The Adventures of Tintin
January 15, 2018
The Dom compares the 2011 motion-capture film The Adventures of Tintin with the three Adventures of Tintin comics on which it was based: 1941's The Crab with the Golden Claws, 1943's The Secret of the Unicorn, and 1944's Red Rackham's Treasure.
The Dom: Hello, my Beautiful Watchers; and welcome back to Lost in Adaptation, where I, your humble host The Dom, take a look to see how well films tie into the books they're based on. The film in question today is based on a childhood favorite of mine, as it happens -- I wasn't then, and still am not to this day, massively into comic books; but *this* was one of the exceptions. So, without further ado, let's see what Steven Spielberg did with (spoken dramatically) HEEEEEERGÉ'S ADVENTURES OF TINTIN! Um, some of you will get why I said it like that, while the rest of you probably think I'm just acting like a bit of a wanker right now.
People Asked: 195
Read The Crab with the Golden Claws: 46
Read The Secret of the Unicorn: 51
Read Red Rackham's Treasure: 47
Remembered Reading Some Tintin Comics But Not Sure If It Was the Ones in Question, I Mean For Goodness Sake It Was Years Ago: 54
Saw the Film: 99
The Dom: Yes, for me personally, the nostalgia is strong with The Adventures of Tintin -- probably with a lot of other people, too, as it's hailed as being one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. The series started in 1929, created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi under the pen name Hergé. It ran for 25 books over 45 years, only stopping with Hergé's death in 1983. The comics were originally published in French, but were translated in 1958 by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, who worked closely with Hergé to make sure the original tone and humor of the comics came through in the new language unscathed. There were several attempts to adapt this comic before Spielberg got involved, including *two* animated TV series and a not-very-good live-action affair.
Apparently, Spielberg discovered and became a huge fan of the Tintin comics only a few years before Hergé's death -- in fact, they had a meeting scheduled to discuss a possible big screen adaption the same week he passed away. As Hergé had stated a belief that Spielberg was the only man who could ever do justice to his comic, his widow decided to give him the rights to the movie anyway. This was, unfortunately, then followed by *15 years* of false starts, changed plans, revised scripts, Spielberg getting distracted doing other projects, and all sorts of other delays, until the film *finally* came out in 2011.
Fun fact: outside of North America, The Adventures of Tintin was given the *additional* title The Secret of the Unicorn. Despite them historically not being as *into* Tintin as the rest of the world, I think the Americans were actually right here, as this is an adaptation of *several* Tintin comic books, not just that one -- it's an amalgamation adaptation, if you will; or another way to look at it is, it's an adaptation of the general *concept* of Tintin. I feel it would make sense for me to judge it as such rather than insist it be compared to the specific title they added *onto* it and deeming everything else bad adapting -- I hope this isn't perceived as me giving the film special treatment because I'm a Tintin fan.
The *film* draws most heavily from *two* comics: Book 9, The Crab with the Golden Claws; and the before-mentioned Book 11, The Secret of the Unicorn. However, its ending is straight out of Book 12, Red Rackham's Treasure; and several characters and locations from later novels pop up as well. As usual, before the adaptation review, here's my thoughts on the book and the film's individual merits.
The Dom (V.O.): Tintin is one of those comics where you don't *have* to be a kid to enjoy it, buuuuut it does help -- you're probably not going to get anything mind-blowing out of it if you read it as an adult; but, you know, it's still fun enough. As I mentioned, I *was* a kid when I read them; and I enjoyed them immensely. I can't quite put my finger on what exactly it is about them that's so appealing; you'd have to speak to a *comic* reviewer about that.
You do *occasionally* get a stark reminder that a lot of these comics were written in the '30s and '40s when you come across "I'm sorry about my grandad; he just doesn't know any better"-style casual racism: people from Africa or the Middle East tended to bring Allah into the conversation far more often than was strictly necessary; Tintin was known to wear blackface as a disguise; and the less said about the depiction of *actual* black people, the better. Again, I do want to stress that this doesn't come across as mean-spirited or hateful; it's just from another...slightly-awkward-now time.
Now, admittedly, my knowledge of naval history is restricted to what I read about in the Hornblower novels, but I still find the very idea that a British warship like the Unicorn would be used to haul petty cargo AND the VERY NOTION that a tiny pirate sloop would dare attack it AND successfully *capture* it actually kind of offensive -- I think you'll find there's absolutely ZERO historical precedent for that, thank you very much, Mr. Hergé!
