Characters, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin, Tintin Movie Cast & Crew, Tintin Movie News

Jamie Bell - Tintin

Jamie Bell – Star of Billy Elliot, King Kong, Hallam Foe, Jumper and Defiance – has been cast as Tintin.

Also cast is Daniel Craig – The current James Bond and star of Defiance – who is playing the pirate Red Rackham.

The film will be called: The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn

Also announced were the screen writing credits: Stephen Moffat, writer of Dr Who and so much more. Plus Edgar Wright, co-writer and director of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead which starred Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who are playing Thompson and Thomson. Joe Cornish, know to Brits as one-half of Adam & Joe, also gets a screenwriting credit.

Production starts today on the 3D motion capture. Release is scheduled for 2011.

Its not clear is the film will only tell the story of the book Secret of the Unicorn or whether it will combine both Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. The press release say that “The second feature in the series is scheduled to be directed by Jackson, with a potential for a third film as well.”

Other names mentioned in the cast but the parts are not identified are Gad Elmaleh (lots of French language films), Toby Jones (voice of Dobby the House Elf in the Harry Potter films) and Mackenzie Crook (Pirates of the Caribbean and The Office).

Paramount Pictures will release the film in the US and in all English speaking territories and Asia, excluding India. Sony Pictures Releasing International will distribute the film in Continental Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, India and the remainder of the world.

Full press release here.

Credit to Marketsaw who were first to break the news.

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn

Written at the height of the war, whilst Belgium was under German occupation, The Secret of the Unicorn& Red Rackham’s Treasure are two of Herge’s most escapist books.

Starting the Treasure Hunt

Herge’s vagueness about where Tintin & Captain Haddock live is evident at the start of Red Rackham’s Treasure. It suggests that Tintin and friends live in a port city but Brussels is landlocked. However it could be construed that the scenes around the docks could be some distance from Tintin’s home. Or that Tintin and the Captain have taken temporary accommodation in the port.

The Sirius, Captain’s Haddock’s boat in the hunt for Red Rackham’s Treasure, must sail from a port. The ship is specifically described as a fishing traveller and Belgium has three fishing ports: Zeebrugge, Ostend and Nieuwpoort. For the Tintin Map project, I’ve picked Ostend as their home port because of its direct link to Brussels.

As way of providing exposition for those who had not read The Secret of the Unicorn, Herge has two sailors talking in a bar to explain a plot. Shortly afterwards the character of Cuthbert Calculus is introduced. After Haddock has been abused by various of Cuthbert’s contraptions, the Captain loses his temper and describes him as Bashi-bazouk, demonstrating Haddok’s amazing vocabulary once again. The Bashi-bazouk is type of Turkish militia whose name derives from the Turkish word for “damaged head” and generally means “leaderless” or “disorderly”. He later uses the word to describe Thompson & Thomson.

Where is Red Rackham’s Treasure

After setting out, the heros discover a stowaway – Professor Calculus. He had smuggled his underwater craft aboard in place of Captain Haddock’s much loved whisky. Herge love of detail normally meant that the machines in his adventures were copied from real craft. However with Calculus’ shark submersible, this worked in reverse.

Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, is world expert on sharks. In order to study the great white shark he developed a shark shaped submersible inspired by his childhood reading of Red Rackham’s Treasure. Using the “trojan shark”, he could film the Great White’s natural behavior at close range without running the risk of becoming lunch. The footage he shot became a CBS special Shark: Mind of a Demon. Check out the web site for lots of photos and clips but my favourite was the one below because of its resemblance to a scene drawn fifty years before.

shark submersibleTintin Shark

During the hunt for Red Rackham’s Treasure, Tintin is unable to find the island, despite having the coordinates. They search in vain until Tintin realises that the coordinations could of been based on the Paris Meridian and not the more normal Greenwich Meridian. This source of confusion dates back to 1600s when the issue of longitude was becoming a problem. This was because the discovery and opening up of the Americas required shipping to sail far into open waters where as previously most vessels had stayed near the shore. Being able to work out how far east or west a ship had traveled was vital for accurate mapping and avoiding shipwreck.

