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Tintin And The Mystery Of The Golden Fleece
(a.k.a. Tintin Et Le Mystere De La Toison D'Or)

(1961)

Director: Jean-Jacques Vierne  
Cast:
Jean-Pierre Talbot, Georges Wilson, Georges Loriot


I think that by now, I have shown that I have a great knowledge of movies. That's how it's been for me for a long time... though maybe not as long as you might think. You see, when I was a child, in a number of ways I was not hip to what would be considered to be mainstream popular culture. One example was with music. For reasons that even my parents couldn't explain when I talked to them years later, we never had a record player in the house. In part because of that, I was not exposed to popular music of the day until I was a teenager and I had my own radio. Then there was television. In countless other B movie web sites, you have no doubt read from the proprietors that they grew up watching Godzilla on television during weekend afternoons, and being exposed to many other "B" grade movies from the past. Well, our family did have a television, but living in a somewhat isolated community, we didn't have as wide a choice of TV channels. And the channels we did get simply didn't show that many "B" and drive-in movies. In fact, I didn't get to see a Godzilla movie until I was in my teen years. Another way you might think I was deprived was with comics. Except maybe for Archie comic books, I didn't get to read much in the way of the kind of comics most kids in North America grow up with, such as Superman or Batman. Instead of indulging me and my siblings with Marvel or DC comics, my parents, being from England, would indulge us with European comics. We had adventure comics like Bullet and Hotspur, and humorous comics like Beano and Dandy, which would always portray their readers as laughing hysterically at their comics while I and my siblings would read them in stony silence and bewilderment as to why they thought they were so funny, when they clearly weren't.

Still, having that European influence from my parents and from other people in my country did make me end up being able to take a chance on and enjoy comics from different cultures, not just with American comics, as it is for many North Americans. For example, when I was a child I became a big fan of the Asterix comic series from France. The English translators did a hell of a job, because even translated I found the comics very funny. In fact, I still read every new Asterix comic album that comes out to this day. I find it odd that Asterix has never caught on in America. I find it even odder that the Belgian Tintin, which is even more popular worldwide, hasn't made an impact in America as well, at least an impact as big as in any other country. If you're American, you might not have even heard of Tintin. I'll explain a little about it, though I strongly recommend that you also go to the comic's official web site to get more information. The Tintin comics center around a reporter named Tintin, who is not quite a boy and not quite a man. In each Tintin comic, Tintin gets involved in a great and sometimes dangerous adventure (often one that involves globe-hopping.). Tintin always prevails with each and every challenge, being a heroic and resourceful fellow who has a "do good" philosophy. And along the way, Tintin interacts with many different and unique characters. His friend Captain Haddock provides a lot of comedy with his colorful cursing, drinking, and various struggles with people and things - though always proves to be an ideal companion through and through. Tintin's dog Snowy, the smartest dog in the world, provides his share of help (and laughs) along the way. Another great character is the eccentric Professor Calculus, who provides help or laughs, whatever the situation warrants. Anyway, I will tell you that as a child (and today as an adult) I loved Tintin. I love the comics of this series for many different reasons. The art is fantastic - the colors are bright, the details are sometimes simple yet effective, and when it does become detailed you just stare amazingly at each cartoon panel. The comics also make an effortless switch back and forth from serious drama to outright (and genuinely funny) comedy. Series creator "Herge" created a comic series that is forever timeless, despite advancing technology and new fashions coming in as the years advance.

Though I did say that the Tintin series seems to be somewhat unknown in America, things seem to be slowly changing. In fact, as of this writing, there is a big push going on by major Hollywood players to introduce Tintin and Tintin And The Mystery Of The Golden Fleecehis friends to America, and these major Hollywood players happen to be Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Together, they are in the middle of making two computer animated movies about Tintin and company. When I first heard the announcement that Spielberg and Jackson were going to tackle Tintin, I was very optimistic. Then when I heard that the first movie was going to mix elements of three of the comic albums, I got worried. It seemed to me that Herge, if he were alive today, would object to this mishmash of his creation. But as I thought about more, I realized that while Herge was alive, he gave filmmakers some kind of freedom with his creation. The 1972 animated movie Tintin And The Lake Of Sharks used a brand new story not written by Herge. And in the 1960s, there were two live-action movies about Tintin that also used stories not written by Herge. It seemed that if Herge allowed flexibility with others using his creation, I should be open-minded. So I decided to track down one of those live-action movies and see if it was any good. I had a choice between Tintin And The Mystery Of The Golden Fleece and the sequel Tintin And The Blue Oranges - I chose to watch the former. The story of this first cinematic Tintin starts off, like with many of the comic albums, at Marlinspike, the home of Captain Haddock (played by Wilson.) While Tintin (Talbot) is visiting, Captain Haddock gets a telegram stating that an old friend of his has died, and has bequeathed him his ship, named The Golden Fleece. Tintin and Captain Haddock travel to Turkey to see the ship, but find it's a rusted-out piece of junk with nothing valuable in its hold. But strangely, a mysterious figure by the name of Karabin offers a high price for the ship and its contents. Tintin, smelling a rat, persuades Haddock to decline the offer, at least for now, and concentrate on sailing the ship to Greece to deliver its contents. But Tintin and Haddock learn quickly that Karabin's determination to get The Golden Fleece may go high enough to be considered deadly...

