Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

Steven Spielberg’s performance capture 3D film ”The Adventures of Tintin” is charming, funny, and action-packed. Too bad that it just isn’t Tintin!

Born and raised in Europe I grew up reading the classic comic book series of Tintin, created and drawn by Belgian artist Hergé. What characterises the series is its “ligne claire” style, which Hergé pioneered with Tintin. The style uses clear strong lines with a minimum of hatching and contrasts and it features strong colours and a combination of cartoonish characters against a realistic background, which gives the comic a flat aspect. The style is so essential to Tintin that without it there is no Tintin at all and sadly Spielberg has chosen to discard the style all together. This is clear from the beginning where in the 2D intro Spielberg pays homage to his own Saul Bass inspired “Catch Me If You Can” intro rather than Hergés ligne claire style. Although the Tintin intro includes elements from the comic books, it doesn’t include the right colours or the strong lines, which is very disappointing. Especially as the intro is Spielberg’s only chance of using the ligne claire style, as the film itself is so realistic due to its 3D performance capture technique that it could as well have been an “ordinary” film.

”The Adventures of Tintin” (also known as “The Secret of the Unicorn”) is based on three of the original comic books: “The Crab with the Golden Claws” (1941), “The Secret of the Unicorn” (1943), and “Red Rackham's Treasure” (1944). Despite the use of three different books as its source, the plot is good and easy to follow. It tells the story of Tintin, a young Belgian reporter, who buys a model ship named the Unicorn and suddenly finds himself pursued by the sinister Mr. Sakharine. Tintin and his fox terrier Snowy join forces with the drunk Captain Haddock and the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson in an adventure that leads them to Morocco and the unveiling of the secret of Red Rackham’s Treasure. So far, so good. The plots in Hergé’s comic books are usually adventures mixed with slapstick humour and elements from fantasy, science fiction and political thrillers, added satirical, political and cultural commentaries, but somehow Spielberg has managed to turn his plot into a very American, political correct action film. Annoying!

Another thing that is annoying is the way that the characters are being portrayed in the film. In fact it’s difficult to recognise some of them because they are extremely fat with HUGE noses! WHY?? The only one with a small nose is Tintin, but where Hergé’s Tintin is as blank as a canvas with hardly any personality, Spielberg’s Tintin (played by Jamie Bell) is charming, funny, passionate and…well…a human being! A genuine likeable hero as opposed to the original boring idealist. Hergé’s permanently drunk, swearing, cynical and grumpy Captain Haddock isn’t quite himself, either. Not only is he fat and huge-nosed, he has turned into a bit of a whiner in Spielberg’s version as well, a self-pitying drinker who is ashamed of his drinking and who doesn’t swear very much. He is played by Andy Serkis, whereas the detectives Thomson and Thompson are played by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Thomson and Thompson (who are not related in any way, they just look alike except for their moustaches), are the fattest of them all in Spielberg’s version (again WHY?), but at least they are as stupid as in the comic books. The same can’t be said about Tintin’s dog Snowy. In the comic books the dog is really stupid, but in the film he’s as clever a Lassie! Why?? I also wonder why “the Milanese Nightingale”, opera singer Bianca Castafiore (played by Kim Stengel), has the face of a man? And why isn’t she as voluptuous as in the comic books? But she still has a huge nose? And why is the villain Sakharine (Daniel Craig), made to look younger and nicer than the one in the comic books? But with a pretty big nose, too? I’m just wondering.

Sadly Spielberg doesn’t manage to capture the atmosphere of Hergé’s stories or the nature of his characters and with the very special aesthetics of the comic books missing too, you are left with a VERY American action movie. I truly miss the real Tintin, but when that is said, I have to admit that I really liked that film, as it is very entertaining. I do think, however, that the PG rating (in Denmark a PG–7) is wrong, not because of the drinking, swearing and killing in the film, but because of the plot. I think that you have to be at least 10-12 years old to fully understand it. And as a grown-up it’s quite annoying having to share the cinema with hundreds of seven year olds, who are screaming, talking, jumping in their seats, throwing popcorn and being generally bored by a film that is way too “adult” to keep their attention during the 107 minutes that it lasts.

