Wednesday 28 January 2009

Jamie Bell is Tintin?

That's the word from Spielberg central (currently Paramount Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment), which this week has announced the official beginning of production on The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. And with the release date set for 2011, this long-gestating Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson dream project looks finally to be on its way - hurrah! As a lifelong fan of the young Belgian reporter and his exploits - which have had a huge influence on many contemporary moviemakers, not least Spielberg himself - I am at once excited and deeply nervous about what the end product is going to be like. The press release that was released this week offers plenty more tidbits that offer room for immediate speculation...

The Look - Jackson and Spielberg made it known early on that they were planning to create their mooted Tintin trilogy using 3D Motion Capture technology, the same technique that has previously allowed Andy Serkis to play Gollum and King Kong. But does that mean it's going to end up looking like Beowulf? Or will it be shot on real sets with digital characters running around, a la Lord of the Rings?

The Story - Well they've announced it as Secret of the Unicorn, but there's a possibility that they may be condensing the book of the same name and its sequel, Red Rackham's Treasure, into the same film. There's several reasons why this might be the case: Secret of the Unicorn is largely a static mystery story, with lots of talking and puzzling that sets up the treasure-hunting adventure of the second book. Also, Professor Calculus, one of the series' key characters, is introduced in Red Rackham's Treasure, and since other regulars Captain Haddock and the Thompson Twins are already established in Secret of the Unicorn, there's a good chance he'll be brought into this movie. One other key piece of info from the press release has implications on the story - Daniel Craig has been cast as Red Rackham. Anyone who has read Secret of the Unicorn knows that the character of Red Rackham, while central to the story, only appears on 3 of its 62 pages, and even then only as a visualisation of a story that Captain Haddock is telling. So unless this is a cameo for Craig even briefer than his turn in The Golden Compass, some tinkering must have been done to expand his role. My guess is that, in the wake of Johnny Depp and pals' Pirates of the Caribbean successes, Spielberg and Jackson have decided to up the potential for piratical derring-do in flashbacks/fantasy sequences. Whether that's a good thing for Tintin fans remains to be seen.

The Cast - Aside from Craig as Red Rackham and Bell as Tintin (wouldn't have been my first choice, but I'll go with it), none of the other announced cast members' character roles have been revealed, although Andy Serkis has been rumoured as Captain Haddock from the moment Peter Jackson got involved with this project. Serkis is certainly a definite cast member, and in my view he's one of the finest actors working today, so if anyone could do justice to Herge's legendary comic character it's him. Then there's the rumour that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, also confirmed as cast, will be playing clumsy detectives the Thompson Twins. Now usually I would say that any movie would be improved with some Pegg and Frost, but Tintin isn't just any movie, and I'm not convinced they'll be a good fit. Having said that, I trust Speilberg's instincts (as long as they don't involve creepers, monkeys and Shia LeBeouf) so... here's hoping! The other three cast members announced are Toby Jones, Gad Elmaleh and Mackenzie Crook (more Pirates of the Caribbean crossover...). Who they'll be playing is anyone's guess, but Gad Elmaleh showed himself to be a wonderful physical comedian in the otherwise forgettable Priceless, and I could definitely see him as Nestor, the butler who is first introduced in Unicorn and is henceforth Captain Haddock's ostensible babysitter. And Mackenzie Crook would make a funny Calculus...

The Writers - This is perhaps the most interesting element of the new press release. Steven Moffat, of Doctor Who fame, is the first named writer, and he's been attached to the project for ages, but the next two are new: Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. The former is understandable, particularly given the involvement of his stalwart colaborators Pegg and Frost (although if they end up turning Tintin into a Hot Fuzz/Shaun of the Dead type comedy I'll kill 'em with my own bare hands), but Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe as a writer on a Spielberg movie? That's kind of out of the left field. In fact, it's easy to forget that this is a Steven Spielberg film, given the absence of any American stars or writers in the production.

Where this all leaves us certainly interesting territory. The creative team, including Peter Jackson as a producer, adds up to an incredibly wide pool of experience and past work, and this is probably just the kind of variety needed to do justice to the Tintin stories. With the studio release speaking confidently of a second film to be directed by Jackson, and a possible third film too, there's obviously huge potential here. I just hope they get it right.

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