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Tintin goes to Hollywood
October 20th, 2011
10:27 EDT


Tintin goes to Hollywood
Trusty sidekick Snowy in tow, Tintin leaves his comic book universe for the brave new world of 3-D animation next week in Steven Spielberg's big-budget take on the boy reporter's intrepid adventures.

"The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn" brings the hero and his little white dog to the big screen on October 26, following a red-carpet world premiere in Tintin's native Brussels on Saturday.

Created in 1929 by the Belgian writer Herge, Tintin and his colourful cast of companions have achieved cult status for millions of fans worldwide, who will be watching anxiously to see what Hollywood has made of their icon.

Co-produced by "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, Spielberg's "Tintin", in the director's own words, is billed as a kind of "Indiana Jones for kids".

Shot using state-of-the-art motion capture technology, the movie uses real-life actors -- Jamie Bell of "Billy Elliot" fame as the fresh-faced hero, Daniel Craig as the villain Red Rackham -- to breathe life into its characters.

Loosely based on three Tintin comics -- "The Crab with the Golden Claws", "The Secret of the Unicorn" and "Red Rackham's Treasure" -- the storyline kicks off with the blonde-quiffed Tintin nosing through an antiques fair in his native Brussels.

When he stumbles upon a model sailboat, "The Unicorn", Tintin's find sparks a cascade of mishaps that soon land the young reporter on a ship captained by the shadowy Rackham, bound for Morocco on a perilous treasure hunt.

Lurking in a cabin below deck, Tintin finds a booze-soaked Captain Archibald Haddock, and signs him up for the ride.

Whether adrift on a canoe, trapped in a burning plane, or speeding on an under-fire motorbike and side-car: the pair hurl themselves into the jaws of adventure with a mix of pluck, bravery and insolent good luck.

Liberties are taken with the cast's accents -- Tintin's is polished British, while Haddock's "Blistering Barnacles" and other colourful invectives are delivered with a Scottish lilt.

But otherwise the movie sticks faithfully to the look and feel of the original comic book series.

The Tintin pantheon of characters are all present, from the bumbling Thomson and Thompson detective twins -- albeit with larger noses than the originals -- to the larger-than-life opera singer, Bianca Castafiore.

Tintin's journey to Hollywood began many decades ago, when the boy reporter was barely 20.

Herge -- whose real name was Georges Remi -- first contacted Walt Disney back in 1948, sending him eight albums and offering to adapt them for the screen himself, but to no avail, recalls Philippe Lombard, author of a recent book entitled "Tintin, Herge and the Cinema".

Several people including the ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau approached Herge in later years with plans to film his works, but none came to fruition.

Two moderately-successful feature films, shot in the 1960s by France's Jean-Pierre Vienne: "Tintin and the Golden Fleece" and "Tintin and the Blue Oranges", were until now the only Tintins to have made it onto the screen.

Spielberg, meanwhile, had a long-held ambition to bring Tintin to the cinema.

He first made contact with Herge back in 1983, but the writer died later that year before the pair could meet face-to-face.

Spielberg pressed on, in contact with Herge's widow, but was unhappy with the first script he was shown -- with a quiff-less Tintin and a romantic sideplot between Bianca Castafiore and Haddock -- and the project was eventually shelved.

"Spielberg just couldn't find the right actor to play Tintin," said Lombard. "What changed everything was motion capture."

Hitting the screens nearly 30 years later, Spielberg's film made use of the sophisticated technology -- pioneered by Jackson for the character of Gollum in the Tolkien trilogy -- to combine real acting with a virtual environment.

Bell, Craig and their fellow actors played out their scenes in a grey-and-white studio dubbed the "Volume", mapped with hundreds of cameras to achieve three-dimensional coverage of their every move.

To capture their expressions, the actors were fitted with American-football style helmets with mini-cameras that record the slightest twitch of their facial muscles, eyes or lips.

Each character, costume and accessory was covered in reflective points that are picked up by cameras and projected in real-time into a Tintin-themed, computer-generated world.

The result, in Jackson's words is a photorealistic world peopled with "real Herge people".

Herge's last Tintin album was published in 1978. Since then the boy reporter has fallen in and out of favour, with bouts of controversy about colonial-era stereotypes in several of the works, most notably "Tintin in the Congo".

But sales of the 24 Tintin books have continued at a brisk pace, translated into 77 languages with more than 180 million copies sold worldwide.

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