One thing that had me in absolute *stitches* while reading this was the battle between Haddock's ancestor and the pirates. They were clearly worried about acknowledging the existence of violent death in the story, so tried to soften the blow for the kids reading it by putting these *hilariously* derpy faces on the dead people -- (shows a pirate in the comic getting shot while displaying a mildly stunned expression) "Whoop, looks like I've been shot! Oh, welllll!" Apologies that I don't have too much else to say about it, despite being a fan -- as I said, I'm not a comic book reviewer by trade; so I'm a bit out of my area of expertise here. Let's talk about the film instead.
(sighs) The hyper-realistic motion-capture CGI films just *never* quite caught on, did they? Every couple of years, when the technology advanced, they'd make another one; and everyone would either proclaim or worry that it was the future of filmmaking -- but then inevitably, everyone would go back to using live-action actors instead. That said, it *does* seem to have found its niche as the ultimate compromise in adaptations based on things that were *already* visual mediums to begin with, as it allows the filmmakers to maintain the original art style to a point while also making things more realistic than before. Tintin in particular is an almost perfect fusion of the comic book character and the voice actor playing him; it's mostly impressive, but just a *tiny* bit horrifying. Haddock's not bad; though I have to confess, his tiny, glassy eyes put me off the visual design for him just a little.
In regards to the rest of the film, well, I've always said that there's a reason that when a new star arises in the filmmaking world, the first thing they ask is, "Is this guy the next Spielberg?" The guy's made some serious fuck-ups in his career -- you...know the ones I'm talking about -- but no one should be able to deny that he pretty much redefined modern cinema with his genius, and that genius shows through in this film on several occasions. I know this probably just applies to me and me alone, but I think they really nailed the voices; Tintin and the Thompsons in particular were *exactly* how I imagined them in the comic.
The Dom: Just before we talk adaptation, I should mention that, rather than constantly explaining which bit of the film is accurate or inaccurate to which comic book, I'm just going to put the title to which I'm referring at any given moment on the screen to save time. Okay, let's do this.
What They Didn't ChangeEdit
The Dom (V.O.): Plotwise, it's *pretty* loyal to the comics, up to a certain moment in the movie. (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) Two not-very-intelligent police officers named Thomson and Thompson are trying to catch a pickpocket who's been operating in a local market. Tintin and his trusty dog Snowy are *also* there and end up finding a model ship of the line named the Unicorn that he buys shortly before two *other* men try to procure it. The boat getting damaged in an unfortunate accident, causing a message that was hidden within the mast to escape and roll under his desk; Tintin's apartment getting ransacked while he was out, and the boat being stolen; Tintin accusing one of the potential buyers of theft when he discovered the ship in his possession, but realizing it's actually an exact copy; returning home and *finding* the secret message, which turns out to mostly be gibberish; a man getting shot on Tintin's doorstep in connection to this unfolding mystery; Tintin's wallet, with the clue inside it, getting half-inched by the pickpocket; Thomson and Thompson having the bright idea of putting their wallets on elastic, resulting in a slapstick chase with the criminal when he tried to take it -- which itself results in them getting his coat, but nothing else because they're idiots; Tintin getting knocked out by some thugs and thrown in a packaging crate; (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) getting stowed on board a ship that's commanded by its first mate because its *captain* is a drunken moron who has no idea what's going on around him; (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) it turning out that getting pickpocketed was actually quite *fortunate* for Tintin because it kept his coveted clue from the villain, who apparently has one of the three required himself and is trying to *use* them to track down some long-lost treasure; (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) Snowy tracking down Tintin and coming to his rescue by chewing through his bonds; Tintin barricading the hatch, forcing the sailors to use TNT to blow it open again; escaping out of the porthole and into the one above it after a...false start; teaming up with the drunken Captain Haddock and escaping in a lifeboat after sending a radio message to the authorities; (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) Thomson and Thompson finally tracking down the pickpocket and finding Tintin's wallet amongst those stolen; (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) the boat sending out a sea plane to find and finish them off, but Tintin bringing it down with return fire and capturing it from the enemy; Tintin attempting to fly the plane to land, but having to go through a storm that results in him crash-landing in the Sahara Desert; almost dying of thirst, but getting rescued by a European military outpost; (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) Haddock recounting the story of the last voyage of the Unicorn -- captained by his ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock -- and getting so into the tale, he starts jumping around and trying to fight people; the tale of how the Unicorn was captured by a famous pirate called Red Rackham, who then murdered the crew and took the captain hostage, only for him to escape, defeat the evildoer, and blow up his own ship rather than let it fall into enemy hands -- and of course, there's some mention of sexy treasure being involved; (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) Tintin and the captain meeting up with Thomson and Thompson in the fictional Moroccan coastal town of Bagghar; (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) Tintin getting his wallet and the missing clue back.
