Tintinology after Spielberg

The Daily

"It's no fun wearing my Tintin shirt now that the masses know who he is." The drawing over that caption is superfluous. Still, the cartoon in this week's New Yorker nicely sums up the shift in Tintin's status in the US since the release of Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin — his face has migrated from imported T-shirts to dog food ads.

As with another 3D spectacle currently in theaters, Pina, we've already had two roundups on Spielberg's Tintin, the first in October, an entry that kicked off with initial reactions to the film's premiere and eventually segued into more considered reviews in the British and European press, and the second in November, an entry gathering takes from the Tintinologists and reviews from AFI Fest. So I'll try to keep it brief in this third go-round, focusing more on Hergé than Spielberg, beginning with Charles McGrath's introduction in the video embedded above.

For another overview of Tintinology, turn to Jeet Heer in the Globe and Mail, where he presents a guide to further study: "Belgium-born American essayist Luc Sante wrote the best single analysis devoted to Hergé in the English language, a critical eye-opener distinguished by the attention given to the cartoonist as a visual artist. Hergé, Sante notes, 'enclosed every particle of the visible, no matter how fluid and shifting, in a thin, black unhesitating line; made that line carry the burden of mass and weight without modelling; and endowed the line with an accomplice in the form of pure, clear, emphatic but not garish color.'"

This is, of course, Hergé's ligne claire, or "clear line," as Dutch artist Joost Swarte dubbed it in 1977. Jenny Hendrix for the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Hergé negotiates between the techniques of his era's naturalistic adult adventure comics like Chester Gould's Dick Tracy and those of gag-based newspaper strips like Bud Fisher's Mutt and Jeff. While his characters are cartoonishly simple, his backgrounds — from the gorgeous Byzantine murals in King Muskar's palace to the white voids of Tibet — are lush and rigorously detailed. The scenery in a Tintin comic is never static; it moves and turns and anchors the characters in space and, thanks to Hergé's use of different angles and zooms, in time and mood as well. Large elaborate "silent" panels — set even in the heart of action — enrich the story and give it room to breathe. The comics theorist Scott McCloud, in his graphic nonfiction treatise Understanding Comics, suggests that this complexity, in combination with the characters' simplified faces, produces multiple levels of realism that "allow readers to mask themselves in a character and safely enter a sensually stimulating world." Hergé's use of setting and his exacting depiction of movement — in which Tintin and his friends seem to rush from one panel to the next and yet remain grounded, their feet resting on a panel's lower frame — presses composition into the service of legibility.

Back to Heer: "It's no accident that the best biography of Hergé is a graphic novel that borrows from his art. The Adventures of Hergé, by Jose-Louis Bocquet and Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Stanislas Barthelemy, pays Hergé the honest tribute of stylistic thievery." For Slate, Sam Adams reviews The Adventures of Hergé and Benoît Peeters's more traditional biography, Hergé: Son of Tintin. At the House Next Door, Sumanth Prabhaker argues that Peeters "adds a substantive volume to a crowded and growing library." And if you haven't got time to get all that into it, Time's Lev Grossman presents a quick "Tintin 101."

At Cartoon Brew, David Calvo traces the history of Tintin adaptations from Claude Misonne and João B Michiels's The Crab with the Golden Claws (1947), "a visionary precursor in stop motion history," to two live-action films, Tintin et le Mystère de la Toison d'or (Tintin and the Golden Fleece, Jean-Jacques Vierne, 1961 — clip above) and Tintin et les Oranges bleues (Tintin and the Blue Oranges, Philippe Condroyer, 1964), which "deserve to have their reputations rehabilitated today," a Belgian TV series that'd eventually evolve into two animated features (all made in the mid-60s through early 70s), FR3's 1992 animated TV series, The Adventures of Tintin, a "neutered family entertainment devoid of any risk," and finally Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg's movie, with its "over-emphasis on heavy action set pieces."

Cartoon Brew co-editor Amid Amidi focuses on the work done on this new one by Weta and Giant Studios: "These two studios are at the cutting edge of exploring new forms of character animation, and Tintin has proven to be an important stepping stone in the development of our art form. To my eyes, it's the first successful example of 'photocell cartooning.'… Many will say it isn't even animation. The confusion is understandable. Animation is evolving so rapidly before our eyes that we can barely keep pace with these changes. We desperately try to apply old labels and definitions and find them insufficient. Still, Tintin at its core is pure animation created frame by frame. True, it was augmented by other processes, but the end result was achieved distinctly through frame-by-frame techniques. And if the mark of a true piece of animation art is the director's control over every element within the frame, then never has this been truer than in Tintin."

It's "a wittily kineticized adaptation," finds Bill Weber in Slant. "Starting (after a blissful globetrotting credit sequence) with a peak-era Blake Edwards vibe of Anglicized continental farce, this adaptation quickly finds the intrepid boy reporter (Jamie Bell) presented with a caricaturist's portrait in his creator Hergé's classic 'flat' style. So we're served notice that, while the script (by three Brit hands from Shaun of the Dead and the last few seasons of Doctor Who) affectionately mashes up three of the paneled 1940s tales, this is not precisely your daddy's Tintin; with his army of digital alchemists producing breathless chases by air and road, a fiery 16th-century battle with pirates, and chain-reaction slapstick, all within a world where the cartoonish denizens have some humanoid heft, Spielberg has clarified the quiff-topped hero's identity as a careering European cousin of Indiana Jones."

Others, like the New Yorker's Richard Brody, find that "for all its vertiginous swooping and soaring," watching Spielberg's Tintin is "like listening to a hundred and seven minutes of a fiddler playing Sarasate or Paganini or a double-disk compilation of Al Di Meola's speediest solos; the film is the work of a virtuoso and makes sure that the viewer knows it and admires it duly. Yet even a roller-coaster ride packs more chills with its thrills."

More from Ty Burr (Boston Globe, 2.5/4), Jonathan Burrello (Alternative Chronicle), Paul Constant (Stranger), Adam Cook, Manohla Dargis (New York Times), AA Dowd (Time Out Chicago, 2/5), Bilge Ebiri, David Edelstein (New York), David Faraker (500 Club), Glenn Heath Jr (SanDiego.com), Glenn Kenny (MSN Movies, 3/5), Andrew O'Hehir (Salon), Ray Pride (Newcity Film), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly, B-), Nicolas Rapold (L), Jeff Reichert (Reverse Shot), Tasha Robinson (AV Club, B+), Marc Savlov (Austin Chronicle, 2.5/4), Nick Schager (B+), Dana Stevens (Slate), Jim Tudor (Twitch), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Alison Willmore (Playlist, C) and Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline, 7.5/10).

Interviews with Spielberg: David Ansen (Newsweek), Mekado Murphy (NYT) and Jennifer Vineyard (Vulture).

Update: "Why does Tintin remain both wildly popular and hauntingly enigmatic?" asks Nathan Heller in Slate. "For all of the close-reading at hand, the answer pertains less to the books’ details, which tend to be confectionary and forgettable, than to the form and style in which they appear. Hergé was a workhorse of an artist whose great achievement ultimately showed up not on the page but on-screen: The Tintin books helped to create the style of the modern blockbuster, and, even now, bridge the gap between a literary audience and a cinematic one. In some sense, Spielberg is realizing Tintin more than just adapting him."

Related: Spielberg @ 65 and Christmas Eve's "Image of the Day. Orson Welles in 'The Adventures of Tintin.'" For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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