Tintin to the Rescue

Film Friday

Other than spectacular visuals and 3D effects, the new Tintin film may not particularly entertain adults—it’s a Spielberg roller coaster ride such as we became accustomed to with Raiders of the Lost Arc—but for me it brought back deep memories. That’s because I was raised on Tintin.

I knew the series from my trips to France in the 1960’s.  I guess today we would call the Tintin books graphic novels, and my brothers and I scoured bookstores throughout Paris tracking down every work in the series.  We even managed to unearth a copy of the first Tintin book, Tintin au Congo (1930), which author and artist Herge withdrew as blatantly racist. (Even as kids we knew there was something wrong with child-like natives worshipping Tintin.)  Looking at the books now, I realize that even the later ones too often have the colonialist plot of “enlightened European travels to exotic cultures and saves them.”  But for us as kids, the books allowed our imaginations to roam freely.

Tintin was always poking around in wonderful interiors, such as Incan tombs, haunted Scottish castles, Egyptian pyramids, Chinese opium dens, underwater shipwrecks, secret treasure rooms, and lunar caves. There’s always excitement and he must get chloroformed or knocked out at least once in every book. I’ve since see the English translations and can’t make the adjustment.  For me, Snowy the dog will always be Milou, Professor Calculus will always be Tournesol (meaning “sunflower”), police inspectors Thomson and Thompson will always be Dupond and Dupont.

I never liked the final books—in my opinion Herge started losing his touch after he took Tintin to the Himalayas–and earlier film versions look pretty awful. But I would have loved the Spielberg version.

That’s because it gets Tintin just right.  The visuals are perfect, the characters are just as they are in the illustrated versions, and there’s the same blend of humor and excitement.  Perhaps Herege’s Tintin was one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones–after all, there are exciting plane rides, daring escapes on board a ship, fights in the desert, secret treasure maps. True, the movie didn’t enthrall me as the books once did. But the books don’t have the same attraction now either, except to invoke nostalgia.

If you have children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews, do yourself a favor. Go to Tintin and watch them watching it. You’ll see magic at work.

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