BRUSSELS, Belgium – He’s been to the Moon and back. He’s outwitted Soviet agents, battled Arab insurgents and thwarted international narcotics smugglers. But, blistering barnacles, will Tintin escape unscathed from his adventure into Hollywood?
Stephen Spielberg’s decision to take the boy reporter from the comic-strip albums beloved by generations to the high-tech big screen has had Europeans on the edge of their seats for months.
Tintin fans have been anxiously waiting to see how their clean-cut hero, his faithful fox terrier Snowy and their boozy seafaring companion Capt. Haddock, would be re-invented by the director behind Indiana Jones, ET and Jurassic Park.
Although there have been gripes from purists, most fans seem to have been wowed by Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn.”
In Brussels – hometown of Tintin, or at least his creator, cartoonist Herge – the movie has dominated box-office numbers since its world premiere in Spielberg’s presence brought a rare dash of Tinsel-Town glamour to the Belgian capital on Oct. 21.
The movie also broke records in France, taking almost $22 million in its first five days in a country where Tintin books are essential childhood reading.
Tintin has topped movie charts in Britain, Germany and a string of countries from Iceland to Bahrain, bringing home $125,300,000 in its first two weeks, as Spielberg’s 3D motion-capture marvel spreads around the world prior to its US release just before Christmas.
Belgium, a country sorely lacking in national heroes, has seen Tintin fever bring some distraction from the divisions between Dutch- and French-speakers that have frustrated efforts to form a government for over 16 months.
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“I felt Spielberg's love for Tintin coming through in this film," said Francois Schuiten, a leading Belgian comic-strip artist. “He has not churned out a super-production just to rake in the dollars, he has made a wonderful homage to Herge's work that's also an incredible action movie.”
It's hard to over-estimate the affection felt for Tintin in Belgium and much of Europe. Since they first appeared as a newspaper comic strip in 1929, the adventures of the globetrotting young reporter have captured the hearts of children around the world.
Albums recounting Tintin's battles with bad guys from the jungles of South America to the mountains of Tibet or the mean streets of 1930s Chicago have been translated into over 100 languages and sold over 250 million copies worldwide. Ahead of the movies' release in India, distributors say Tintin enjoys 90 percent brand recognition among movie-goers there.
Using cutting-edge technology, the film blends animation with the acting of a largely British cast that includes Billy Elliot star Jamie Bell as Tintin and Daniel Craig, taking a break from James Bond to play the chief villain Ivanovich Sakharine.
Strangely enough, British critics have been among the harshest. The Daily Telegraph called the movie a “mishmash” while a critic and Tintin fan Nicholas Lezard wrote in the Guardian that he was “stunned and sickened” by Spielberg’s treatment of the boy hero.
Blogger Guillaume Van der Stighelen felt moved to reply suggesting that when it comes to this treasured Belgian icon, the Brits just didn’t get it.
“The movie is just wonderful,” he wrote in letter to Spielberg carried by the daily De Morgan newspaper. “Tintin is the Tintin we all secretly dream to be here in Belgium, we thank you for that.”
Spielberg discovered Tintin in the early 1980s after French reviews of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” compared Indiana Jones to the be-quiffed Belgian reporter. He was quickly smitten by the books and called Herge with an idea to make a movie version. Plans were curtailed when Tintin's creator died in 1983.
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“In a sense, somehow destiny held me back from making it in the 'eighties,” Spielberg told VRT television. “Because I think the animation medium we chose … was the only medium to honor Herge, to create an art form similar to what he had done with his illustrations.”
Spielberg collaborated with “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson on Secret of the Unicorn and the pair already have plans for at least two more Tintin movies.
Packed with thrills and spills, the story begins when a flea-market purchase sparks a mystery that leads to battling pirate ships, a kidnapping, a desert air crash and breathtaking chase through a North African sheikdom. Spielberg hopes it will be ranked alongside “Shrek” and “Toy Story” as a modern animated classic.
Meanwhile Belgium tourism authorities are banking on a Tintin windfall. A major new museum dedicated to Herge was opened two years ago south of Brussels, complementing the Comic Strip museum which has long been a major attraction in the capital.
Last month a bronze statue of Tintin and Snowy was unveiled in the central Sablon square. A new walking trail links Tintin landmarks – from the Royal Museum of Art and History, whose eclectic collections inspired Herge’s exotic adventures, to the giant image of Tintin and a bone-munching Snowy terrier that has rotated over the city's main railway station since 1958.
Despite his clean-cut image, Tintin is not free from controversy. A Belgian court is due to rule next year on an attempt by a Congolese student ban the early album “Tintin in the Congo” on grounds of racism. The 1931 book has often come in for criticism, but lawyers for the publishers says it reflects “paternalist” views of the time rather than racism.
Herge also faced accusations of anti-Semitism after “The Shooting Star,” published in 1942 during the Nazi-occupation of Belgium, featured an American villain called Blumenstein and other negative Jewish stereotypes. Herge denied the charges and the name was changed in later editions.