Claude Misonne | 58 mins | download | 1.37:1 | Belgium / French
By 1947, Hergé’s boy reporter/adventurer Tintin had already been around and increasingly popular for nearly two decades; had survived World War 2 and the controversy of being published in a Nazi-controlled newspaper; and the release of his adventures had recently been transferred to a dedicated magazine, Le Journal de Tintin. What better time to bring the character to the big screen?
Adapted from the ninth Tintin adventure, which is the one that introduces popular supporting character/co-lead Captain Haddock, the plot sees Tintin following clues left by a dead seaman to uncover an opium smuggling operation being run on Haddock’s boat without his knowledge. Animated via stop motion using doll-like puppets, the film was only ever screened twice before being seized when its producer declared bankruptcy and fled to Argentina. A print is stored at the Cinémathèque Royale in Belgium, where it seems it used to only be available to paying Tintin club members, but in 2008 it was released on DVD in France. English-friendly versions are available online, not least via YouTube. The picture quality is poor, but, having gone to the trouble of acquiring a higher-res copy, I can say it doesn’t get much better. It is in the wrong aspect ratio, though — approximately 1.69:1. It doesn’t look too distorted, but if you see a 4:3 version it suddenly looks right. (I presume the DVD was incorrect because I had to adjust the copy I downloaded.)
As for the film itself, it’s incredibly faithful to Hergé’s original tale — it may not be adapted frame-for-frame, but it’s incredibly close. A couple of action sequences have gone astray, presumably because that’s harder to achieve with puppets, but it also streamlines the story slightly. I can’t speak for the French dialogue, but the fan-made English subtitles are word-for-word with the book. Of course, that may be where they’re sourced from.
In my review of the Spielberg film, I remarked I hadn’t read the albums it was adapted from so couldn’t vouch for its fidelity. Watching this, it’s clear that a sizeable chunk of the storyline was actually adapted from The Crab with the Golden Claws, to the point where I was starting to wonder if Moffat & co had taken the entire plot from Crab but subbed in the MacGuffins from Secret of the Unicorn. In the end, about half of this made its way into the 2011 film, including everything aboard the Karaboudjan, the lifeboat and plane sequences, and some of the desert material, too.
In this version, there’s quite a good bit where Tintin and Haddock escape from the Karaboudjan but we don’t see any of it, instead following the traitorous Mr Mate as he discovers all the crewmembers our heroes have tricked and tied up. As with everything else, this is book-faithful, but works even better on screen. Plus, Captain Haddock has a musical number, about his love for “the bottle and the sea”; and later he has another with Tintin, too. The main lyric is, “tra la la la lai doo”.
Technically, it’s not the most sophisticated stop motion you’ll see, but it’s not bad considering its age. The models are of their era too, but pretty good on the whole. The two exceptions are, firstly, the black characters — a weakness of Hergé’s book, they were replaced with white characters in later years, but this is faithful to the original version. The dolls aren’t any better than Hergé’s drawings. Secondly, the facial design of Tintin’s doll makes it look as if he’s permanently shocked by everything.
The Crab with the Golden Claws must be the most adapted Tintin adventure now (it was also animated in both the ’50s and ’90s series), which isn’t necessarily warranted: it was a tale compromised by the circumstances surrounding its publication, and apparently is largely a rehash of an earlier story. It’s not without merit, though — all of the good stuff was filched for the Spielberg film, funnily enough. This version isn’t bad, but is really no more than a funny little curio. One for the hardcore fan, be that of Tintin or the history of stop motion animation, or the insatiably curious.