Spielberg Movie 'The Adventures of Tintin' Hits Theaters

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". The comic book series "Tintin" or "Tantan' in French has been translated into over thirty languages. That's a testament to its hero's universal appeal. The intrepid boy journalist, Tintin, and his dog, Snowy, chase bad guys all over the globe. The character was created in the late 1920s by Belgian comic book author Georges Remi, known as Hergé, and now there is a new blockbuster animated Tintin movie directed by Steven Spielberg. "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" centers on a couple of Tintin stories and the relationship between the ornery lush captain Haddock and Tintin.

[Preview from movie plays]

[Tintin: You wouldn't happen to be related to the Haddocks of Marlinspike Hall would you?

Haddock: Why do you ask?

Tintin: It's for a story I've been working on. An old shipwreck that happened on the coast of Barbados. A Man o' War - triple masted, fifty guns.

Haddock: what do you know of The Unicorn?

Tintin: Not a lot. That's why I'm asking you.

Haddock: The secret of that ship is known only to my family.]

Werman: Spielberg has been a Tintin fan for you. He got approval from Hergé himself to make this movie just before the author died three decades ago. French Hergé expert and biographer, Benoît Peeters says the film is a great tribute to the books, even if it doesn't convey all their nuances.

Benoît Peeters: Maybe there is some kind of poetry that I don't find thoroughly in Spielberg's film even if I like it, but i think a lot of new people in America and everywhere in the world will discover this character and this marvelous world of Hergé, so I'm very happy with the film.

Werman: Tintin as a character, as a journalist, I heard somewhere that the idea of Tintin, this character, began as kind of a propaganda for the Catholic church.

Peeters: In a way, because Hergé created Tintin when he was very, very young. It was in a Catholic and very conservative newspaper and his boss was a priest and said to him, "You have to send Tintin to Soviet Union to show how horrible it is and how they prosecute religion and so," but Hergé . .

Werman: And that was the first book, right? Tintin goes to the Soviet Union. Yeah.

Peeters: This was the first book, and then he went to Congo which is very old fashioned in a way and you can criticize this book.

Werman: Well, I think we can say "racist". Yeah.

Peeters: Yes, in a way, but what is very important is the ability of evolution of Hergé. It changed a lot, his mind, and for example, in The Blue Lotus, he goes to China and then he become friends with a young Chinese boy, Chang Chong-Chen, and Hergé at that time met really a young Chinese student and he went against racist ideas that he had at his beginnings, and also in his first book, it's graphic style was not so great.

Werman: Right.

Peeters: But in a few years he made it better and better and his stories also became better and better. He's a writer, a storyteller. He's a real complete artist.

Werman: Now Benoît, you had met Hergé many times. In fact, Hergé gave you the last interview before his death in 1993. You've got a new book out now called "Hergé, Son of Tintin". What kind of man was Hergé?

Peeters: Hergé was a very secret man. He had a difficult childhood, tried then to create a perfect childhood through his books, but when people were asking questions, it was always difficult for him and he had some political problems during the World War II. He was often criticized for different aspects of his work and there are no women in the stories, so you needed a lot of time and confidence to really discover who he was and that's why I wrote his big biography.

Werman: Now, one thing you indicated earlier about that movie is that it doesn't quite capture the magic of Hergé, and one thing it also doesn't do, that follows the English language adaptation of the books, they don't have the same color and the language or the same whimsy, the drama. What happened in the translation?

Peeters: The translation into English were done end of the '40s and at that time comics were not considered as very important, so the translation was quickly done and some mistakes were made, and now it's difficult to change because, for example, people know a character like Professor Tournesol. . .

Werman: Right. That's a great example.

Peeters: He's known as Calculus.

Werman: Right.

Peeters: And "Calculus", it's very cheap as a name.

Werman: And tell us what Tournesol is, because that's crucial to understand.

Peeters: Yes, Tournesol, it's a sunflower. It gives a idea of more poetic, more lunatic, a strange character. Don't forget that this professor will a prisoner in the Temple of the Sun by the Incas. Then he goes to the moon. He's a very strange scientist, and with Professor Calculus, I think we lose a lot of elements. It's the same with Snowy, which real name is much more [xx] and funny. It's "Milou" in French. "Snowy" it's just redundant.

Werman: Well "Capitaine 'Addock" in French does become "Captain Haddock" in English since the word [xx] is the same in both language.

Peeters: Yes, it works. It works. Yes.

Werman: But when it comes to Haddock's curses, that's another story altogether.

Peeters: Oh, yes. Hergé invented a special type of curse words which are not really curses. It's just guided by sounds of the words. So any word, any strange word can become like a curse. "Mille millions de mille sabords!", "Tonnerre de Brest!", "Bashi-bazouk!, nobody knows what's a "Bashi-bazouk".

Werman: Yeah, what is a Bashi-bazouk?

Peeters: Oh, I think it was a soldier in the old time, but the question is more the sound. It's a poetic ideal.

Werman: And Benoît, since you are such a Tintinophile, I'm wondering if you have a proffered Haddock curse that you might even use in everyday speech.

Peeters: Oh, it would be difficult. I like a very strange word, is it [xx].

Werman: [xx]?

Peeters: [xx]. It's very funny.

Werman: Is that nonsensical or is it does it mean it something?

Peeters: I don't know exactly what it means, but when you hear it, you really don't know what to do.

Werman: Benoît Peeters, very good to speak with you. Thanks a lot.

Peeters: Thanks a lot.