If movies have taught us anything, it's that long-distance relationships rarely work. Making “The Adventures of Tintin,” the swashbuckling caper vividly adapted from Belgian artist Hergé's popular comics, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson defied that conventional wisdom.
It was in 1983, long before Spielberg met New Zealand's resident “Rings”-master, that the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” director resolved to bring Tintin, a fearless adventurer of indeterminate age, to the screen.
After receiving Hergé's enthusiastic blessing, he sat on the property for nearly three decades — often to longtime producing partner Kathleen Kennedy's consternation.
While “Tintin” is already drawing comparisons to Indiana Jones' earliest escapades, Spielberg never dreamed of translating Hergé's cartoons into live action. Instead, he waited for big-screen animation to evolve. When he saw “Avatar,” he knew the wait was over.
Needing an actor to embody a character whose indomitable spirit he likens to his own, the director turned to Jackson, his producer on the first “Tintin” movie. (A second, with Jackson and Spielberg swapping responsibilities, is already in the works.) Jackson suggested “Billy Elliot” star Jamie Bell.
“Without Peter, I wouldn't have had any fun,” says Spielberg, 65. “The greatest contribution he made was to cast Jamie as Tintin. I thought it was inspired, and I was pissed off it wasn't my idea. Jamie invested himself in the character, as well as a complete understanding of Hergé's [vision] and a little bit of me, I think, because part of me is Tintin.”
Bell — who describes Tintin as “neither young nor old, ” and unflappable even when his best-laid plans backfire — thinks the comparison is apt, citing Spielberg's “innocent sense of curiosity.” (Jackson, he says, is more “mischievous” and “anarchic.”)
Spielberg is no stranger to collaborations with fellow A-list directors, including George Lucas, who co-created and co-produced all four Indiana Jones movies.
Yet in those cases, Lucas would come up with a basic plot outline, leaving the filmmaking to Spielberg and returning months later, when rough cuts were ready.
Jackson took a more hands-on approach, without actually setting foot in Spielberg's studio. “Peter was on the set every day, but not physically,” Spielberg explains. “His head was on a TV screen. He'd be in Wellington, New Zealand, at [five] in the morning when it was eight in LA, to lend his advice.
“Sometimes I would walk over to the monitor only to find Peter [sleeping]. I'd say, 'Peter, Peter Peter' And he'd wake up and go, 'About that last take' So I had a real collaborator there with me during the motion-capture process, and I felt so safe, thanks to Peter.”
IF YOU GO
The Adventures of Tintin
Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Toby Jones, Mackenzie Crook, Daniel Mays, Gad Elmaleh
Written by Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Running time 1 hour 47 minutes