Spielberg: The Adventures of Tintin part 1
The opening titles of The Adventures of Tintin, while not technically part of the screenplay, offer a jaunty, tongue-in-cheek symposium on the action-adventure genre. Or, that is to say, on the films of Steven Spielberg. There’s a boy, he’s got a companion, in this case a dog, and there is danger and bad guys and all manner of vehicular transport, often in competition with each other, and a magical object, in this case a glowing ball, that everyone is after. This describes the plots of any number of Spielberg movies. If you wanted, you could expand the titles of Tintin into its own feature, and in fact just describing them would constitute a terrific pitch in most rooms in Hollywood. What is the glowing ball? The glowing ball is, of course, the maguffin, the thing around which the action revolves. For Spielberg, that might be the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, Devil’s Tower, Private Ryan or an enamelware factory. The point of the maguffin is that it doesn’t matter what it is, it only matters that it’s important to everyone in the story. It could literally be a glowing ball and it would still have the same effect, if exploited properly. At the end of the Tintin titles, it turns out that the glowing ball is the dot to the “i” in “Spielberg,” which adds the personal touch and brings home the fact that the sequence is, in large part, autobiographical — the chase for the maguffin, whatever it is, is the guiding principle of Spielberg’s life, the glow in his eye, or the light of his “I.” That the drama of the titles plays out on a typewriter instead of, say, a drawing board, or an editing table, brings that glowing “I” to the writer’s desk, that is, to the screenplay, where a movie always begins, where it must begin. It’s often been said that Spielberg makes movies about movies, here he acknowledges that openly.
The Adventures of Tintin is also, of course, an adaptation of a series of beloved comic books, and Spielberg takes care to acknowledge that as well, before he gets on with the adventure. He has his Tintin pose for a caricaturist at a street fair, the caricaturist of course being Herge, Tintin’s creator. In this, Spielberg creates a kind of de facto hand off from Herge’s creation to his own, implying that he has (the late) cartoonist’s blessing on the project. Herge was dead for a decade before Spielberg even got the rights to make a Tintin movie, but the “handoff” moment still nods to the comics’ readers, says: it’s okay, we love this stuff too, trust us. (Part of Herge’s winning style was to take cartoonish-looking principals and put them in lush, well-researched, impeccably observed backgrounds, and Spielberg replicates that technique here in CGI — rubber-faced people in photo-realistic environments.)
What does Tintin want? Well, he’s a young man, living on his own, somewhere in Europe, some time in the 1930s, he wants adventure. Note that, in spite of living on his own and being old enough to drive, Tintin isn’t looking for love or sex, just the romance of adventure. I’m guessing Tintin shares that quality with Spielberg himself, who has always been skittish about love matters in his movies — Tintin, throughout his history, is permanently arrested in a pre-sexual adolescence –the perfect Spielberg protagonist. Maybe that’s why one of the first shots of Tintin is him passing by a row of mirrors — Tintin is Spielberg’s reflection of himself.
While a pickpocket deftly moves through the crowd in the square at Montmartre and a pair of bumbling detectives pursue same, Tintin finds adventure, or the symbol of it anyway, in a ship’s model, The Unicorn, for sale by an antiques dealer. Tintin, like the young Spielberg, like young geeks everywhere throughout time, knows more about the ship than the dealer himself, the rigging, the guns, the year built, the king in power at the time. It is in the nature of the young man, not yet preoccupied with girls, to memorize all kinds of useless minutiae regarding vehicles, weapons and history — if he were born forty years later, Tintin would be playing Dungeons and Dragons.
Tintin buys the model ship and is immediately accosted by an older man who also wants it, all but announcing The Unicorn‘s status as a maguffin. Moments later, Tintin is approached a second time, by the bearded Sakharine, who is obviously sinister but who shares with Tintin a geek’s love of minutiae. There is a house, you see, a manor, and a sea captain, and a fortune lost — the stuff, in short, of adventure. Sakharine shows that the geek’s adoration of minutiae, when frozen too long, becomes obsession, as the enthusiast becomes the collector. Tintin is intrigued by Sakharine but unmoved: The Unicorn, and the adventure it symbolizes, is his.