Three out of five stars: ***

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Mirror Boy

 “Spiegeljongen” (“Mirror Boy”) from 2010 is the Dutch author Floortje Zwigtman’s third and final novel about Adrian Mayfield, a young gay model and journalist living in Victorian London. Like its predecessors - ”Schijnbewegingen” and ”Tegenspel”- the novel hasn’t been published in English, only in Dutch and German, and as usual I read it in German. Here the novel is called ”Auf Leben und Tod” (“On Life and Death”).

The year is 1895 and Adrian has turned 18 years old. Because Adrian used to be a rent boy, his lover, the conservative painter Vincent Farley, has kicked him out and Adrian has lost everything; his job, his home and first and foremost his love. In London Oscar Wilde is on trial for homosexuality and the gays are panicking, some fleeing to Paris, others committing suicide and the ones like Vincent repressing their gay tendencies by seeking female company. When Adrian finds out that Vincent plans to marry the innocent Octavia Webb, he goes mad with hate and jealousy and joins forces with the decadent, transsexual Lady Kinderly in order to get his revenge. The “lady” specialises in kidnapping young children from London and selling them to brothels in Paris, so when Vincent goes to Paris to propose to Octavia, Adrian follows him together with Lady Kinderly, her male nurse Chris, her foster “daughter” Eliza (who is really a boy) and three kidnapped children. The revenge doesn’t go as planned, so back in London Adrian decides to expose Vincent’s homosexuality, thereby bringing not only Vincent but the entire Farley family down. Vincent’s brother Stuart gets in his way, though, and suddenly Adrian is the hunted, fighting for his life.

Although a lot of new characters are introduced such as Lady Kinderly and her posse, we get to meet all of the old gang in “Spiegeljongen” as well. Adrian’s family and old friends all have a part to play and so have Oscar Wilde, Lord Bosie, Aubrey Beardsley, Augustus Trops etc. and we get a closure on all of the characters, which is very fulfilling. Furthermore the trial of Oscar Wilde is always in the background of the story and Zwigtman uses it skilfully to show the hate and fear, which embraced homosexuals in Victorian London.

“Spiegeljongen” is more dramatic, darker and scarier than its predecessors, as Adrian’s hate and madness permeate the story, but still he is one of the most interesting, sympathetic and complex protagonists in modern literature with his matter-of-fact look on life and his sarcastic sense of humour. I just love that guy! The story is high-paced, thorough and well-researched and as such the novel is a worthy ending of a trilogy that – in my humble opinion – is the best I have ever read. If I have to say something negative about it, I can’t, but one thing that struck me as odd was the epilogue. Zwigtman ends the book with a “27 years later”-epilogue and although I know it’s a very popular thing to do nowadays, it is also a bit weird, especially as the narrator is no longer Adrian, but Vincent. I could have lived without it, but I guess Zwigtman wanted to make absolutely sure that her readers got the aforementioned fulfilling closure on all of her characters.

Each volume of the Adrian Mayfield trilogy is a masterpiece on its own and “Spiegeljongen” is no exception. Despite the explicit gay sex scenes, you don’t have to be gay to read it and despite it being (wrongfully!) labelled a young adult book, you don’t have to be a teenager, either. You don’t even have to be a fan of Oscar Wilde, just read it! On each of the 640 pages, Zwigtman shows her superiority as both a writer and a storyteller, and I for one wasn’t able to put the book down, but had to read it in one go. I sure hope that the entire trilogy is going to be published in English soon, because this masterpiece deserves to be read by as many people as possible. To be honest, if I had the power, I would nominate Floortje Zwigtman to the Nobel Prize in literature any day!

Five out of five stars: *****


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