Aaaand then the film gets a little iffy adaptation-wise for a bit. It revisits the comics occasionally, like (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) when Tintin discovers that the three clues combine to give coordinates for the lost treasure (shows the cover of Red Rackham's Treasure) and them finally *finding* a bunch of gold and jewels hidden in a globe in Haddock's family home; but for the most part, the film bids goodbye to the books from here on. There are quite a few little things throughout this film that were *so* book accurate, they reached the level of Watchmen -- i.e. they used the comic as a storyboard. Unlike what they did with the character of Haddock, Spielberg apparently decided it was okay for Tintin to have met and befriended the Thompsons *before* the start of the story, like in the comic, and didn't add in a scene of them meeting or explaining what their deal was -- I guess relying on fans of the comic to know what they're about already and new watchers to just *accept* the fact that Tintin is friends with two identical, mentally-challenged policemen.
The Dom: So, yes, this film may be taking from multiple sources, but at least it's mostly accurate *to* those multiple sources -- I say "mostly" because...
What They ChangedEdit
The Dom (V.O.): A *notable* deviation from the comic is the introduction of something the Nostalgia Critic once referred to as "movement porn" -- several scenes in the film introduced new action scenes as sequences that progress at a fast, but steady pace, with every action *seemingly* random, but flowing together so seamlessly into the next in a way that could never happen in real life that it seems almost hypnotic. For the most part, these scenes are fairly harmless and not exactly unexpected, as Spielberg would understandably want to make things more visually interesting for the audience and take advantage of the film being motion-capture. However, it's something that's *very* easy to overuse; so keep it in mind 'cause I'm going to come back to it later.
There's a few changes within the story that are a direct result of them mixing up the comics' timelines. For example (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn), originally, Tintin bought the model ship as a *present* for Captain Haddock, who he'd been friends with for a while now. Because they've not met yet in the film, Tintin displays a sudden, intense fascination with antiques and naval history that he's never shown before or since. Tintin not knowing Haddock yet has other side effects in the story, like him having to research the history of the ship alone because he *suddenly* has a hunch there's a scoop worthy of a newspaper article involved (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) and having a much more pronounced reaction to hearing his surname for the first time.
(shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) The change that amused me the most in this film is in regards to the villain, (attempting to pronounce the name Ivanovich Sakharine while also showing it as text) Ivanovich Skahangjabladadah, descendant and possibly reincarnation of the dreaded pirate Red Rackham come to finish off the line of Haddocks that killed him and claim the lost treasure of his forebear. (shows the cover of Red Rackham's Treasure) The reason I *find* him so amusing is partly because there were no known descendants of Red Rackham in the comics -- and in fact, *that* fact becomes a throwaway joke because, when word got out that Tintin was going on a treasure hunt for his lost gold, every greedy man in the city turned up *claiming* he was related to him and that he had a right to a share of it.
(shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) Another reason is, between the two comics they drew most heavily from, there must have been at least three or four villains to choose from; but instead, *they* decided to make a *minor* innocent *bystander* the mastermind! Yep, Sakharine (pronounced correctly, with text reading "I checked how you're supposed to pronounce it") is just an art collector who wanted to buy Tintin's copy of the Unicorn because it matched his own and he wanted to own the set; he had *no idea* there were clues to pirate treasure hidden inside them, and he was knocked out and robbed by the *actual* bad guys not long into the story. He's just a normal, pretty polite guy in the book; and yet, they decided *he* should be the final boss -- it's fucking weird!