North / south measurements (latitude) are based on the equator, which is fixed by the shape of the planet. However the starting point of any east / west travel (longitude) is arbitrary. All the major seafaring nations chose their own place for 0′ Latitude. However by 1884, Greenwich was the dominant meridian and an international conference confirmed it as the prime meridian to be used on all maps around the world. It says something about the French that they abstained from the vote and continued to use the Paris meridian (2° 20′ 14.025″ east of the Greenwich Meridian) for several decades. Herge’s reference to this in Red Rackham’s Treasure is a nice touch of detail.

Back Home Again

After a fruitless search for Red Rackham’s Treasure lasting several weeks, Tintin and his friends return home. With Calculus’ help, Captain Haddock discovers that Marlinspike is his ancestral home and is able to buy it. Yet another coincidence in this tale. The house that the Bird Brothers lived in and had kept Tintin imprisoned in, just happens to have once been owned by Haddock’s ancestor. Knowing this vital fact, Tintin is able to find the real treasure when he spots the statue of St John.

Tintin Movie

The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure are the books most likely to become the first Tintin film based on the casting list. Unlike many of the other books, these two are very focused in their story telling. Tintin’s other adventures often involve him being side-tracked or going wherever fate takes hims. This makes them a lot more unsuitable for a 90 minute movie. I suspect that Herge’s reliance of coincidences will be smoothed out in the film. The introduction of an Editor and other supporting cast will provide other ways of pulling Tintin into the story.

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin and Snowy, Tintin's Friends

Herge always relied on coincidences in his stories but in The Secret of the Unicorn, he perhaps relied on them too much.

The Unicorn for Sale

The coincidences start on page one, where Tintin bumps into Thompson & Thomson. The detectives are investigating a pick-pocket who will, by chance, become very important towards the end of book. On page 3 of The Secret of the Unicorn, we have the next two coincidences. Firstly, as Tintin tries to buy the model Ivon Ivanovitch Sakharine also tries to buy the model. Then as those two argue, Barnaby joins in and also tries to purchase the same model.

If having three people (two of them who have been hunting for the model for years) all out shopping in the same place at the same time when the very object they seek happens to be for sale is not coincidence enough, there is more to come. The model is of the Unicorn, the ship of Sir Francis Haddock, Captain Haddock’s ancestors. After this, The Secret of the Unicorn settles down now that Herge has introduced all the characters and established the story line.

The True Unicorn

According to Tintin and the World of Herge, the Unicorn was not based on any specific ship but it was heavily influenced by Le Brillant. This 50 gun warship of the French Navy was built in Le Havre in 1690. A model of the ship can be seen here. Quite why Herge used this ship as the basis for the Unicorn is not clear.

The Secret of the Unicorn makes Captain Haddock unique in Herge’s cast. He is the only character to have any background. There is no mention of Tintin’s ancestry, ancient or modern, or that of any other characters. In fact, it is the only blood relation to a character to feature in the books except the children of various characters (e.g. the Waggs).

It is believed that the pirate Red Rackham in The Secret of the Unicorn was based on the pirate Calico Jack, whose real name was John Rackham. It was Calico Jack’s use of a jolly roger with two crossed swords that popularisied the design of the jolly roger as we know it today. This design was also used in the film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. This was fitting as Calico Jack was captured and hung in giblet. An image that is also referenced in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Pests, Marlinspike and Nestor

As well as having amazing ancestors, Captain Haddock has an amazing vocabulary. Reading his rage induced rants always expands your grasp of language. The Secret of the Unicorn is no exception as Haddock refers to the Thompsons as Phylloxera. This North American aphid like creature was responsible for near destruction of the European wine industry in the late 1800s. Brought across from America by accident, this pest destroyed many of the vines. Only with the introduction of vines crossed with resistant stock from America did European wine production survive.

Marlinspike makes its first appearance in The Secret of the Unicon. Later it is to become Captain Haddock’s and Calculas’ home and base for many Tintin’s adventures. But in the beginning it just a prison that Tintin wakes up in. One of the first things Tintin does in Marlinspike is damage it by combining ingenuity with a convenient wooden beam.

