Tintin (Vol. 1 & 2) Review

In the French National Assembly, a group of MPs regularly meet to talk about their appreciation of him, De Gaulle declared him to be his sole enemy and he is the most famous Belgian of all times - Tintin is a cornerstone of European BD (Bande Dessinée - French for comic strips) who remains little appreciated in the English-speaking world.

Though appearing seemingly benign - Tintin is after all the perfect boy scout - he's been accused of many evils: Tintin in the Congo, belatedly published in English, is blatantly colonialist but according to some also racist; quite recently, Léon Degrelle, a Belgian SS, proudly claimed to be the model for Tintin - although I've never seen many SS wearing golfing trousers. Add to this a recurrent theme of alcoholism (Snowy/Milou and Haddock being the prime sufferers) and misogynism (the sole female character is the monstrous Castafiore), and one can appreciate why Tintin's books are not necessarily seen as prime material for children in the current climate of wholesome entertainment.

Despite this, there have been many attempts to move Tintin onto the screen - all of which have been miserable failures. Spielberg is now hoping to do a live action film of Tintin after originally deciding it would be virtually impossible to turn it into a decent movie. There have been many full-length animations of his adventures most notably Prisoners of the Sun which bizarrely featured songs by fellow Belgian Jacques Brel - a bit like if Leonard Cohen was chosen to score a Disney film! Cartoon serialisation also took off in the 1960s but the creators often added twists and turns, cliff-hangers and flights of fancy that were often completely incongruent with Tintin's spirit such as introducing Haddock in stories pre-dating his creation... Tintinophiles world-wide decried them as a bastardisation of their idol - just wait until they see Robin Williams as Haddock!

Finally in the late 80s, there was a plan to relaunch Tintin for a new generation - this time the Hergé foundation were involved and the series was to stick as closely as possible to the original both visually and storywise. Snowy getting regularly smashed on Loch Lomond Whisky was a no-no from the start as were many other parts of the stories which were then transformed or even erased - highly irritating for the purists but making a cartoon of this type solely for adults would have been commercial suicide... The series wound up being quite successful and managed to help Tintin make a much needed return to prominence.

Although the animation is quite minimalistic, they stuck to Hergé's books as best they could. If you compare carefully the books and the series there is hardly a single shot that is not directly lifted from the books - thankfully this pays off aesthetically and since Hergé's themes have this universal ring to them, the older elements of the stories and the artwork do not look out of place in the slightest. The major problem with the series is whether there is much point to it - since they don't add anything to the stories and look so similar, why not read the books?

The DVD:Anchor Bay have so far released two volumes of these adventures of Tintin. Each volume contains 2 DVDs with 2 episodes on each disc.

Volume 1:Cigars of the Pharaoh:Taking a cruise on a liner, Tintin meets professor Sarcophagus who's on his way to unearth the tomb of Pharaoh Kiosk. Smelling a scoop, Tintin decides to accompany him to the site - but in the meanwhile he makes himself

The Blue Lotus: Following on from the previous episode, Tintin takes his fight against the opium smugglers all the way to China where he finds himself in the middle of the Japanese invasion.

Destination Moon: Calculus has been employed by the Syldavian government to head their space program - Haddock, Tintin and Thompson and Thomson also get involved with it but foreign forces seem to be set on sabotaging the project.

Explorers of the moon: The project finally comes to fruition and Tintin and friends become the first to ever attempt the long and dangerous trip to the moon. Will they manage to make it to the moon and back in one piece?

Volume 2:The Black Island: Tintin accidentally finds himself pitted against a ruthless gang of false-money makers which takes him all the way to Scotland...Cue sporran, kilt and whisky...

King Ottokar's Sceptre: Tintin's first excursion to Syldavia which as usual is on the cusp of war - this time because King Muscar XII sceptre has been stolen and needs to be recovered before the national parade - if Tintin fails in his task, the monarchy will be overthrown...

The Red Sea Sharks: Through a series of coincidences, Tintin and Haddock start to uncover a world-wide arms trade which takes them to the middle-east and on to the Red Sea.

Tintin in Tibet: By Hergé's own admission, his most personal album. Tintin's friend, Tchang, has apparently died in a plane crash in the Himalayas but Tintin has had a vision of him crying out for help - he drags Haddock along with him to seek whether Tchang could have survived the plane crash...

The image is not as impressive as one would have hoped for - there is a great deal of visible edge enhancement and digitalisation as well as some artifacting in some scenes... This contributes to the image seeming lacking in sharpness although the colours seem to stick to the original tones of Hergé's books. I did find that some scenes had an unusual pinkish tint to them (check out the sea in the screengrab below for example - the froth of the sea should be white but appears as pink)... The quality of the image varies little between the two volumes but all in all it is watchable despite the disappointing transfer.

Let's start with the bad news - AB have been having severe sound problems with their releases due to one of their subcontractors using defective machinery (they no longer use that company now)- sadly the copies I received seem to have gone through them as most of the episodes suffer from mild to severe lip-synch problems - Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus suffer the most from this with more than a second delay between the two. Volume 2 also has problems with this although they tend to be slighter and are only noticeable if you're paying attention. The good news is that AB have remastered volume 1 and if you unfortunately get the first pressing they'll exchange it for you (I've included the address to send vol. 1 to at the end of the review). However, there is no offer of exchange on vol. 2 maybe because the problem is only slight (but still irritating) on this volume.
Update: Anchor Bay are now saying "[they are] happy [the lipsynch problems on volume 2]is within acceptable parameters for a dubbed film." - obscure to say the least but this seems to point to the fact that there will be no recall for volume 2...

The soundtrack is plain mono but available in French, English and Spanish. The English sounds OK but the French and the Spanish sounds much clearer and less muffled than the English track. The English dub is American and, if you compare it to the French version, much more politically correct. Maybe due to the fact that the English speaking world doesn't know the stories as well, they've gone so far as to remove the entire slavery aspect out of the Red Sea Sharks! No subtitles are provided which is a crying shame as they were available on the French release had them in all three languages. It is quite irritating that they didn't even provide English HOH subtitles - which should be a compulsory feature of all DVD releases.

These are quite nice and feature the parts of the soundtrack in the background. There are also 4 chapter stops per episode which is about one every 10 minutes given that each episode is between 40 and 42 minutes long.

Nope - nothing available at all...

Looking at the plus side, the soundtrack (for volume 1 at least) should be sorted out shortly and you do get 4 stories per volume (as opposed to the 2 stories per volume on the French release). On the negative side, the transfer, though not atrocious, could have been much better and really lets the series down. When all is done and dusted, it will be watchable when the sound is sorted out but the overall quality of this release is poor from a company that has given us some excellent releases but the kids will love it whatever the DVD's like!

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