Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Nearly two months after the release of The Secret of the Unicorn in India, much has been written on the possible pluses and minuses of the film. Spielberg has been lauded. Jackson has been applauded. Almost all the major Indian newspapers have righteously observed the similarities between the Indiana Jones franchise and the just-started Adventures of Tintin franchise. I say 'righteous' because I've since met many people who've mouthed similar lines from a veritable number of online and offline sources, making it almost a custom of the criticism of this film.
 One singular absence has struck me as uninformed, unimaginative, and unworthy of publication in all the reviews I've come across. Respected/popular reviewers have made Spielberg 'better', 're-create', 'rewrite', and even 'ruin' Herge. Yet, what everyone seems to have missed his wholehearted tribute to the master of Bande Dessinee. The film starts with the picture of a painter in a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century London market. The painter draws a Hergesque picture of the Spielberg-Jackson Tintin. How can one miss that this curious painter is none but Herge, not even after the whole gallery of other Tintin characters has been shown? Tintin wants to show it to Snowy, only to find the latter is missing from the scene. 'There you are, sir!', Tintin and we dismiss the painter at the same time.
 The most important aspect of this scene is that it seeks not to re-produce Herge on the celluloid. It tries to trace the image back into Herge and beyond. Tintin's own remark about his portrait is only 'not bad'. Herge says Tintin's face seems familiar to him, because he's seen him a number of times in the newspapers. Spielberg-Jackson Tintin refuses to be defined by Herge. Herge calls him a 'reporter'. Tintin is not particularly flattered by that description which makes him say, 'I'm a journalist.' 
 One of the most striking observations I found in the reviews is that it's often unacceptable to find Tintin behaving like Prince of Persia. I've already mentioned the reviewers' reservation against the similarities between this character and Indiana Jones. Perhaps, before reviewing the film, these respected columnists needed to have read some of the Tintin books, especially Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Flight 714, Tintin and the Picaros, Tintin in America, and Tintin in Tibet (as I list these names, I tend to think that one should read all the books). They'll find, if in addition to this, they can search a little, that Spielberg had derived the inspiration to direct the Indiana Jones films largely from his childhood reading of the Tintn books. Oh, I'm reminded so much of the cinema-scene in Annie Hall! Tinin, I'll further add, was one of the first characters to anticipate the Princes and Paynes in the modern computer/console games. 
 Tintin is a product not only of the surge of the comics industry in the US in the early part of the nineteenth century, but also of the indigenous traditions in Belgium, France, and even in England. Anyone with some familiarity with the eighteenth century cartoons, satires, and lampoons will recognise the commonalities instantly.
 As evinced in the portrait scene, the Tintin film revolves round the unexplored dimensions of the boyish Belgian character who now speaks with a crisp British accent, too. The master-stroke from the side of the director-producer duo has been the portrayal of their Tintin as having been the inspiration behind Herge's, rather than being the other way round. Surely, there are echoes, shadows, and imitations of other modes of popular entertainment (in the opinion of many, 'weaknesses'). But, that is how it should be. At last, Herge has found his successor(s) on screen.