The early Tintin albums were inspired by silent cinema, and they in turn inspired cinema. But all of Hergé's 23 proper Tintin albums, are should they be called graphic novels?, are very cinematic yet there have been few film versions. I myself have seen only one, the non-animated Tintin and the Blue Oranges (Tintin et les oranges bleues 1964), which is not based on any of the albums. I have also seen a TV-version, which was actually pretty good.
But I have never felt the need for any film adaptations. For me the albums have been enough, and I have been a Tintin fan since I was a young boy. I have read them in Swedish, English and French, and I even have an album in Japanese at home. I know them all very well, and I adore them. Especially the style, Hergé's ligne claire, which has become a very influential and easily recognisable style. Another thing about them is how they grew over time, developed in many different ways. Hergé changed when the world changed, both the global world and his own personal world, and the albums changed with him. First they were imaginative but rather crude, and in the case of Tintin in the Congo (Tintin au Congo 1931, re-edited colour version 1946) embarrassingly racist. Then came the middle period of such work as the anti-fascist King Ottokar's Sceptre (Le Sceptre d'Ottokar 1938, re-edited colour version 1947) and then the late masterpieces with the emotionally complex and beautifully illustrated Tintin in Tibet (Tintin au Tibet 1960) as the high point. That album, I think, is one of the greatest drawn art work of the 20th century. Other highlights are Blue Lotus (Le Lotus bleu 1936, re-edited colour version 1946), the album with which Hergé stopped being "just" a cartoonist and became an artist and storyteller, and the double feature The Seven Crystal Balls (Les 7 boules de cristal 1948) and Prisoners of the Sun (Le Temple du soleil 1949).
Now Steven Spielberg's film The Adventures of Tintin is here, and I saw it yesterday. Spielberg has been a fan of Tintin for several decades and got the rights from Hergé's, or to use his proper name Georges Remi's, wife in 1983, after Remi had died. Remi liked Spielberg's films and was happy for him to have the rights. But it has taken a long time before anything came of it.
I liked the film. For one thing it looks great, it is witty and it got a very strong drive. But somehow what is good about the film is also a problem. Spielberg has such a strong personality as a filmmaker, his style is easily recognisable and forceful and it all but negates Hergé's presence. What I mean is that although based on two albums there is very little left of the feel, texture and style of Tintin, whereas almost every shot clearly signals Spielberg's presence. It is not so much an adaptation as an appropriation. These means that there is a strong sense of wonder, and dazzling displays of visual imaginations, Spielberg at the top of his game. But there is also a certain breathlessness to the film, which I feel is a bit inappropriate. Hergé's albums are not breathless, they are more measured. Also, I did not like John Williams music, and there was too much of it at that. One thing that has got lost altogether is the subconscious level. Hergé filled his albums with hallucinations, dreams and nightmares, elements which he sometimes took from his own dark secrets. But the film is all surface.
They have taken the album The Secret of the Unicorn (Le Secret de la Licorne 1943) and blended it with The Crab With the Golden Claws (Le Crabe aux pinces d'or 1941, 1943). They are not related, but since they have taken so very little from The Crab..., I suppose they just wanted that album's first meeting of Tintin and Haddock . But when I saw the film and the traitorous first mate Allan appeared I thought, almost angrily, "Hey, he's not supposed to be in this adventure!" Then I realised what they had done and calmed down. It also says something about the quality of the film that I immediately recognised Allan, even though I was not expecting him to be there.
Of the new things that has been added to the film (but which are not in any album) a car chase, involving a hawk, a tank and a collapsing damn, was particularly breathtaking, even though they took place in a stereotypical fantasy of a Middle East kingdom. But the best part of the film was the opening, after the title sequence. It takes place on a square where there is a market, and a man is drawing a picture of somebody else. But we do not see the faces of either man. When the faces are revealed we see that it is Georges Remi drawing Tintin. I thought it was a nice gesture.
So there it is. A meeting between two of the most successful makers of popular art in the 20th century, Hergé and Spielberg (and Peter Jackson on the side), has resulted in a film which is both a dazzling piece of film, and a disappointment. It actually ties in well with what I wrote not long ago about adaptations. It is also fun to consider which other filmmaker's would have been suitable. A version of The Castafiore Emerald (Les Bijoux de la Castafiore 1963) by Ernst Lubitsch or perhaps even by Eric Rohmer would have been something. A Michael Mann version of The Calculus Affair (L'Affaire Tournesol 1956) would be interesting as well. But the beauty of the albums is still unsurpassed.
There is a very good documentary about Tintin and Hergé called Tintin et Moi (Anders Ostergaard, 2003). Not sure of its availability but look for it, it is worth the effort.