Steven Spielberg's latest film, The Adventures of Tintin, has all the hallmarks of modern filmmaking, created using motion-capture technology and featuring some of the biggest actors of the 21st century. One would have to go back almost three decades, however, to examine where this journey from beloved European comic book to blockbuster movie began.
Hergé, the Belgian creator of the books, was a fan of cinema and, upon seeing the director's earlier work, wrote that he believed this "young American filmmaker", who was attempting to buy the rights for a live-action version of the film, was the only person who could do justice to his books. Sadly, the writer passed away mere months before he was supposed to meet the filmmaker, but Spielberg still bought the rights.
Although it took many years to come to fruition, Hergé's premonition seems to have added an element of destiny to this new blockbuster, part of a co-production between Spielberg and the Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, who will direct the sequel.
"I had heard about that," Spielberg says with a smile. "It's incredibly flattering. I didn't grow up with Tintin - I read my first book in 1981 - but as soon as I read it I knew I wanted to make a film of it."
He admits to feeling a connection with the main character. "Tintin's a reporter, and he doesn't take no for an answer…. that's certainly something I can relate to," he says, laughing. "The determination of the character and the way he gets so involved in the stories he initially tries to report, it's something that appealed to me greatly."
The director was instantly keen to bring Tintin to life when he optioned the rights shortly after Hergé's death, but the road to realising the intrepid journalist's adventures was to take a very long time.
"We worked on a lot of stories, I always thought of my version of the story as a family version of the Indiana Jones stories," he says, "but things didn't work out - we didn't like where it was going, and eventually we had to move on. We couldn't have known it then, but it's perhaps a good thing; we were waiting for technology to catch up with what we wanted to do."
The version of the film we see today has been in development since 2004, but only began to take shape once Spielberg enlisted Jackson to help work on the film. Jackson, a fan of the books himself, insisted that motion capture, which he had worked on with all three LOTR films, was the only way to bring the story to life.
Initially approached through his WETA effects company to produce an animated version of Tintin's dog, Snowy, Spielberg was also convinced that motion capture was the vehicle that would take the project to new heights, having seen a test reel shot by Jackson.
"I knew when I saw it that this was the way to go," Spielberg recalls. "That's why we brought Peter in, too; he had an idea about where to go with these characters that was very similar to mine, and was already very familiar with this technology."
Spielberg's confidence in the motion-capture medium, which he has not worked in before, is bolstered by his confidence in the people he has chosen to work with on this project.
"The footage looks great," he beams. "The animators really know what they're doing, and the actors working on the performances of the characters are fantastic. I might be new to this world, but the people we've chosen to work with are the best at this kind of technique, so I'm pretty confident."
But that confidence aside, surely any director, no matter how esteemed, must feel some trepidation when working on a different type of film?
"You know, the experience I had as a director was similar to the actors in a lot of ways," he says. "The actors would put all this equipment on, laugh at each other, but then get on with their jobs, because when you come down to it that's what acting is: imagination and creativity. So the same was sort of true for me. Certainly it was an adjustment not dealing with these huge sets, or actors in costume, but after a short period of time, it became just like any other filmmaking experience. You're telling a story, just in a different way."
The story, however, certainly takes up a good portion of the moviegoing experience, using up-to-date special effects to aid the process.
"That's what I love about this movie, and the three movies we're planning to make," Spielberg says. "It takes time to tell the story. In the first film, we explore Captain Haddock's ancestry, we take the time to hear about his past, what led him to where he is right now, and that's also balanced with the fast pace of the film, so you get all the information you need in a way that's entertaining. It's the style that we think Hergé would bring to a Tintin story."
Looking to the future, Spielberg will be heavily involved in the planned Tintin trilogy, producing the next film (swapping roles with Jackson, who will be directing the sequel), with both directors slated to co-direct the final film, in a project that will be a mouth-watering prospect for all film fans.
As for his other work, Spielberg teased fans at this year's San Diego Comic Con with news that Jurassic Park 4 will be underway in the next two or three years. "There's really nothing more to say about that," he says when pressed for more information. "We have a story we're working on, and we hope to have it in good shape soon. At the moment, it's just about getting it right."
- The Adventures of Tintin opens today in UAE cinemas
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