During the first few minutes of Tintin And The Mystery Of The Golden Fleece, I am sure that many viewers will be at a loss of words to describe the feeling they get from seeing these characters. Certainly, people unfamiliar with Tintin will be somewhat perplexed, since the movie seems to assume that its audience is already familiar with these characters. But even those who are familiar with Tintin during these first few minutes will initially see the live-action representations of these beloved characters as... well... bizarre. I didn't have a problem with the dog they chose to represent Tintin's dog Snowy - he looks just like what Herge had drawn. But when it comes to the human actors, the movie's decisions on how to represent them will likely baffle viewers at first. In the comics, Tintin has a tuft of hair sticking up right above his forehead. Actor Jean-Pierre Talbot, playing Tintin, has had his hair styled so it looks just like the comic character he's playing. I didn't question this hairstyle while reading the comics as a child, but seeing it done for real looked... strange. When it comes to Captain Haddock, what is done to actor Georges Wilson is at first sometimes even more cartoony than the original comic albums. He has a very fake-looking beard on his face, and even the famous anchor that is plastered on his blue shirt looks unnatural, like it was contructed then slapped on with haste by the movie's costumer. Even poor Professor Calculus looks strange and unnatural when he first appears, with a goatee as unnatural-looking as Haddock's beard.

That's what I felt in the first minutes of the movie. But then a curious thing happened. I soon stopped getting distracted by how these characters looked, and I got caught up with what these characters were doing and saying, while a backdrop full of many colorful things was happening behind and around them. It's because of the cast, the script, and the direction all working simultaneously that made me able to buy these characters and get caught up in what they were doing. The Tintin in this movie is written to have a personality right out of the comics, being noble, intelligent, and wanting to do the right thing - though will raise his fists and fight if he is forced to. When he swipes a motorbike to pursue a villain, or piecing evidence together to deduce a mystery, that's exactly what the comic book Tintin does. And this Captain Haddock blusters and bumbles about while colorfully yelling at everything and everyone around him with shouts of "bashi bazouk" and other colorful curses, just like how Herge portrayed him in the comics. It is clear that director Vierne was working very hard to get his actors to capture the spirit of Herge, and everyone in the cast pulls off his role in a way that's accurate yet seems honest and effortless. Oddly, the two actors performing their dead-on imitation of the Thompson twin detectives - possbily the best performances in the movie despite their limited screen time - are not credited. (Even the Internet Movie Database does not reveal the actors' names.) Vierne also makes good use of the Turkish and Greek locations the movie was shot on. Some locations, and the angles these locations are photographed with, seem what Herge would have drawn had his creations had taken a trip to Turkey or Greece.

Vierne keeps the movie at a snappy pace for almost all of its running time; by the end of first ten minutes of the movie, for example, the situation has been completely set up and the characters have arrived in Turkey. The only time Veirne breaks the pace is near the end of the movie, where a priest spends several boring minutes giving Tintin and the Captain some information. Herge would often try to make palatable long-winded explanations in his comics by occasionally cutting back and forth with something (usually comic in nature) happening at the same time, and I wish Veirne would have done the same in this scene. Another odd thing is although you might expect the character of Tintin to be the star of the movie from the title, at times it feels like there is actually more focus on his friend Captain Haddock. (Though I guess that a character as colorful as Captain Haddock deserves to be the star of at least one adventure.) The script also has a mystery that's really no mystery; most viewers will be able to more or less figure out what's being sought and where it is before the "surprise revelation". And at the end of the movie, as the credits start to roll, it will dawn on viewers that it was never explained why the bad guys were after the ship, when they knew little more than Tintin and the Captain when they first entered the movie. But even while Tintin And The Mystery Of The Golden Fleece is not perfect, having these problems and several others, it's a tough movie to dislike. This is a movie that's been made with so much love and enthusiasm, it comes off the screen and wraps itself around the viewers with its likable spirit. Though it was made primarily for people familiar with the Tintin comics - and I would recommend you read the comics before watching this movie - I honestly think that even those unfamiliar with the source material will be utterly charmed by the movie's unpretentiousness and welcoming attitude.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD - in French language only)

See also: Kenny & Company, Star Kid, Up To His Ears

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