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The Adventures of Tintin: The Seven Crystal Balls (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 nineties animated television show. Check back daily!

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

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun. When I was younger, originally watching the show and reading the books, they were my favourite adventure, along with Cigars of the Pharaoh. Perhaps it was the exotic nature of the adventure, with Tintin setting off to far-off ports, or the fascinating occult and unexplained elements. I found it somewhat fascinating the Spielberg chose to make The Secret of the Unicornas his first film, since he makes the case that Tintin is a hero who shares a lot with Indiana Jones. I’d make the case that this adventure here is the one that most perfectly captures the strange occult vibe that Lucas and Spielberg tried to recreate with their whip-weilding explorer.

Not quite the boy scout he used to be...

Of course, Peter Jackson will be bringing us a big-screen version of the tale soon, with The Adventures of Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun. I’m actually quite excited about the idea, if only because I reckon the story might work even better on-screen than The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, and also because it represents a chance for both directors to make amends for some of their more flawed throw-backs.

The mysterious kidnappings and sinister underground religion call to mind Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, while the tropical locale and the “thirties and forties” vibe recall Jackson’s King Kong adaptation. While I have a softer spot for both than most do, I still concede that they leave much room for improvement. I think that Seven Crystal Balls and The Prisoners of the Sunshould offer a story solid enough for the pair to build on, without repeating the mistakes of the past. Still, enough pondering about a film that hasn’t even entered development yet.

The whole world's gone mad!

I have to admit, I like the way the animated series deals with these two-part stories. Each part is itself split into two episodes. and it actually creates an almost feature-length adventure. Of course, when you cut out the credits and the “previously” footage, you’re probably left with little over an hour of story, but I like the fact that Hergé’s story is presented in a fairly ambitious and large format, allowing his story to be told without the need to cram it into a limited runtime or condense it, cutting vital material.

It’s a shame that these blu ray editions haven’t been edited to allow the user to view a “movie” version of these stories, as it would be quite simple to put a chapter break at the start and end of the credits and previously, thus allowing a certain “play” option to by-pass those entirely. Hell, even a chapter break after the “previously” segment would save me a lot of frustration, but this is a frustration that isn’t unique to this show on DVD. It’s quite common for a lot of classic television shows – which is intensely frustrating, as DVDs allow you to really digest the adventure in king-size portions, where the “previously”sections are not just pointless, but incredibly irritating.

The explorers seal their tomb...

Enough about that though. Watching the episode, one gets a sense of how such a movie might look, which is pretty impressive. Of course, these animated adaptations will be much closer to the source material than the finished movie, but I don’t really mind that. After all, updating or amending an adaptation doesn’t diminish the original work, and part of the appeal of seeing Peter Jackson or Steven Spielberg handle Tintin is seeing their own creative styles play off those of Hergé. I don’t mind that a certain generation’s version of the character might differ from my own. I hope that the films might convince one or two children to pick up Hergé’s story, but I also just want an entertaining adventure.

Indeed, I sincerely hope that Jackson’s upcoming film adaptation does amend at least one aspect of the story. I always found the ending a bit disconcerting, where Tintin agrees to leave the Inca tribe and be sworn to secrecy about a murderous cult engaging in human sacrifice, motivated by little more than a sense of white guilt. While it’s undoubtedly worth preserving some aspect of ancient cultures, it’s very disturbing to see Tintin advocate the preservation of a radical sect engaging in such barbaric practices, one that has evidently forgotten everything their ancestors knew of astrology. I’d be quite happy to see that change in Jackson’s adaptation, to be entirely honest.

A gas fellow...

The animated adaptation is fairly top notch. It seems like the poor quality transfer on The Secret of the Unicorn may have been just an exception. The episodes since have been remarkably clear and crisp. I’m not sure that blu ray offers a marked improvement on DVD or anything like that, but it looks and sounds good. The production on these adventures continues to be top notch, and the addition of David Fox as Captain Haddock has really injected some life into the story.

I would make the observation that the second half of the story does have some pacing issues. Similar to the adaptation of The Shooting Star, it almost feels like there’s too much story here for one episode, but perhaps not quite enough for two full ones. Whereas I was left feeling that The Shooting Star suffered from being condensed into one half-hour episode, it feels like The Seven Crystal Balls suffered slightly from being extended into two. Still, it’s a minor complaint, but perhaps splitting The Seven Crystal Balls and The Prisoners of the Sun into three episodes (instead of four) might have worked well, like it did for The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure.

Having a ball...

Still, I’m enjoying it, and seeing this adaptation has made me long for the big-screen sequel even more.

3 Responses

  1. You’ll have to wait a while for Prisoners of the Sun to be a movie. It’s scheduled to be the second Tintin sequel now, not the first.

    • I know it’s under discussion, but I didn’t know it had been defintively decided. Last I heard it was only the writer saying it might not be:

      “That was true a few months ago,” Horowitz told the BBC, “but I can tell you that I think the second film is not going to be Prisoners of the Sun”.

      “What it is going to be is still under discussion.”

      “The good news is if [Prisoners Of The Sun] is not the second film it’ll be the third film so actually I could end up with two Tintins under my belt.”

      • I’ve always wanted to see a Cigars of the Pharoah + The Blue Lotus film or a King Ottokar’s Sceptre film. Sadly, I don’t think it will be either since neither involve Haddoack, and once he’s been introduced it’s hard to go back and do a Tintin story without him.

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