Along with Marlinspike, we also meet Nestor for the first time. Innocently caught up in the nefarious affairs of the Bird brothers, Nestor’s first meeting with Tintin results in a fight and almost ends in Tintin’s murder. Nestor’s saving grace is when, once Tintin is rescued by the Thompsons and Captain Haddock, Nestor replaces the Captain’s bottle of three star brandy. Nestor clearly understands the Captain’s needs and Nestor remains the butler of Marlinspike after it is purchased by Calculus and the Captain.

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn

Thanks to Stephen who highlighted that Herge took the name Moulinsart (Marlinspike in English) from the village Sart Moulin and Sarmoulin as I suggested in Where is Marlinkspike? .

I’m still not 100% sure that Sart Moulin exists as Google puts the location in the middle of a quarry.

View Larger Map

Stephen also An entirely different Steven sent me this great picture that morphs the original Château de Cheverny into Herge’s Marlinspike.

marlinspike morphed

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin's Friends

Marlinspike is Tintin’s spiritual home and the very real home to Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus. It was purchased by Professor Calculus for the Captain at the end of their treasure hunting trip in The Secret of the Unicorn / Red Rackam’s Treasure and became the starting point for many of their later adventures.

Will the Real Markinspike Please Stand Up

Herge very rarely invented anything from scratch. When drawing a boat or a plane or a gun he preferred to start with an object and then simplify it. See the Junkers JU 52 in The Broken Ear or the Mayan pyramid in San Theodoros for two of the many examples of this approach. When drawing Marlinspike (Moulinsart in the original French) he copied a French chateau and simplified it.

Below is Château de Cheverny, the inspiration of Marlinspike. Compare it to the image from Red Rackham’s Treasure and it is clear that Marlingspike is Cheverny with the two outermost wings cut off.

Chateau De Cheverny Marlinspike Moulinsart
Marlinspike

Pinning It Down

But where did Herge imagine Marlinspike was physically? Frustratingly, Herge sometimes placed Tintin in very real and identifiable places (even giving map coordinates on one occasion) and at other times, he was incredibly vague to even which country Tintin was in.

What we can workout from the books is that Marlinspike was in Begium. Traffic drives on the right-hand side of the road and the police wear uniforms very similar to the Belgium police. The estate clearly has a lot of land and is surrounded by countryside so it is outside of any city. We know that Tintin lives in Brussels and he travels to Captatin Haddock’s house via motorcycle (Tintin and the Picaros) and via Marlinspike train station (The Seven Crystal Balls). As Tintin never has any luggage with him it safe to assume that Marlinspike is not far outside of Brussels.

The Final Clue

Marlinspike original French name was Moulinsart. According to Tintin and the world of Herge, this is a reversal of Sarmoulin. A small country town in Belgium. Unfortunately it is so small even Google cannot find it. There is no entry for it on Wikipedia either. Is it real but very, very, small or is the existence of Sarmoulin one of Herge’s jokes?

Red Rackham's Treasure, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin Movie News

According to reports in the New Zealand press, the first Tintin film will definitely be based on Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure.

We predicted this back in October last year based on the cast list. However there are a few oddities. The original casting list included characters from The Crab with the Golden Claw and Eric Stoltz has been cast as Dr Krollspell who appears in Flight 714.

Basing the first Tintin movie on the Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure makes a lot of sense. They are good, solid adventure stories with a straight forward plot that has a lot in common with Indiana Jones adventures. They also introduce Professor Calculus and by the end of it, Captain Haddock has Marlinspike manor.

Source: Details released about first Tintin movie

Links, Red Rackham's Treasure, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin in Tibet

Tintin in Tibet was my favourite Tintin book when I was a child and remains so as an adult. I’m sort of glad they aren’t doing it as the film because I don’t think a film can capture the stillness of the book. Instead they are doing movies of The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham’s Treasure and the Crab With The Golden Claws.

The Yeti from Tintin in Tibet always stood out to me as a character. Unlike other characters from the books, the Yeti isn’t motivated by money or power. He’s not a spy, a criminal, a freedom fighter or a repressed minority. He is driven by real emotion to rescue and tend the injured Chang. The Yeti’s loneliness when Chang is taken away by Tintin has real pathos.

