FILM: Tintin et les oranges bleues (1964)

aka: Tintin and the Blue Oranges
language: French, Spanish, Arabic
directed by: Philippe Condroyer
length: 98 minutes

Warning: spoilers, and me ranting about Tintin adaptations. If you’re not familiar with Tintin a lot of this might not make sense to you! I also actually watched this film on Sunday, but the blog didn’t exist back then. Heh.

film still

Tintin’s live-action adaptations from the 60s get a bit of a bad press, I think. This was my first time seeing either of them, and I actually didn’t think it was that bad. So yeah, the production values aren’t particularly high; there are several points when the lip synching isn’t particularly good, quite a few where there is a noticeable cut in the action, and it does that typical olde filme thing where the action speeds up at certain points (probably to save film), all of which to modern eyes don’t look very realistic or professional. I also reckon that many fans were expecting an adaptation of an existing storyline, which would probably have made more sense.

But here’s the thing; despite being an original storyline, it does manage to get all the essential elements. Slapstick comedy, deaf Professor Calculus with a silly contraption, Tintin beating up bad guys, Snowy saving the day when the others are trapped down a well, Captain Haddock trying to hide his drinking problem, you name it. And the actors really do look like the characters, particularly the Captain, who I thought did make a very good performance. And it’s quite funny, too.

This also happens to be a part of its downfall; some of these scenes and elements look like they’ve been shoehorned in just so they haven’t forgotten anything, and some don’t even make sense in context. Where do the Arabs come from, for instance?

Bianca Castafiore’s scene was one of the worst for feeling out of context – it’s basically her scene from The Calculus Affair transplanted into this film, but without much purpose beyond getting Tintin and the Captain away from the police (and they could have just kept running, in this case). Recall also that in The Calculus Affair, the chief of police visits her and they steal his documents, meaning that the scene had more purpose.

This leads me to wonder why they didn’t just adapt The Calculus Affair, seeing as the basic plot (Cuthbert gets kidnapped by baddies; Tintin and the Captain rescue him) is also basically the same, yet with an even more tenuous invention of Calculus’s for them to be fighting over: the eponymous blue oranges (which for some reason are glow-in-the-dark), said to be able to grow in the desert and thus cure world hunger. At least when it was the Syldavians and Bordurians fighting over him, his invention had the possibility of becoming an important weapon in the obvious Cold War allegory, which made more sense.

film still

The Thompsons also play a bit of a crap role in the film, too; they only have a few scenes, including a very odd one where they get chased around by a bull (it’s set in Spain, after all). They showed up unexpectedly at one point, but then that kept happening in the books too, so I was sort of expecting it. But they get kidnapped a few scenes later and go missing for most of the rest of the film.

Oh, and there were children in the film, too. Children weren’t really a big staple of Hergé’s books, despite being written for children and Tintin being a ruthlessly ambiguous age. So for me they didn’t gel very well with the rest of the film. The worst for me was when the first kid recognises Tintin, as if he was an avid fan of the books. Yeah, so it wasn’t like it was unprecedented; in one of the biggest displays of blatant deus ex machina in Cigars of the Pharaoh, Tintin is recognised by an Arab sheikh who kidnaps him, who’s read all the stories. But I didn’t think it was quite appropriate in this context to repeat what was essentially a throwaway joke of Hergé’s and a jab at the usual convention that characters don’t exist in their own world (the celebrity paradox). Anyway, their scenes weren’t too bad in the end, and there was a funny one where they were going round Valencia trying to find a man with a tattoo on his wrist.

All in all, I’d recommend it to any Tintin fan, although I’m not going to make any outrageous claims about its quality. I quite liked it overall and found it funny, if contrived. If you’re not a fan, I wouldn’t; there’d be no point in you watching it.

But this now leads me to my next minor rant. I was out googling for images to illustrate this film when I came across these:
film still of captain haddock
film still of tintin
Film stills from the upcoming Tintin film, no less. I don’t even know what to say about these, except that my hopes about the film are starting to be dashed. Captain Haddock looks wrong, his face an unrealistic shape for someone who’s animated in such detail. Tintin looks like a 12 year old (ruining his aforementioned agelessness); at least his face is in proportion. Both will probably have a massive incurable case of Uncannyvalleyitis (it already looks like it from the pictures). Just as bad, still #1 exhibits one of my biggest pet hates in 3D animated films: lens flare. If there’s no camera, there’s no excuse, and it’s jarring when combined with actual 3D glasses.

Even worse, they’re to be played by Andy Serkis and Jamie Bell respectively, who I’m not particularly fond of. OK, to be fair, I would sex Jamie Bell, but that’s all his appeal in my opinion; when his face is covered by the motion capture, he’ll lose that and just become a shit actor. At least Andy Serkis is cut out for motion capture work (cf. Gollum) and we won’t have to look at his ugly face. I just don’t like their voices… Gah! And that’s the other thing: I was promised a live-action film a few years ago when this project was announced. What happened to that? IMO this film from the 60s is living proof that live-action adaptations have already occurred and haven’t been too bad in getting the look of the characters right. Of course, as I said at the start, I don’t think I’m in the majority among the Tintin fandom in thinking this, but this was the directors’ stated intention in using mocap rather than live-action: to give them a more faithful look instead of relying on actors that don’t really look enough like Tintin, although I suspect it was just to give WETA something to do.

On that note, I do have great respect for Jackson and Spielberg, and I hope they do do the best they can with this film. And I do quite like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, although I can’t picture them “being” Thomson and Thompson. I’m just not holding my breath.

Anyway, that’s quite enough of that pessimistic speculation about this year’s Tintin film (incidentally, if my plan to emigrate to Japan for a year or two goes ahead, I’ll miss the release date over here, which is a bit annoying!). I just wanted to give a shout out to the BBC’s radio adaptation of Tintin from the early 90s, one of the best that I’ve encountered. The animated series is also pretty faithful and comes with a thumbs up. Now all I have to track down are the first of the feature films and the first animated series (allegedly not as faithful). If you value your sanity, there’s a boxset of three animated Tintin films, and I wouldn’t go near it. The first one, The Calculus Affair, is terrible, the second, Prisoners of the Sun, is OK but nothing like the adaptation in the animated series, and the third, Tintin and the Lake of Sharks, has a decent original storyline (better than Blue Oranges, at any rate) and would be the only passable one of these films, except that the Captain’s voice actor makes me want to claw my eardrums out.

And one final note: is it just me or was Tintin really fit in this photo below? (Man, that felt wrong to type.)
still of tintin

Update 12/12/2011: my thoughts on the new film now that it’s out.

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