Tintin Plans A Comeback On Celluloid

Jan 11 2004, 00:00 IST
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BELGIAN comic character Tintin has not had a good relationship with America so far. He has sold 200 million copies worldwide in over 55 languages, and still, was never popular in the US, like he was and is almost everywhere else, including the Fiji islands, India, China and the erstwhile Soviet Union.

But the US and Tintin could kiss and make up yet in 2004. On January 10, Tintin comics turned 75.

But here’s the big fish: Hollywood biggie Steven Spielberg is making preparations to shoot the first full-length English film based on a Tintin adventure through his DreamWorks production house and producing partner Kathleen Kennedy. Shooting could begin shortly, and it is likely that for the Christmas season of 2004, Americans and the rest of the world will be treated to a mass epic of a film on one of the most pervasive, recognisable and iconic characters to ever come out of post-War Europe.

Tintin’s invasion of the Indian public consciousness happened in the early 1970s when Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) began publishing Tintin in Bengali. Soon, it was to diffuse through the country. The result was we had one of the most immediately identifiable characters ever. The subject matter, that of political unrest, crime, insidious pursuits of world domination, science, royal scams and authoritarian regimes appealed unanimously to people in Asia, Africa and Russia, where some of Tintin’s adventures are based.

However, though Tintin’s creator Georges Remi (his written name, Herge, is the French pronunciation of his initials) devoted a whole Tintin adventure to the US (Tintin in America), featuring the only real-life character (Chicago mobster Al Capone), the Belgian sleuth-reporter never broke the wall there.

Spielberg’s proposed Tintin film probably means that America might be finally ready. No doubt, America has a Tintin fan-community, but it is no way as populous or pervasive as it evidently is in India and China. Since the comic strip began, Tintin has been in only two full-length films, neither of them in English. A short look at Tintin in film since Herge created him:

In 1961, just about the time Tintin had begun to be recognised outside Europe, French director Jean-Jacques Vierne directed the first Tintin adventure in film, Tintin et le Mystere de la Toison D’or (Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece). The film, not based on any published adventure, but used the characters, was an entirely new script written by Andre Barret and Remo Forlani. The plot winds itself around how Captain Haddock inherits an old ship from a deceased friend. Pitching forth to Istanbul, Tintin and the Captain realise it’s more than just an old junk ship when a person called Anton Karabine offers to buy it off them for a colossal sum. They later uncover the ship’s history—it was the vessel that carried men that managed a coup in a small South American country. The film is available in an English-dubbed version now off film retail websites.

The second, in 1964, was Tintin et les Oranges Bleues (Tintin and the Blue Oranges) directed by Philippe Condroyer. Again, an original plot based on the Tintin characters, the film had popular actor Jean-Pierre Talbot playing Tintin, as he did in the Golden Fleece. In Blue Oranges, Tintin’s forgetful genius friend Professor Calculus writes a book called ‘The Earth is Starving’, and appears on television programmes pleading with modern scientists to work towards doing away with world hunger. Calculus receives a blue orange in the post from a Spanish scientist, a fruit that grows on desert soil. When he goes to Spain to investigate the discovery, both he and the Spanish scientist are kidnapped by an insidious Emir who wants the key to the blue oranges—an example of Herge’s disenchantment with the Arab monarchy. In come Tintin and Captain Haddock to bail them out.

Possibly the most appealing of the Tintin adventures has been The Prisoners of the Sun, where Tintin and his friends travel to Inca Peru to rescue a group of cursed archaeologists. The first full-length Tintin animated feature film Tintin et le Temple du Soleil (Tintin and the Temple of the Sun) was directed in 1969 by Herge himself, who also wrote the script.

In 1972 came Tintin et le Lac aux Requins (Tintin and the Lake of Sharks) directed by Raymond Leblanc, a film whose frames were used to compose the published work available in English. In it, Tintin is invited to holiday with Calculus on a Balkan Island on Lake Polishoff, where he is shown the professor’s new invention—a device that can duplicate anything. King Shark, played through the character of Italian-Greek tycoon Rastapoloulos, chases them in submarines to get it. A fantastic film, played out in the claustrophobic settings of an underwater crime empire.

And finally, the versions everyone has seen. In 1990, the Tintin adventures were adapted into short animated films titled the Adventures of Tintin, directed by Stephane Bernasconi. The series was translated and is still broadcast all over the world. Except mainstream America, until, possibly, now.

With Spielberg’s proposed movie on Tintin, the possibilities are immense. Imagine this: new Tintin amusement rides at Universal Studios, an Inca-theme roller-coaster at Disneyland, gift shops with Tintin school-bags, erasers, posters, lunch-boxes, computer games, bath towels, hand soap, baby shampoo, in other words, every possible sort of merchandise that is not already sold at the quaint little Tintin store in Brussels. Critics would probably scoff at this, hesitant and sceptical that making Tintin mainstream would in essence ruin everything he has stood for in 75 years—an underground resistance to social wrong and crime, in reality Herge’s silent revolt against an invading enemy and a spreading Communist threat, in the published page a melting pot of the most different situations and sometimes a jarring yoking together of cultures and people.

Spielberg is understood to be very near finalising the acquisition of rights for the Tintin characters from Nick Rodwell, who oversees Moulinsart (Herge’s estate). In a year, we’ll probably know if Tintin remains the split-wide-open investigating journalist, or a watered-down American semi-hero. Baited breaths are welcome.

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