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The Adventures of Tintin: Land of Black Gold (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn in the United States later this month, I’ll be taking a look at some of the nineties animated television show. Check back daily!

Note: This is our review of the animated episode, check out our review of the book here.

Land of Black Gold feels like a rather conscious throwback to the earlier adventures in the series, stories like King Ottokar’s Sceptre or The Black Island or Cigars of the Pharaoh, dealing with relatively grounded political concepts and economic realities, rather than hidden treasure or lost civilisation or trips to the moon itself. Of course, there’s a very good reason – Land of Black Goldwas started before the outbreak of the Second World War, and Hergé put it on hold to write about more abstract and less political concerns. That’s why Haddock only appears in this episode five minutes from the end, because he hadn’t been created when the original story was told. I don’t dislike the adventure, but it does feel rather strange, situated where it is in the Tintin canon.

Petrol was always an explosive topic...

This is where I begin to wonder if these animated episodes are being too faithful to their source material. I’ve generally quite enjoyed how true the stories have remained to Hergé’s original tales, but I can’t help but feel that Land of Black Gold might make a better story if Haddock were either entirely absent, or present throughout the story, rather than being introduced towards the end at a very convenient moment, out of absolutely nowhere. The writers demonstrated a willingness to “streamline” Hergé’s plots in Tintin in America, and I can’t help but wonder if it would have worked just as well here.

Still, seeing the episode in animation really illustrated how similar it was to those earlier adventures. While there were elements from those earlier stories present here (Müller‎), I think Hergé’s evolving art style might have distracted me from the structural and tonal similarities to his pre-war work. Exploding engines and impending economic collapse might not bode as poorly as the opening sequences of The Shooting Star, but they do create a sense of unease and dread.

Haddock blows his top...

I wouldn’t mind watching the story without Haddock, as the animated adaptation doesn’t really offer much of an excuse for the character’s absence. Indeed, the show tones down the sense of impending warfare, where Hergé seemed to be writing in the shadow of looming global conflict. I understand that this is a family television show, but I don’t think most of Hergé’s subtle political commentary merit exclusion. To be honest, most of them occurred under the radar, where my younger self missed them almost entirely. I don’t think that leaving them in would confuse younger viewers, and would certainly add a bit of richness to the episode.

Still, I accept that this is an adaptation, and I respect the decision of the team to change certain aspects. As I said above, I’m genuinely glad that the series feels comfortable enough with Hergé’s writing that it doesn’t feel the need to make large changes for the sake of making large changes. I also don’t mind that Captain Haddock’s drinking has been toned down, as it is a family television show, and I think standards are different than they used to be. Still, making these observations, I do miss the subplot involving a potential war on the horizon.

Tintin's floored by the conspiracy...

The animation team are on solid form here, although I’ll confess that this isn’t the strongest instalment. Much like the awful one-liners in the earlier episodes, the climax here seems to want to convert Tintin into the lead in a Michael Bay film. I know Hergé’s version of the character is skilled with a gun, but the way the final sequence is shot seems uncomfortably excited by Tintin aiming and firing a gun. “Take care of the boy, I’ll aim for the tires!” he yells as he raises the gun and stares down the sight. He looks like he might be played by Bruce Willis in the film adaptation, which is a little disconcerting. I don’t know, it just seemed weird to me, but perhaps I’m more used to imagining “adventure hero” Tintin, instead of “action hero” Tintin.

Land of Black Gold is a solid story, but I think it suffers from being placed in the middle of a string of beloved two-parters. Still, it feels like a throwback to the earlier adventures of a character who has already made his own impression on pop culture.

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