Hollywood still dictates what the world watches at movie theaters. But more and more, the world outside North America will dictate what Hollywood makes, Steven Spielberg said Thursday at the Comic-Con fan convention.
His "The Adventures of Tintin," with Spielberg as director and "The Lord of the Rings" creator Peter Jackson as producer, is a prime example. While big Hollywood films used to open with a splash in the United States then make their way gradually overseas, "Tintin" is doing the opposite, opening in many international markets nearly two months before its Dec. 23 U.S. debut.
That's because "Tintin" is a beloved storybook character in much of the world, created in the late 1920s by Belgian artist Georges Remi under his pen name, Herge. Generations of children grew up on the adventures of Tintin, an intrepid young reporter traveling the world with his dog Snowy at his side.
But Tintin's far from a household name among Americans, so the filmmakers and executives at Paramount Pictures hope the movie will catch fire with fans overseas in October and November, arousing the curiosity of U.S. audiences.
It's a reversal of the way Spielberg's movies used to roll out decades ago, showing up in Europe and elsewhere as much as six months after premiering in the United States.
After a film such as "Jaws" had become a U.S. blockbuster, Spielberg found the domestic hype helped stoke fan interest overseas.
"Six months later, it was fresh for them. It was as fresh for them as hopefully 'Tintin' will be in America after only two months" in theaters outside the United States, Spielberg said in an interview alongside Jackson.
With DVD revenue sinking, Hollywood is looking to the overseas box office to help make up the gap. International revenues once typically accounted for half or less of U.S. films' income, but they now often amount to two-thirds or more of the theatrical cash stream.
So international appeal inevitably will be a growing consideration for Hollywood studios, Spielberg said.
"Tintin" opens in Herge's native Belgium and some other European markets Oct. 26 and makes its way into theaters elsewhere around the globe for the next two months.
Drawing from several of Herge's books, including "The Secret of the Unicorn," the film casts Jamie Bell's Tintin on a sea voyage with his pooch and the grouchy Captain Haddock (frequent Jackson collaborator Andy Serkis) in search of lost treasure.
Unlike Spielberg, who discovered the "Tintin" books as an adult after a critic had compared them to his Indiana Jones tale "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Jackson grew up on Herge's stories in English-language translations.
"They spread to the colonies," Jackson said. "They were huge. They were just part of everybody's DNA growing up. I don't think you could find a single New Zealand household that didn't have 'Tintin,' or a cousin or a friend that had a 'Tintin' book. They were books I looked at before I could even read."
Spielberg directed Bell and the supporting cast in the actual performance-capture shoot, in which actors' body language was recorded digitally. Producer Jackson's WETA visual-effects house handled the second phase, in which the performances were layered with digital animation to create finished characters and sets.
It was Spielberg's first time in the virtual world of performance capture, a technique Jackson used to create the creepy Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" films and the upcoming "Hobbit" prequels and the great ape in "King Kong," characters both played by Serkis.
The filmmakers hope to do more "Tintin" movies if this one succeeds. Spielberg urged Comic-Con fans to buy tickets so Jackson will have a chance to direct the next one.
Spielberg said his collaboration with Jackson "was effortless. Except for one person, my great — actually, my best friend, George Lucas, this is the best collaboration I ever had."