Steven Spielberg Talks About Tintin
A few months ago I posted Part 1 of an interview with the world-famous director, Steven Spielberg. His new movie, The Adventures of Tintin (rated PG), based on the comic books by Belgian artist, Hergé, is in theaters. Spielberg discovered the Tintin books because a French film critic said they were like his movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. OK, that makes ME want to know more about Tintin! So we now present Part 2 of the interview to give you the scoop on the new movie from Spielberg himself.
What did you admire most about the original Tintin comics?
Spielberg: The thing I admired more than anything else was Tintin’s story and all the clues, solving the puzzles and solving the crimes. The fact that he’s not a superhero – he doesn’t have superpowers except his powers of a super sleuth reporter, and I always admired that about him. Yes, he sometimes carries a pistol, but he really gets his way by being intelligent, and he’s a very clever investigator. He’s a bit of a Boy Scout, meaning that he’s, I guess, kind of morally righteous. But he is surrounded by so many colorful, wacky characters that it gives him just enough personality to make him really a compelling central lead.
What was your first experience with Tintin and the author, Hergé?
Spielberg: When I read my very first [Tintin] book, it was all written in French. It was called The Seven Crystal Balls. But I didn’t need to understand French to understand the story the way Hergé had laid it out in his fantastic panels. I had a chance to speak to him on the telephone in 1983, and I told him I was really interested in seeing if he would let me turn his books into motion pictures. And he was very receptive, was very flattering about Raiders of the Lost Ark, which he had seen, and thought that this was a perfect opportunity to turn Tintin into a series of films. He invited me to come to Belgium to spend time with him and his wife, Fanny. Sadly, he died several weeks after we spoke on the phone. About a month later, his widow, Fanny, called and asked me if I wanted to come to Belgium to tour the studio and meet with her. It was a great opportunity and I jumped on a plane the second I could, and that was when I first began my own adventures of Tintin.
Tintin is your first animated movie, correct?
Spielberg: Yes. Well, it’s my first animated movie as a director. When I was younger, the first time I really ever told a story was when I would be sitting in school and drawing little doodles in my schoolbooks and I would animate. I would draw little stick figures on each page of the book, each page representing a different body position, and when I took my thumb and rifled through the pages, I could create an anime of a character walking across the book or jumping over, you know, hurdles, or jumping off a high diving board into a swimming pool. And I used to do this all the time. These were what I used to call my little thumbnails. And so my first experience really telling a story, before I got a hold of my dad’s 8-millimeter movie camera and started telling stories in that medium, was through animation.
What made you decide to use performance capture special effects?
Spielberg: I did investigate shooting it live action, but that would have meant putting prosthetic makeup – ear makeup, nose extensions, chin extensions, false foreheads, big fake beards – I would have had to dress the characters up where everybody wore prosthetic makeup to look like the characters from the comic books, and I didn’t think today’s audiences would embrace such a stylized way of honoring Hergé. The technology was not there in 1983, but after the year 2000, the technology was presenting an opportunity for all of us for a hybrid medium called performance capture, which is a cross between full animation and live action. It just seemed the right medium to most represent the art of Hergé. The same artists who did Avatar are currently animating Tintin.
Do you have a favorite book from the Tintin series?
Spielberg: I guess my favorite books are Red Rackham’s Treasure and The Secret of the Unicorn. We’re actually basing most of the [movie] story on The Secret of the Unicorn. We are borrowing, with the blessings of the Hergé estate, the introduction of Captain Haddock [from] a book called The Crab with the Golden Claws, and then we’re using a little bit of Red Rackham’s Treasure, which will be more realized if we make another Tintin movie. Peter Jackson will direct that one and that will embrace more of the book Red Rackham’s Treasure. But we took three books and combined them because we had to adapt the Hergé books into a motion picture. It wasn’t a direct transposition. That would have been impossible because the Hergé books . . . if we’re lucky, each one only runs about 45 minutes per book of screen time. And Hergé never laid out movie plots. They were perfect little stories for the medium he was writing for.
What are you most proud of about this film?
Spielberg: I think the aspect that we feel proudest of is we were able to achieve a balance between adventure and humor, which Hergé was a stickler for. Every one of those frames have little comedic asides that don’t have a great deal to do with the plot, but make Captain Haddock a really interesting and funny character, as well as the Thompsons and Professor Calculus and the great opera diva, Bianca Castafiore. You know, his comic asides I think we were able to capture in our adaptation of his stories.
The character of Tintin is so loved in Europe. Do you think the American public will be drawn to it?
Spielberg: The American public has never been drawn to the Tintin comics only because they were not made available to the American public on a massive basis the way they were in Asia and Europe and South America. So sadly, America never had a shot at Tintin. Hopefully, the motion picture will give America its first real shot at Tintin, and0. perhaps they’ll go out and buy the books, and a whole new generation will discover the genius of Hergé.
Have you seen The Adventures of Tintin? Leave a Comment to let us know what you think.
Interview by Marie Morreale
Image courtesy of DreamWorks