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SAN DIEGO — Steven Spielberg hopes he’s the typical American when it comes to Tintin: the filmmaker had never heard of the guy, but once he got acquainted, they became friends for life.
Peter Jackson knows he’s the typical non-American when it comes to Tintin: he’s known him since before he could read, and the character’s globe-trotting adventures are part of his own storytelling DNA.
Together, the two Academy Award-winning filmmakers hope to achieve something that eluded Belgian artist and writer Herge with his Tintin books: a place for his hero in North America.
“The Adventures of Tintin,” directed by Spielberg and produced by Jackson, already is a global blockbuster, approaching $250 million at the worldwide box office as it opened in U.S. theaters Wednesday, two months after it began rolling out to theaters overseas.
It’s a reverse of egocentric Hollywood’s old pattern, where a film such as Spielberg’s “Jaws” would run its course domestically and trickle out to the rest of the world months later. Today, most big franchise flicks open nearly everywhere around the same time, but “Tintin” was that rare one that needed the goodwill of huge foreign audiences to sell U.S. crowds on a hero about whom, like Spielberg, most of them had never heard.
“This is an international title,” Spielberg said in an interview alongside Jackson at last summer’s Comic-Con fan convention, where they showed off footage of “The Adventures of Tintin.” “It was written and embraced by children of all ages in 55 languages, all over the world except in North America, and that is what motivated us to debut and give a full two months of ‘Tintin’ to the world that created and embraced him.”
So who’s Tintin? He’s an intrepid young reporter with an odd tuft of ginger hair who barrels and burrows into a story until he becomes the story, traveling the world in pursuit of crooks, treasure, mysteries and a grand good time.
Tintin’s accompanied by his resourceful dog Snowy, and in most of the comic-book tales of Herge, the pen name of Georges Remi, by boozy seaman Captain Haddock.
The stories span decades, from the character’s creation in the late 1920s until 1983, when Herge died leaving behind his unfinished 24th Tintin book.
“The Adventures of Tintin” combines elements from three books — “The Secret of the Unicorn,” “The Crab with the Golden Claws” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure.” The story sends Tintin (Jamie Bell) and Haddock (Andy Serkis) on a race against villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig) to find lost pirate booty.
The books have been a beloved part of the initiation into reading for millions of children, among them New Zealander Jackson, 49, who recalled poring over Herge’s colorful comic panels before he could understand the words.
“You grow up looking at Tintin — in my case, being an only child — he was like the brother that I wished I had,” Jackson said. “The older brother that went on these adventures, dangerous adventures and exciting. And then as I grew older, Tintin stayed the same age, and I sort of became older than him. And you start to appreciate the satire and the world in which Herge lived in. The decades of incredible social upheaval in Europe. ...
“There are layers in there that I find so fascinating now as an adult. Plus, you see the influences Herge was under, not just in the place and time that he lived, but also Hollywood films. He clearly had a love of Hollywood adventure films, probably from those early ‘30s and ‘40s days, because a lot of that feeling is in Tintin. Plus a love of silent comedy. Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, they’re all in there. ... We’ve tried to sort of layer all of that into the film.”