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Tintin: did the movie do the book justice?

Updated on October 4, 2012

Hergé, the author of the renowned Tintin comic series, spared no detail or subtlety in his drawings, storyline or dialogue in The Secret of the Unicorn, a dynamic tale of mystery and intrigue in which Tintin and his friend, Captain Haddock, discover the clues that lead to a sunken ship containing the captain's ancestor's treasure. Along the way they meet with danger, shady characters, a vicious dog, swashbucklers, pickpockets, and hopelessly incompetent twin detectives. It is a brilliant, witty masterpiece of a book.

In an example of Hergé's classic humor, he draws Tintin's dog Snowy scratching himself early on in The Secret of the Unicorn. Without drawing extra attention to the subtle joke, he leaves the astute reader to reach the punch line on his/her own-- why is Snowy scratching himself? Because he is at a flea market. Instances such as this are why Hergé became so popular-- because he never cheapened his work to sell more copies. He made each Tintin book, and each panel within those books, the best that it could be.

The original artwork, stories, and characters were respected as much as possible in the making of the movie. The CGI artists did an impeccable job translating Tintin's nondescript cartoon face and blank beady eyes into a readable, expressive human. His pointy, gravity-defying cowlick is intact. Where the plot deviates, it remains true to other of Hergé's Tintin stories. The cinematography of the movie, if camera angles can compare to illustration angles, is very similar to the layout of the book. When the book's characters are standing still, they are generally shown straight on from the side, with their feet firmly planted on the bottom line of the panel. When they are moving, their feet are shown somewhere within the center of the panel, in positions of motion. The movie takes a similar approach with the camera, although more diversity in other angles are also present.

All these similarities aside, the film gives a decidedly different impression and feel than that of the book. Perhaps this is owing to the generational differences-- the Tintin books were written in the middle of the 20th century, and contain a dapper style and a dignity representative of the times. The movie, while set in the same era, is given a modern twist to suit modern viewers. This includes cheap slapstick humor, fart jokes, a childish fight between two crane operators, etc., and with these additions the class is lost. Also, the Tintin books were believable-- unrealistic at times, perhaps, but nonetheless within the bounds of possibility-- whereas the Tintin movie stretched the limits of feasibility, demoting the story to a mere caricature. The difference is subtle, but impactive; the difference between a stand-up comedian and a clown.

The movie is good, and therein lies the problem. It is just good. It is fun, Hollywood-style entertainment geared towards kids. It is nothing like the rollicking, compelling mystery adventures found in the beautifully illustrated book. It's like comparing bacon and turkey bacon. The latter might appeal to a broader audience but that doesn't make it any less of an impostor.

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