Adventures of Tintin: Interview with Spielberg and Jackson

In a series of heart-stopping adventures around the globe, the graphic novel character Tintin became a planetary sensation.  The intrepid reporter with the funny coif and the courage to always do the right thing in the most suspenseful situations has ever since been a worldwide hero to young readers and a vivid inspiration to artists. The Tintin graphic novels, written and drawn by Georges Remi under the pen name Hergé, have crossed diverse cultures, multiple generations and even war-torn borders. A pop cultural phenomenon of lasting magnitude, they have been translated into more than 80 languages; and have sold more than 350 million copies.

Yet for all the far-flung places Tintin has traveled — from Peru to Tibet to the moon –the one place he has yet to venture is the modern movie screen.  That changes with The Adventures of Tintin, which not only brings the series to worldwide movie audiences for the first time but does so in an inventive new way that pushes the creative envelope of 21st Century storytelling while staying true to Hergé’s inimitable and timeless visual style.

The source of the series’ sustained power has always been the ways its scruffy, lovable characters and its passport to exotic lands and courageous battles against wrongdoers have tied together people who experienced his adventures with a common bond.

That’s what happened with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, who are brought together for the first time as collaborators by their passion for Hergé’s tantalizing tales. Each came across Tintin at entirely different times and in divergent ways.  Yet their passion for the characters’ wide-open cinematic possibilities is the same. Neither could resist the excitement of trying to fuse the unbridled fun of Hergé’s drawings with state-of-the-art movie technology and inspired, emotion-rich performances to create an original motion picture experience befitting of Tintin’s vast legacy.

“Tintin is an eager reporter who chases fragments of clues that suddenly blow up into these amazing, globe-trotting adventures,” Spielberg describes.  “What makes him so intriguing is his relentless pursuit of the truth, although that always leads him down some treacherous paths.  It often seems he’s gotten himself into terrible trouble, but somehow, he finds a way out. From the first reading, I knew that Tintin and I were destined for some kind of collaboration.”

Peter Jackson grew up with Tintin and had been influenced by his adventures.  As a boy in New Zealand, long before he began a filmmaking career that includes the most lauded fantasy trilogy in movie history:  The Lord of the Rings series, Jackson devoured each Tintin book he could get his hands on, even struggling through the French editions.

“When you’re young, you can easily imagine yourself going on these adventures that Tintin gets himself into,” Jackson notes.  “They tap into that fundamental sense of adventure we all have.”

Both men saw the cinematic potential of Tintin embedded in its DNA.  “We were all struck by the fact that Hergé was telling stories through what were, in a sense, these beautiful storyboards that were simple, clear and forceful in their narrative power,” says Spielberg’s long-time partner, Kathleen Kennedy, who would ultimately pair up with Jackson to produce.

Spielberg first reached out to Hergé as early as 1983, right after “E.T.” He said he had found the Belgian artist deeply enthusiastic about placing his clever character on the big screen.  But sadly, Hergé passed away before the two could even meet.  Later, Herge’s widow Fanny Rodwell fulfilled his wishes, granting the rights to Spielberg.

“Hergé picked Steven as the only director he thought could do a film based on his work,” says executive producer Stephane Sperry, who has been involved with the Tintin property for decades and a fan for even longer.  “And Steven has always been respectful of that.”

The filmmakers worked closely with Nick and Fanny Rodwell, consulting with the two careful custodians of Hergé’s legacy and experts on all things Tintin.  “The most important thing was to honor Hergé and get as close to his very unique sense of palette and portraiture as possible. Every single panel of his told a story in cinematic terms,” observes the director.  “There was kinetic energy in every pose and action, and it was almost as if he was trying to squeeze 24 frames into a single frame, and succeeding.  That was, I think, the genius of Hergé.  Each of his stories had the essence of a movie – and now we could be true to that.”

Spielberg was convinced right away that Jackson was the ideal partner.  “Peter told me, ‘If you were here right now, you would see over my shoulder the entire series of Hergé’s books, and I would love to be a part of this,’” Spielberg recalls. “And thus began our process of finding a way to capture that artistic style that so defines Hergé and Tintin, and bring it to the screen.”

Jackson couldn’t wait to tackle the task. “I was thrilled that Steven invited me onboard,” he says.  “Steven really is quite similar to the Tintin character,” Jackson comments.  “He’s young at heart.  He’s very curious.  He has a great love of adventure, and his sense of humor pretty much matches what Hergé brought to Tintin.  It’s a perfect match.”

In addition to serving as producer for the first film, Spielberg asked Jackson if he would direct the second film in the series.  Jackson agreed, and with the blessing and cooperation of Fanny and Nick Rodwell, and the estate of Hergé, the adventure began.  Fanny, who is now the President of the Hergé Studios in Brussels, explains, “It was a special honor for us to be associated with these exceptional, creative filmmakers who had our full confidence to bring Tintin to his biggest adventures on the biggest screens.  Hergé himself once said, ‘I consider my stories as movies.’  How prophetic!”

In close consultation with the Hergé Estate, the filmmakers enlisted screenwriters Steven Moffat and the team of Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish to craft the adaptation. To introduce audiences to the maximum breadth of Tintin and his various allies and enemies, the filmmakers decided to combine three favorite Tintin books — The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure – into a singular plot that would keep modern moviegoers exhilarated.

The books were the screenwriters’ lodestar. “Hergé’s stories pull you in with vibrant colors and adventures, but they are so much more – they’re filled with moral concepts, a sense of travel and exoticism, while always introducing you to the grandness of the world and to scientific ideas.  I think that’s one of the reasons they’re so central to millions of children’s imaginations – and we wanted to bring all that scope to the screenplay,” sums up Cornish.

They were also guided by the conceptual approach of Spielberg and Jackson who saw elements of film noir, Hitchcockian suspense and special-effects thrillers deep inside Hergé’s playful line drawings – and brought them to fore.

The result, Spielberg says is “part-mystery, part-detective story, as well as a pure unapologetic adventure, all built around a tremendous story of friendship, loyalty and belief between Captain Haddock and Tintin.”