Tintin may not be a household name in America, but he soon will be if Steven Spielberg has anything to say about it.
The intrepid journalist with the ginger coif is finally getting his big-screen closeup in the form of a 3-D animated blockbuster, courtesy of Hollywood's most successful storyteller.
At a press gathering in New York City last weekend, Spielberg, Tintin's real-life alter-ego Jamie Bell, and Nick Frost, who plays the bumbling detective Thompson, talked to E! News about what to expect from the long-awaited flick, which has been compared to Indiana Jones.
Here's what they had to say:
It's the Story, Stupid! The E.T. director has broken special-effects ground before with such seminal films as Close Encounters and, of course, Jurassic Park with its CG dinos. But Tintin marks a unique departure for Spielberg in that it's his first fully animated affair, and in 3-D no less. But the "digital makeup" the actors don following a tedious production built around 31 days of motion-capture work hasn't distracted him from focusing on the key ingredient: telling a good story.
"I wanted it to just feel like a real adventure in a kind of 'nother medium," Spielberg told E!. "For me I had the same precepts I had on any movie which is, 'are we telling the right story? Are the laughs falling in the right place? Are the chases breathtaking? Is the 3-D subtle but effective? Are the characters, the relationships working? The same worries I have on any movie telling any story."
In this case, he noted in an earlier press conference, the movie is all about friendship at its heart.
"Tintin is trying to find the secret of the unicorn and he has a force of nature called Captain Haddock against him. They're best friends," the famed director said. "This is a buddy movie, in a way, like a Bing Crosby-Bob Hope road picture or even like Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon…it's really an odd-couple story."
On Working With Peter Jackson, Who Produced Tintin and Is Slated to Direct the Sequel With Spielberg Switching Into the Producer's Role: "With Peter, he was on my set every day, but not physically. His head was on a TV screen. And he'd be in Wellington, New Zealand, at 4:00 in the morning when it was 8:00 in the morning in Los Angeles," explained the filmmaker. "Peter's got the sense of humor. We laugh at the same thing and we simply had fun. Peter just made it fun."
About Those Effects: Spielberg didn't let the novelty of motion capture get in the way of storytelling. "This just happened to be the right medium for the proper message," he said. "In order to honor the artwork of Hergé [Tintin's author], I did not want to shoot a live-action movie and have Jamie come in with a big red coif and extraorindarily strange clothing...If I really wanted to honor Hergé, the only way to tell the story and honor the origins of Tintin was to do the whole picture in the medium of digital animation."
The Right Man for the Right Job Is…Billy Elliot! In looking at who could play the young reporter, at the behest of Jackson, Spielberg cast the English-born Bell (pictured above, left, next to costar Andy Serkis, who plays Captain Haddock), who shot to fame a decade earlier as a young ballet dancer in Billy Elliot and also had a role in Jackson's King Kong.
"Jamie understood the poses…and just became Tintin on the first day of motion capture. It was amazing," commented Spielberg.
Added the 25-year-old: "I'm a European. It's hard to grow up without seeing that ginger coif and his dog. It's impossible...it's ingrained culturally. Being a massive fan before this film and now being in this film it's a massive responsibility…so for me it was important to evoke the spirit of Hergé and the books and that beacon that he really is."
But What About That Shaun of the Dead Guy? Frost, along with cohort Simon Pegg, plays one of Tintin's detective sidekicks who stumble their way into a key clue that helps our hero crack the case. Being the fanboy that he is, the chance to work with Spielberg (whose work he lovingly sent up in the comedy Paul) was a no-brainer, let alone being a part of such an esteemed franchise.
"I like making films and it was great to be on set every day and try to bring to life these two bumbling Interpol police officers Hergé created," he said.
So will American moviegoers embrace Tintin? Spielberg, who added that he's got a little Tintin in himself, was confident they will.
"I think America will digest Tintin the way they digested all the animated movies that have come out, that DreamWorks Animation's put out, Pixar's put out, that didn't have a book that sold 250 million copies [as Tintin did]," he said.
Tintin is already out overseas (where the boy hero's a household name, natch) and has so far grossed a whopping $233 million in international ticket sales. The movie hits theaters stateside on Dec. 21.