Naturally a blog called I Love the Yeti caught my eye. Its looking are the changing face of the Yeti over the years and is best summed up in the post Yeti in Popular Culture and Tintin of course gets a mention.

Captain Haddock, Editorial, Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, The Secret of the Unicorn

Problems Facing the Tintin Movie

I love Tintin. Growing up with dyslexia meant that I always struggled with written words so discovering Tintin was revelation. The beautiful images and fast moving, boys-own style adventures made Tintin’s world real to me in a way that a book never could. Over the years I have revisited Tintin many times and got something new out of it each time but one of the things I’ve pick up is that Tintin isn’t written very well. Before I get ripped to shreds by rabid fans, I need to be clear about what is wrong with Herge’s writing and why this could result in some terrible films.

Tintin and Amazing Coincidences

I’ve got Secret of the Unicorn in front of me as an example. Tintin goes to the market where he meets Thomson and Thompson who are investigating a spate of thefts by pickpockets. Tintin spots the model Unicorn and decides to buy it for Captain Haddock. Just then not one, but two other people try to buy it. After fending off these other buyers, Tintin presents the ship to Captain Haddock who immediately recognises it as a model belonging to his ancestor. Adventures ensue as the other parties interested in the ship try and retrieve it and the clue it contains. Eventually the bad guys are arrested but two of the clues that were hidden inside the ship have been stolen. Fortunately these are recovered when Thomson & Thompson’s catch the pickpocket who had lifted the wallet carrying the clues.

This chain of coincidences stretches credibility. Its a large coincidence that Tintin would happen to buy a model ship sailed by Captain Haddock’s ancestor but one that can be swallowed. However that he buys it just before the two other interested parties also discover it purely by chance is stretching credibility. Add on the whole pick pocket angle and the coincidences become too large. Rather than build a credible, coherent plot, Herge’s has chosen to hang everything on a series of coincidences. This might be a deliberate and clever style of plot construction but it strikes me as bad or lazy writing that posses all sorts of problems for making a Tintin movie.

Tintin: The Next Harry Potter?

The Tintin movies are being made now because the first time, technology allows the film makers to create a real universe and not just an animated version of Herge’s art. This would not matter if it wasn’t for the success of the Harry Potter and the Narnia films. Studios have seen that creating a faithful, high quality adaptation of a children’s book can draw in lots of adults and not just those with kids. This poses the makers with two problems. Firstly they have to make a faithful adaptation of the books and secondly they have to make a good film that appeals to adults who aren’t not die-hard fans of the books. With the Harry Potter and Narnia films they achieved this but can it be done with Tintin?

I don’t think they can. What mainstream film’s plot is so dependent on coincidences as in The Secret of the Unicorn? None. Sure, in action sequences you see heros dive out of windows and just happen to land in a pile of boxes but that isn’t the same thing. Audiences accept that because it makes the film exciting and dynamic. Coincidences that drive the plot are something else entirely. This leaves the film makers two options. Change the plot and nature of Tintin (thus angering the fans) or just do a faithful adaptation (thus alienating the non-fans). Neither of these option will make a good film.

Once the film makers start altering Tintin to fit the big screen, as they must, I think the magic of Tintin will unravel. What makes the Tintin books so enjoyable is the farcical nature of the plots but I don’t think these will work on the big screen. Modern films, even children’s films, are relatively complex where as Tintin, despite the busy and detailed artwork, have a simplicity to them. To recreate the magic of Tintin on the big screen the makers of the Tintin movie have to get a square peg into a round whole. Jackson and Spielberg are great directors but this may be beyond even their talents.

Peter Jackson, Rumours, Steven Spielberg, The Secret of the Unicorn, Tintin Movie News

According to FilmStew.com:

..there will be no honey bunny for Tintin in the first of three motion capture animation films now being planned for 2009 release by the formidable tandem of Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg.

This according to an anonymous Moulinsart estate company source quoted in London’s The Times newspaper. Says he or she: “I’m sure the accountants in Hollywood would love some of that in there, but they can’t do it. We have approval over that just to make sure they don’t totally ruin it . . . But there is room for some artistic license.”

No Love Interest for Tintin