Popularity doesn’t necessarily mean popular in North American only. There is a wider world out there, with many different forms of entertainment. Overseas popularity means Hollywood can expect bigger returns in the international market, with a bonus if the title is familiar in North America. Even if the work isn’t known in North America, a popular work can be translated and localized. It’s nothing new; the hit film, Three Men and a Baby, which stayed in the top ten from release November 27 1987 until March 20, 1988, was based on the 1987 French hit, Trois hommes et un couffin.
As seen in the past with Lost In Translation, adapting comics to film is taking one visual medium, one that consists of a series of static images, to another visual medium based on the illusion of moving pictures. Shouldn’t be a problem, but there have been some comic adaptations that didn’t work. However, the causes of the failures hasn’t been a mistranslation, but something deeper. When an comic adaptation works, the film embraces the esthetic of the comic.
That brings us to Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin, a Belgian comic that first appeared in 1929 and follows the adventures of boy reporter Tintin, his dog Milou (Snowy in English), and his friend Captain Haddock, running into characters such as the absent-minded professor Tryphon Tournesol (Cuthbert Calculus), identical detectives who are not twins Dupont and Dupond (Thomson and Thompson), and opera singer Bianca Castafore. Tintin’s adventures have taken him to many exotic locales, including the moon in Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon, first serialized from 1950 to 1953, almost two decades before the first lunar landing. Hergé did his research when he could, though a few problems slipped through. Some of his prejudices slipped through, especially in his early work, but later titles corrected the bias.
The Tintin comics are a mix of action-adventure and mystery, with the title character falling into the adventure and then following leads for his job. The artwork is clean and very recognizable, thanks to Hergé’s ligne claire style. The comics have been translated into 110 languages, though the first American translation suffered from excessive editorial cuts for content. These cuts have been restored thanks to later publishers. Needless to say, Tintin has had an impact on the world.
Enter Hollywood. While Tintin had been adapted to film, the studios were European, primarily Beligan and French. In 2011, The Adventures of Tintin, directed and produced by Steven Spielberg, co-produced by Peter Jackson and Kathleen Kennedy, was released. The film was done with CGI animation using motion capture and starred Jamie Bell as Tintin, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg as Thomson and Thompson, and Daniel Craig as Ivan Invanovith Sakharine. The only character not animated with motion capture was Snowy. The movie adapts three volumes, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure.
The Adventures of Tintin covers how Tintin met Captain Haddock and the Captain’s return to Marlinspike Hall, his father’s home. The story begins with a simple purchase and a pickpocket, then leads to a sea voyage, Morocco, and a fight to finish a battle started by the fathers of Haddock and Sakharine, leading to where Captain Haddock’s father hid a treasure. Through it, Tintin finds adventure and danger, convinces Captain Haddock to help, and gets unexpected assistance from Thompson and Thomson who were on a completely unrelated pickpocket case.
The animation doesn’t take long to get used to. The opening credits ease the audience into the idea by showing Tintin and Snowy, mostly in Silhouette, in previous adventures. The film itself provides a crowd scene as Tintin gets his portrait done. The cartoon features are introduced slowly, giving the audience time to adjust. The first look the audience has of Tintin is his portrait, done in Hergé’s style, before revealing Jamie Bell in the role. The CG animation stops from being fully realistic, keeping characters, even in the crowd scene, looking like they stepped off the pages of the comics. At the same time, Tintin looks natural, thanks to details like strands of hair and motion capture making sure the movements are natural. Indeed, every character looks like their counterpart from the comics.
But just looking right is half the battle. Casting is important. Jamie Bell brought the earnestness needed to portray Tintin. Serkis’ take on Captain Haddock turned him Scottish, which didn’t detract from Haddock’s colourful language. Frost and Pegg continued Thompson and Thomson’s shtick of finishing each other’s sentences while bumbling through an adventure. Daniel Craig’s turn as Sakharine was a velvet glove over an iron fist, a genteel front that drops when things start going wrong. The result is a cast of vibrant characters who match their comic counterparts almost note perfectly.
The writing kept to the plot of the adapted comics, with one addition. Bianca Castafore was added as part of Sakharine’s plan to get the third model of the Unicorn; the character was considered too iconic to leave out of the film. Members of the audience trying to figure out Sakharine’s plot could figure it out before Tintin, mainly from the leads laid out beforehand. The pace is good; the audience gets to go through several roller coasters scenes that are followed by breather spots to gather themselves to the next twist and turn. The action scenes advance the plot instead of being set pieces.
Details can make or break an adaptation. Get something wrong and the audience is thrown out of the suspension of disbelief. Get the small details right, though, and audience buy-in is easier. The opening credits used the same typeface that the covers of the comic compilations had, with the accompanying animation staying true to the original comics. Keeping the tone and the era the same, matching the comics, turns the movie into a grand adaptation.