Woah! Woah! Woah!
So there I was, on Saturday afternoon, chatting with Dave Fanning about Hergé, his (great) works, and the (not-so-great) Spielberg/Jackson adaptation of said works, when we got to the sticky issue of "faithfulness". I may have (accidentally) ended up sounding like the kind of saddo nerd to whom slavish faithfulness is intoxicating fan-boy catnip. But, like, y'know, I didn't mean to…
Take Zak Snyder's (snore) Watchmen, or Robert Rodriguez' (zzzz) Sin City. Both cravenly respectful adaptations of the source materials. Both technical experiments in trans-medium faithfulness that treat comics as mere storyboards. With intensely dull and unimaginative results.
The problem here is a formal one. Comics are (of course) not storyboards. Comic book panels are not the direct equivalent of cinematic "shots". They have their own visual language. Their own narrative logic and flow. And few people have ever spoken this language more eloquently and gracefully than Hergé. Sure, the Tintin stories are fun-filled and stuffed with the thrilling-est of derring-do. Sure, the characters (Tintin aside) are outrageous, lovable and hilarious. But it's not those elements that raise Tintin from pleasantly good to unforgettably great.
The things that make Tintin arguably1 the greatest creation in the history of comics are all specific to the medium. Hergé's visual genius (disciplined, obsessive and hard-won) didn't lead to the creation of some sort of proto-cinema in book form. It wasn't a stiff skeleton waiting for animation to make it dance.
It celebrated the thing just about to happen. The pause between the stumble and the head-long plunge into a ravine. The thrill of the frozen moment just before a wielded cosh connects with an unsuspecting head. You could stare (breathlessly) at those moments for minutes at a time, terrified to turn the page.2 Afraid to see the results of this thrillingly tense pause being released.
There are so many other examples. The long vertical thrust of panels where Tintin stands perilously on the edge of a cliff/building (as he does in The Black Island). The long horizontal thrust of panels where the long road stretches ever on (as it does in Tintin in Tibet). The sumptuous detail of the backgrounds (inviting the reader to pause and linger and return). The way every single extra, every single backgrounded or foregrounded unspeaking figure is invested with character. Each face telling their own untold stories.
These things (and many more) mark Tintin as, ultimately, a glorious celebration of the possibilities and pleasures of the comic book form. Specifically. You can faithfully reproduce narrative elements, dialogue, character, in live action or animation, but this X-factor,3 this thing that makes Tintin – Tintin, is, quite possibly, impossible to translate to another medium (particularly a comfortably mainstream piece of cinema).
And so, whatever about the cold/dead failings of motion-capture, whatever about the allegedly formulaic Hollywood-isation of this most European of icons, the most glaring flaw of all is that the soul of Tintin (our Tintin) just isn't there. And this absence really has nothing much to do with faithfulness (or otherwise). It's simply this.
Tintin = comics.
Producing a film/TV version is like dancing a poem. Or singing a painting. It may be a pleasurable thing, in and of itself, but it's not the thing (and, perhaps, it can never be). Particularly in this case. We're left with Tintin minus Tintin. Which is what, exactly? An above average action/adventure flick? A poor-man's Indiana Jones?
- I emphasise arguably. [back]
- Many of Tintin's most deliciously tense moments occupied a page's final panel. A classic example being those panels where a loud BANG! causes our hero to leap into the air and glance anxiously over his left shoulder (in the direction, of course, of the next page) toward the sound's source. Source not revealed till the page was excitedly turned. [back]
- A compromised term these days, I know. [back]
November 4, 2011