Adventures with a boyhood hero: Movie #4

Two of my early literary heroes were Asterix and Tintin. I encountered them both on a holiday to Aberdeen in the 1970s when Asterix was still relatively unknown. Asterix was more accessible to me as a kid, but back then only Asterix the Gaul and Asterix and the Golden Sickle were in print in the UK (both black and white). Tintin stories demanded more of a young reader, but there were more of them. Tintin’s world was more complex and the characters more widely drawn, and even though throughout childhood the last thing I did at night was read an Asterix book over a Tintin story, I think Tintin had a more lasting effect. When I became a journalist, the Tintin model of reportage was what I had in mind … and a few times the real life of a daily news reporter actually came pretty close to that of the comic book hero, down to the death threats, mad pirates and adventures at sea.

Anyway, the Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson version of The Adventures of Tintin (2011) came pretty close to how I used to read the stories in my own head. It was last night’s movie in our family quest to watch all the iTunes films in our library over the next year.

I was surprised that the movie pretty well bombed in the US on release—but I shouldn’t have been. The books were never as popular there as they were in Europe. Globally the Tintin movie did fine, which is why they still have plans to do a second one, this time with Jackson as director and Spielberg as producer.

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a brilliant film. It’s seven years old now but I still haven’t seen an animated movie that is better in terms of its realism and attention to detail. I’m not only talking about the graphics, but the close attention paid to the deep textures of each frame. An example: the scene in which the pickpocket is fleeing from Thompson and Thomson and runs into an old lady on a bike. As he recovers on the pavement, birds fly around his head (as they do in Tom and Jerry cartoons). But then the owner of a pet shop comes out to catch his escaped canaries in a net, the same canaries that also happen to be advertised on the shop window.

This is a Spielberg movie through and through. With some Peter Jackson thrown in, as well as a spot of Edgar Wright and Steven Moffat. It’s a dream team, but sometimes it feels a bit too much. There are so many things happening in each scene you can get distracted—ironically, it makes your attention wander. I’m sure there are scenes I’ve never actually watched. Which is why it’s not a movie we’ve been able to see over and over. But it is a movie we enjoy every time we put it on. It’s also one of Olivia’s favourites, so it gets more of an airing than others. Unlike tonight’s movie, which it looks like I’m watching by myself.

As for Tintin, I’m already looking forward to watching it again this time next year.

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