Herge's Adventures of Tintin Review
Tintin, along with Asterix, is likely to be the bane of any parent who takes their children to a public library. Their colourful adventures, spaceships, gunplay and savage looking villains are instantly appealing to children who pile them in with The Gruffalo, Charlie and Lola and Winnie the Witch, only for, that night before bedtime, their parents to struggle through Soviet-era satire, political commentary and grand fantasy. Having personally spent hours reading through The Calculus Affair, Red Rackham's Treasure, Land of Black Gold and The Red Sea Sharks, I can attest to how unsuitable they are for young children who, despite experience, continue to be drawn to them.
These three animated adventures are much better suited to children. In spite of there still being the occasional question - just what is Captain Haddock drinking out of that bottle? - they're aimed squarely at children without any of the political intrigue of the books but all of Hergé's (Georges Remi) slapstick intact. Such nonsense is what opens The Calculus Affair (L'affaire Tournesol, 1964), which sees a thunderstorm crackling above the mansion shared by Tintin and Captain Haddock. Taking shelter inside the house, the two adventurers find there's little refuge to be had as glass, crystal and china objects being smashing without explanation.
As lightning strikes the house and the electricity cuts out, there's a panic inside and out as gunshots are heard from the gardens. As the rain stops, events take a turn for the normal once again but things keep breaking but Tintin believes that his good friend, Professor Cuthbert Calculus, has something to do with it. Calculus tells them that he's been working on a new device, a weapon that works on ultrasound but it's attracting the attentions of agents of Borduria. As Calculus leaves the weapon in the hands of Tintin and Haddock, not to mention the less safe pairs offered by the Thompson and Thomson, secret agents arrive to take Calculus, the ultrasound weapon and anything else in reach back to Borduria. Tintin and Snowy, though, set out to rescue their friend in a story that was once a Cold War satire.
This is followed by Prisoners of the Sun (Le Temple du Soleil, 1969), which also includes that story's prequel, The Seven Crystal Balls. Beginning with the backstory of a scientific expedition that had discovered the tomb of the Inca king Rascar Capac, the seven men return to Europe but begin to fall mysteriously ill soon after the voyage. When Tintin uncovers a clue at the scene of one of these instances of sleeping sickness - a piece of broken crystal - he finds that this is something that they all had in common.
Concerned at this turn of events, he confides in Haddock and Calculus, who, together with Tintin, leave Chateau Moulinsart for Calculus' friend, Professor Tarragon, the owner of Rascar Capac's mummy. But as ball lighting falls down the chimney and causes confusion, Tintin hears a crash at the window and the sound of a body falling. As the lights come back on, what they see is the body of Professor Tarragon, lying unconscious on the floor and with crystal shards by his body. Things get even more suspicious when Calculus finds a gold bracelet in Tarragon's house, which had dressed Rascar Capac's mummy, after which he too disappears. Believing that Calculus has been taken to South America, Tintin, Haddock and Thompson and Thomson head for Peru, where the trail takes them into the mountains and to the Temple of the Sun. But great danger lies in wait for them the closer they get to those protecting Rascar Capac.
Finally, Tintin and the Lake of Sharks (Tintin et le Lac aux Requins, 1972) was a brand new adventure first written for the screen by Michel Regnier and not adapted from a book by Hergé. Here, Tintin and Haddock leave for the home of Cuthbert Calculus on the shore of a lake in Syldavia but find themselves dragged into the mystery of stolen works of art being replaced by forgeries. Investigating, they find themselves at the bottom of the lake, where Tintin runs into an old adversary, Rastapopoulos. But they also discover that Calculus is once again in danger over an invention, this time it's one that can reproduce solid object, perfect for a forger!
