of Auguste Piccard, the Swiss physicist, inventor and explorer upon whom he was apparently based). Seeing how characters like Calculus have been interpreted could be one of the real pleasures of finally seeing Spielberg and Jackson’s film.

Interesting to note that they will be, virtually to a man, men. Even the ‘Milanese Nightingale’ herself, Bianca Castafiore, is an Italian opera singer with all the femininity of W.G. Grace. The only female character of note I can recall in all of Tintin’s travels, even she, by her serial enamourment with Captain Haddock, must cause us to reflect on his long career of sailoring in a new light.

[ UPDATE 17/05/2011 ] A teaser trailer just went live. And it’s looking pretty damn good:

  • The thing about Tin Tin ( I always here Tan-Tan when I say it ) is that you really cant appreciate it unless you read it in the original French[1]. There are some very cultural and idiosyncratic actions which are just so damned french.

    I look to the background of this and I see a Boy and his Dog ( not called Indie ) without a Box ( or the river running in it ) having various diverse alarums . I dont know what to think of the film or the books but I still dont see where 3D will fit into it. ho hum

    [1] I have not read it in the original french but I have it on good authority that this is the case [2]

    [2] then again the people telling me this were french.

  • Dan

    My French isn’t really up to idiosyncracy, but between a French version of Tintin and no version I’d give it a go.

    I think the subtleties of Tintin are definitely lost around the wider world, but it goes beyond language – bande dessinée trades on a lot of styles and archetypes the rest of us just aren’t familiar with.

    Either way, the French trailer is probably worth a look: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gyi-Pd05BQ&feature=player_embedded