With Steven Spielberg releasing The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn this month, we take a look at the character and find out what really makes Tintin tick.
So, who’s this Tintin fella then?
He's the Belgian boy reporter written and illustrated by legendary artist Hergé. He trots around the globe solving mysteries, thwarting crime and - most impressively - looking dashing in a pair of plus fours and a powder blue sweater. He does all this in the company of a small white dog called Snowy.
Yep, Snowy. Or Milou if you want to sound pretentious and/or French. In fact, while we're on that subject, you'd better hold off calling Tintin ‘Tintin’. 'Taaan Taaan', if you please.
So a boy and his dog save the world, then? Who else?
A boy, his dog, a grumpy sea-captain called Haddock, two identical and utterly incompetent detectives called Thomson (and Thompson) and a host of other oddball characters. A cornucopia of dysfunction really.
He liked it literal this Herge guy, then?
Yes he did. He also enjoyed factual inaccuracies. Despite the Thom(p)son twins' names, and the fact they look alike, they are not actually twins. Hence the slight difference in name. And moustache. Thompson's is flat, Thomson's flares out a little at the sides.
Wait, aren't Simon Pegg and Nick Frost playing those two? They look nothing alike.
Well spotted. Pegg and Frost were cast because of their impeccable comic timing, a vital part of Thomson and Thompson's charm. Performance Capture will turn them into the almost identical non-twins and perform the same feat for Jamie Bell (Tintin), Andy Serkis (Haddock) and Daniel Craig (Sakharine and, reportedly, Red Rackham).
Red Rackham? Sounds like he should be chopping down trees on a Discovery Channel reality show! Who is he?
Red Rackham is a villainous pirate who seized the eponymous ship The Unicorn from Haddock’s ancestor, Sir Francis Haddock. The story focuses on Tintin and co's attempts to find the sunken vessel and discover the location of a mysterious lost treasure.
So, let me get this right. There's an irritable sea-captain, two idiot policemen who look alike but aren't twins, a teenage boy and his dog? And this lot go off on a treasure hunt?
Er, yes. Yes, that is correct.
And why is Spielberg making this film?
Fandom, plain and simple. Spielberg first read the character after a review of Raiders of the Lost Ark compared Indy to Tintin. He read the book entirely in French, but the language barrier didn't put him off - he was attracted to the series on the basis of Herge's art alone. That's why he's shooting with Performance Capture – to replicate the beauty of Hergé's illustrations without having to stick within the limitations of live action.
What’s so good about them then?
Their simplicity. Hergé pioneered the linge claire style, drawing with beautifully clean, bold lines and colours that pop from the page. Herge's world is one brimming with brightness, invention and detail, the writer always researching Tintin’s globe-trotting adventures rigorously. When Hergé died in 1983, we lost one our greatest artists and storytellers.
So why has it taken so long for a Tintin film to be made?
Ask America. As a uniquely European character, Tintin has never really broken the US. There are small pockets of fans, sure, but there remain real concerns about the commercial viability of the series across the pond. That's why the film is being released in Europe this month and in America in December. The studio is hoping good word of mouth over here will generate interest over there.
I dunno, I'm not a mindreader!!
Alright, alright. No need to get grouchy. So I'm liking the sound of all this and want to try the books. Where do I start?
Well, the best place to start is always...the start. Except in this case the start isn't all that great. The first two books, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo, are highly controversial works, the first anti-Soviet propaganda, the second a rather Colonialist view of the eponymous location. To this day it has to be published with a warning.
Crikey! Did he ever express regret for those books?
Very much so. Repeatedly in fact, and as the Tintin series went on, Hergé aimed to atone for the errors of his youth through his fiction. Tintin and the Red Sea Sharks, in which our young hero fights slavery, and Tintin in Tibet, where he looks for his lost Chinese friend Chang, are both excellent examples of the liberal, learned attitude Hergé expressed through most of his work.
So a good place to start, then?
Yup, definitely. It’s also worth checking out the British-based The Black Island, the space adventures Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, and the three books Spielberg's film is based on: The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure.
BILLIONS OF BLUE BLISTERING BARNACLES!!
No need to be rude about it. I was only asking a question!
TEN THOUSAND THUNDERING TYPHOONS!!!!
Fine then! I don't have to take any more of this! I'm off!
No, no they’re quotes. From Captain Haddock. He's...Oh, never mind.