The *borderline* magical spiritual reincarnation and/or family curse element is film only, too. They *do* keep the possibility that it is all just in the people involved's head, which is very in keeping with the Tintin way of doing things -- except for in this one late book, where they confirm that aliens *are* real and played an integral part in the end of the story; that was...strange. Anyway, the point is, it's new and out of place in *this* story, but in keeping with Tintin as a whole.
This film has something in common with the Hobbit movies, as it apparently decided that there just wasn't enough treasure in the book and increased it to "what the fuck?!" levels. (shows the cover of Red Rackham's Treasure) Originally, the globe full of diamonds and other jewels *was* the treasure in its entirety; I know that seems small by comparison, but it was probably still worth MILLIONS -- it certainly set Haddock up for life for the rest of the comics. Now, *in* the comics, this scene took place *after* Tintin and Haddock had found the wreck of the Unicorn and discovered there was no treasure there -- so the part right after where they find one last clue and decide to go on a quest to find it is technically *not* just film-only; but in this new context, it might as well be. (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) It's *also* worth noting that originally, the treasure wasn't on board the Unicorn to start with; Rackham had plundered it elsewhere and brought it on board when he found out that *his* pirate ship was damaged beyond repair.
(shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) There's a few jokes in this film that definitely wouldn't have been allowed in Hergé's very kid-friendly comic; the reference to bestiality is a prime example. (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) The man who took a round of machine gun fire to the back was originally a bad guy who was shot after they'd started infighting and it looked like he was going to spill the beans to Tintin; as the film was *already* playing a pretty epic game of "pass the villain", they switched his role to being an FBI agent trying to investigate what Sakharine was up to. This change leaves the film open to a *slight* plothole because, if the model ship really was *essential* to an *international* multi-agency investigation, the dude probably could've just subtly flashed his badge to Tintin and confiscated it as evidence.
(shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) Despite having three-plus books to draw from, the film apparently just couldn't resist the temptation to add in some original scenes -- for example, the whole routine they did where Tintin had to go through a bunch of acrobatics and ended up underneath a pile of smelly, sleeping sailors, only to find out that Haddock had him retrieving the key to the liquor cabinet. (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) There's also a long scene of...iffy funniness where the Thompsons don't realize they've *caught* the pickpocket despite being in a room full of his stolen wallets and him nervously blurting out a confession. (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) And the firefight and chase on the deck of the ship, followed by their attempt to smash the lifeboat into kindling; and, as I mentioned before, everything from the moment when they arrived in Bagghar (shows the cover of Red Rackham's Treasure) to when they find the treasure at Casa Haddock is a Spielberg addition. Bianca Castafiore and her glass-destroying voice is a recurring character from the comics that they brought in as a special *cameo*, but the rest of it -- the long, improbable chase through the town; the bit where Tintin gives up, but Haddock gives him an inspiring speech; the botched arrest; the crane sword fight, followed by the regular sword fight, followed by the slapstick fight, followed by Haddock just *punching* him -- isn't in any of the books...I think. I'm going to level with you, Beautiful Watchers: I didn't reread all 24 of them in preparation for this; so if they *are* drawing any of this from another Tintin comic, feel free to let me know in the comments.
In order to pave the way for (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) the *minor* character and innocent bystander of the comics to become the main villain of the piece, (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) the criminal mastermind of The Crab with the Golden Claws is relegated to being a minor character and innocent bystander -- he's the rich owner of one of the three copies of the ship and not much else. (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) Sakharine making a point of saying that nothing had happened by coincidence is ironically amusing because it was indeed originally a staggering coincidence that Tintin had found a copy of a ship that was captained by his best friend's ancestor centuries before. The spot that the Unicorn sank is changed from a cove on a mostly undiscovered island to the middle of the sea somewhere -- this is problematic because A: Sir Francis would have no way of knowing what the exact coordinates were, as he had no equipment with him when the ship sank; (shows the cover of Red Rackham's Treasure) and B: Tintin and Haddock would never have been able to dive that deep, even with the ahead-of-its-time submariner tech their new scientist friend introduces them to in the sequel.
(shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) In the movie, the pirates taking the much larger warship is actually *less* annoying to me because they clearly said a massive "fuck you" to logic anyway, so who cares? (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) The film is a little kinder to Haddock than the comic when it came to the reason that the plane crashed; instead of him being forced to climb outside and successfully fueling the plane with his alcoholic burp, he just got quietly shit-faced behind Tintin, then demanded a turn at flying, knocking Tintin out when he refused.
