Spielberg brings Tintin back to life, even in Belgium

Belgians embrace their national icon anew after movie debuts

Albena Shkodrova By Albena Shkodrova

“Tintin is dead”, decreed the European media in 1983, when his creator, Hergé, died. Hergé wanted the adventures of his famous cartoon character to end, as well. And while Tintin never really died — Belgians and lots of other people kept reading – the release of a Tintin movie has revitalized interest in him.

That the revitalizing comes courtesy of Hollywood is something of a shock.

A pile of Tintins (Kuifje in Dutch) outside a Belgian 'strips' or comics store. (Credit: Albena Shkodrova)

When it comes to European heritage, the US film industry is not highly credited on the old continent. Any attempt at reviving ancient, medieval or more recent history or characters usually ends up criticized, looked down at, or at best ignored. In this context, the success of Spielberg’s The adventures of Tintin in Belgium is almost sensational news.

Skeptical of Spielberg

Tintin is the third-highest grossing movie in Belgium so far this year,  according to Box Office Mojo data. It’s almost equaled the popularity of the year’s top two movies, the last episode of Harry Potter and The Smurfs (another Belgian cartoon). That’s despite widespread skepticism in Belgium about the movie.

“Tintin is special, it’s tradition, it’s something holy for a lot of people here. They were afraid that he won’t be authentic [in the film],” explains Michael Severi, who sells comic books in the specialized shop Het Besloten Land in the Belgian university town of Leuven. “The Americanization of every story is always very predictable, a bit boring and often over the top.”

In the movie’s favor was its director and producer, Steven Spielberg. Late in his life Hergé had identified Spielberg as the only film director who could possibly make a movie out of Tintin’s adventures. But that was not enough to reassure Belgians that their treasured fictional journalist was in good hands. The worries of fans and admirers of Hergé’s heritage were widely expressed in the media in the last months.

“When it became clear how Spielberg will film the character from their childhood – performance capture, 3D, – the older fans were distressed,” wrote the film magazine Schokkend Nieuws. “What will happen now with their “clear line” (drawing style) with which Hergé had influenced generations of cartoonists?” The subtle sense of humor of the Belgian author seemed also problematic.

“Head spinning tribute”

But Belgians’ high demands seem to have been satisfied – “Spielberg brings head spinning tribute to Hergé’s world,” reads the headline of the review in Film 1 magazine. Schokkend Nieuws says that none of the previous attempts to bring Tintin back to life could compare even remotely with what Spielberg did – “with a technical perfection which kills or destroys nothing.”

“It is surprising for an American film that Captain Haddock’s drinking remains a source of humor and that there are no attempts at bringing women in the boys’ world of Hergé, writes Bart van der Put in Parool. “Apart from the loss of the famous ‘clear line” even the purists have little to complain of.”

“Spielberg did bring Tintin back to life”, agrees Jozef Herden, who works in a comic book shop, De Stripwinkel. “I think the film is great. I liked that the director was so loyal to the comic book,” says Jozef Herden, For instance, the color of the jeep matches that of the comic. “The makers are trying to stay really close to the original, while translating it into something which works in a movie.”

In the movie, we see streets lined with elegant European buildings, a flea market, a library, a mansion, the street lamps – the scene breathes of old Europe in the discreet way in which the comic book would.

Tintin vs. the Peeing Boy

Not that The adventures of Tintin will break the general stereotype of how Hollywood “Americanizes” European culture. Instead, it seems simply to reinforce the Europeans’ impression that Spielberg is not a typical Hollywood director.

Comics are a national passion in Belgium. (Credit: Albena Shkodrova)

And if to the average Belgian Spielberg’s film may mean a revival of a popular cultural icon, to many foreigners it means a new discovery.  The film may mean that Tintin, also known as Kuifje in the Flemish, Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, becomes the ultimate memorabilia of a trip to the country, along with a visit to the Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve,  replacing Manneken Pis, the peeing boy of Brussels. Comic books shops report notable increases of sales since the release of the film in Belgium on 22 October.

The recent events were actually best summarized by Stieven Spielberg, during his speech at his decoration with the insignia of Commander in the Order of the Belgian Crown in October. “Tintin belongs to you,” he said there [see the clip below]. “You entrusted Tintin to us and now we are returning Tintin to you, hopefully many Tintins to you.”

  • Michael iItzgerald

    The movie was fun. I didn’t think I would like the motion capture version of Tintin, but I got used to it after the first scene. Here’s an interesting piece I found arguing that Tintin was not the product of a racist and in fact was often a defender of the oppressed.