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Spielberg's Tintin gets seal of approval

Thundering typhoons! Steven Spielberg has won the seal of approval of Tintin's native land — and that's no mean feat.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thundering typhoons! Steven Spielberg has won the seal of approval of Tintin's native land — and that's no mean feat.

In Tintin's home city, movie journalists got a sneak preview of "The Adventures of Tintin — The Secret of the Unicorn" this week, and knives were sharpened in case it turned out that some Hollywood mogul had barged in and desecrated perhaps Europe's greatest cartoon character ever.

Have no fear.

By the end of the movie, the critics were as beguiled by the movie as Tintin's sidekick Captain Haddock by a bottle of whisky.

"Bull's eye," headlined the Dutch-speaking De Standaard newspaper. "A pure jewel" the Francophone Le Soir had on its front page, showing that the ever-bickering linguistic groups in this culturally divided nation had found a rare issue on which they could agree.

Director Spielberg will come to the Oct. 22 world premiere in person, knowing the critics themselves have rolled out the red carpet.

"The Adventures of Tintin," co-produced by Peter Jackson of "Lord of the Rings" fame, aspires to become a Christmas blockbuster in the United States. But like the fearless young reporter that Tintin is, the movie seeks out the road less traveled to success.

Instead of launching in the United States, it takes on the world first, counting on releases in Europe, Asia and the Middle East to create enough of a buzz among American fans for whom the magic word Tintin is often still an unknown quantity.

In France, Le Figaro Magazine has already called it "the most anticipated movie of 2011."

The cartoon books have been translated into 70-plus languages from Chinese to Armenian, with English and Spanish thrown in, and sold in the tens of millions of copies. But only in Belgium has it been ingrained in the DNA of most youngsters since the 1950s.

It has left cartoonist Herge, who died in 1983, as a national treasure.

And from the movie's start, Spielberg makes a solemn bow to Belgium and the artist, setting the opening scene at a bric-a-brac market where Herge is a boardwalk portrait artist drawing many of the real characters from his two dozen books.

The roughly drawn sketches are the perfect transition to the movie's world of performance-capture technology, in which digital renderings are made of performances by live actors, with computer imagery added to create a combination of live action layered with digital animation.

"Did I capture something of the likeness," the computerized Herge asks the model.

The emphatic 'yes' applies to Spielberg's scene-setting as well.

Most amazing of all, the spirit of the yellowing pages with fading colors of old Tintin albums that so many Belgians have stocked in cellars and attics travels exceedingly well through time into 21st century bits and bytes.

"The American has fully grasped the Herge grammar," said Le Soir.

Those Hollywood types recreated 1940s Belgium to such an extent that De Standaard critic wrote in admiration that "the sidewalks and facades of Brussels are recognizable."

Spielberg does stick fully to one line running through all the Tintin cartoons: the movie has no romantic interest whatsoever.