The action chase through the town represents to me when the film hit overdose levels on the movement porn -- there's a three-minute-long continuous shot that's just constant smooth, hypnotic movement from start to finish. Don't get me wrong, there *were* action scenes in the comic; but they were all grounded in an understandable sense of reality. *This* gravity- and, well, all-other-laws-of-physics-defying scene is, in my opinion, the least Tintin-y part of this adaptation. It doesn't get any better in the final showdown either; *Michael Bay* levels of destruction is not a welcome addition to a Tintin adventure, as far as I'm concerned.
The Dom: And finally, what did Dr. Spielberg feel wasn't a necessary body part for his Frankenstein adaptation?
What They Left Out AltogetherEdit
The Dom (V.O.): I would say that they used about half of both of the main comics they drew from in this film, which therefore means they left half of them *out* as well -- and as the ending is *all* they took from Red Rackham, you *could* consider that entire *book* left-out material. I do not, however, have the time or the inclination to go over the entire plot of three comics; so I'm just going to restrict myself to things that were relevant to what made it *into* the film, or things that were *referenced* despite their absence.
The reason the transition between the two main stories isn't too noticeable is because they *did* the switch-over when Tintin got kidnapped by the bad guys, which, amusingly, is something that happened in *both* stories -- between them, Tintin and his friends have been kidnapped more times than Princess Peach! (shows the cover of The Secret of the Unicorn) Originally, when Tintin got knocked out and shoved in a crate, he was taken to the recently-under-new-management Haddock family estate and locked in the basement; he eventually escapes by fashioning a *battering* ram out of a wooden joist and called Haddock for reinforcements -- the butler Nestor was under the impression that he was an intruder, so attempted to stop him. (shows the cover of The Crab with the Golden Claws) The *other* kidnapping occurred because he was getting too close to an international smuggling operation where a rich Moroccan businessman was using cans of crab meat to transport opium overseas -- the crab-themed water fountain in the Moroccan mansion and the tins of crab meat you see getting knocked over are references to this former main plot.
Every Tintin comic shows that Snowy is not just smart for a dog, he's capable of human thought; this is never acknowledged by the comic's cast, even when he does complex things like taking the initiative to create distractions for Tintin or recognizing the danger of a stick of dynamite and taking steps to neutralize it. While the film does show that Snowy is much smarter than a dog *should* be, they make no effort to include his comic book internal monologue.
(shows the cover of Red Rackham's Treasure) *Very* long story short in regards to the "globe treasure chest" thing, the coordinates on the clues did indeed lead to the wreck of the Unicorn; but after a lot of shenanigans, the gang was disappointed to discover that the treasure wasn't there. They returned home and went to have a look at Haddock's ancestral home when it came up for sale, found the globe, poked at that tiny island they'd just visited, and *then* found the booty. My only real complaint involving the omission of the rest of the story and their way of integrating this ending into the *new* one is, the new reason they came up with for someone to press the tiny button that looked like an island is kind of sketchy at best; according to the captain's ancestor, apparently, only a true Haddock would know that an island was out of place on a globe -- only a true Haddock and every third grade geography teacher on the planet! They also used the "only a true Haddock" thing as their way of explaining why Sakharine kept him around in the first place, so the whole thing seems a little poorly thought out in retrospect.
The Dom's Final ThoughtsEdit
The Dom: So, just to summarize one last time, Spielberg made a film out of *half* of two comics with a third's ending tagged on; and I would say that, for the most part, he did what he set out to do very, very successfully. The large parts of the film that stuck to the books were loyally adapted both visually and tonally, showing Spielberg's genuine love for the comics; and he blended the two storylines he was using almost seamlessly. The addition of the *smaller* action-orientated scenes I was okay with, and I think they really captured the *essence* of the lead characters -- which only leaves the multiple extended *ridiculous* action scenes towards the end as the film's major failing adaptation-wise. Unfortunately, these scenes were long enough and out of keeping with the comics enough to curb my enthusiasm for the whole adaptation -- not destroy it altogether, but it stopped me from singing this film's praises from the top of every mountain. That said, I've had *far* too much experience with adaptations that showed *no* joy and *no* respect for their source material to end this review on a negative note -- so...good job, Spielberg; I think Hergé was right to trust you and he would have been overjoyed with what you did with this.