Purists, once they pass the excitement of there being animated versions of Hergé's stories, are likely to be disappointed in these. Whilst the heart of the stories have been retained, even to the slapstick and various character traits, the spirit of Tintin appears to have vanished between page and screen. A cursory glance at each film and everything looks in place - Tintin's sense of adventure, Haddock's love of a drink, particularly Loch Lomond whisky, Calculus' absent-minded inventing and the clumsy slapstick of Thompson and Thomson. The language is fairly accurate, with Haddock's, "Thundering Typhoons!" and, "Blistering Barnacles!" making it into the movies intact and there's even room for the gags wherein Thompson and Thomson look to blend in to some foreign parts with the choice of a nation costume that's so ridiculously over the top that they can't help but stand out. All of this is seen to best effect in both The Calculus Affair and Prisoners of the Sun.
Aside from that, though, there's too little to these adaptations and much of the adventure in the stories is lost in a bid to simplify them. The Calculus Affair, for example, is rather a busy little book but becomes not much more than a chase sequence deep into Borduria. A good deal of that is only concerned with Tintin and Thompson and Thomson hiding out in various vehicles and uniforms. Prisoners of the Sun is actually constructed from two books - The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun - but, again, it's not much more than a retread of The Calculus Affair, even to the thunderstorm at Chateau Moulinsart, the shot in the dark and the following of the trail of the kidnapped Calculus. Everything happens at such a pace, and with an unwavering musical accompaniment, that it all moves forward with little regard for Hergé's traditions. Come Mystery of Shark Lake, which doesn't even have a Hergé story to fall back on, it all becomes something of a mess with too little time given to the setting up of the story and too much wasted on getting Calculus, Haddock, Tintin, Thompson and Thomson and two passing children down to the bottom of the lake. Indeed, should you sit out the first couple of minutes, you'll be hard pressed to catch up with it again.
Steven Spielberg has long talked about adapting Tintin for the screen and although, as it is here, is likely best suited to animation, the works of Hergé needs a more delicate guiding hand than has been applied to these three films. They're actually something of a mess, the result of stripping intricate stories to their very basics and then not knowing how best to resolve some of Hergé's plotting. Indeed, the producers of these films appear to have given up on that entirely and have reduced the stories to a series of shootouts and chases, in the mountains of Borduria and Peru as well as under the water. That strain of globe-hopping adventure, alongside the characters, is almost all that actually makes it through from Hergé's work and in such classic, aesthetically pleasing works, even to the eyes of children, that's not enough.
Released by Anchor Bay, you'll find Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS mixes of, I'm assuming, the original mono audio tracks. Although, it really doesn't matter which version you pick on Prisoners of the Sun as they all sound as though there's far too much echo applied to the mix with everything doubled up, a split-second apart. There's a touch of this on all three films but it's noticeably bad on Prisoners of the Sun, although the two surround tracks, Dolby Digital and DTS, are an improvement over the default stereo option. Otherwise, the audio tracks are fairly noisy but the dialogue does stand out and both it and ambient effects are clear.
The interlaced picture isn't any better, being noisy, fuzzy and with a good deal of faults from the source prints. Some of the look of the features is, of course, down to the original animation, such as figures disappearing when they get close to, but not yet at, the edge of the screen. That said, colours are good and there's a decent level of brightness but it's nowhere near enough. A decent player and television, such as a plasma, will iron out some of the faults but there's still plenty that are noticeable.
The only extras on these three discs are PDF copies of the scripts for The Calculus Affair and Prisoners of the Sun as well as story summaries for all three films. The script for The Calculus Affair looks like a photocopy of the original but that for Prisoners of the Sun is too neat, leading me to assume that it's been written up solely for this DVD release.
It isn't that they never actually see it, although you'd think they don't, but so long as the television is on, my two eldest children rarely announce themselves bored by it. Flighty, not awfully pretty and sounding, even at their best, odd, these are as good a recommendation as any that you ought to stick to the books. Even when struggling to explain the stories to a six-year-old, they're still an improvement on these features, which, though very attractively packaged by Anchor Bay, aren't a patch on Hergé's originals.