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Trailer Review: The Adventures of Tintin

By / Posted on 20 May 2011

The Adventures of TintinQuick, name the most beloved series of comics worldwide.

No, it’s not Spider-Man.

Nope, not Batman, try again.

No, it’s not Archie! Stop being such an American.

The answer, of course, is The Adventures of Tintin.

Hergé’s comic strip about the young Belgian reporter and his loyal fox terrier has proven to be almost as influential and pervasive through comics as the work of Walt Disney has been through animation. With its ligne claire art style, formulaic whimsy and relatable 20th century environment, Tintin proved to be a worldwide phenomenon for adventure-lovers. Two dozen original books led to a number of feature films, animated series, radio plays and stage productions (mostly French in origin). Yet, somehow, Tintin‘s international popularity still hasn’t quite permeated the United States. Steven Spielberg wants to change that.

You see, Spielberg, a die-hard Tintin fan, has owned the rights to a Tintin film ever since Hergé’s passing in 1983. At the time, Spielberg was already a bit of a hot shot, with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. all under his belt already. Even a visionary director like Spielberg, however, had problems conceiving how to translate the vibrant and timeless world of Hergé’s strip to the big screen, hence the 28-year delay. Thanks to a little help from his friends, though, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is poised to become one of the family-friendly international blockbusters of the 2011 holiday season.

Spielberg brought in executive producer Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital production studio to motion-capture the entire live-action production for computer animation. This is… curious. We’ve seen mo-cap fail spectacularly recently with Mars Needs Moms, so the market is not exactly chomping at the bit for more. The extent of Spielberg’s experience with animation in the past was Animaniacs, so it’s understandable that he would choose to shoot something closer to a traditional live-action blockbuster and have everything fixed up in post-production. That said, hopes are not high for Weta. They’ve done all sorts of wonderful realistic effects in The Lord of the Rings, District 9 and Avatar, but an entire film of that sounds like a dive straight into the uncanny valley. Given the ligne claire style everyone loved about Hergé, it might not have been a bad idea for Spielberg to consult with more expressive animators like Flat Black Films (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly) or Pixar. Half the fun of animation is doing things you can’t do in real life, and this type of mo-cap doesn’t tend to lend itself to such fluidity.

On the other hand, Secret of the Unicorn is already being hyped as the first part of a trilogy, with the second to be directed by Jackson and a third with a shared director credit between the two, and these are filmmakers that have great experience with solid trilogies. The screenplay was co-written by Edgar Wright and the bumbling detective duo of Thomson and Thompson are being portrayed by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the hilarious leads from Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, so at least those parts will be wonderfully silly.

There is no way Steven Spielberg will screw up a brand as important as Tintin, but right now the method of animation is definitely unsettling. Still, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn is early contender for top film of Holiday 2011.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.