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The Adventures of Tintin: Flight 714 (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.

Towards the end of his Adventures of Tintin, you could tell that Hergé was growing increasingly experimental, taking the series well outside comfort zone of pulp thrillers and global adventures. Tintin in Tibet was an introspective meditation on hope and faith. The Castafiore Emerald was a combination of plot threads that never really managed to tie together into an adventure. Flight 714 reads as if it were a parody of a Tintin story, instead of one itself. It’s a collection of incredible coincidences, elaborate schemes and recurring villains, all written in a wry style that tends to divide fans. Some appreciate the tongue-in-cheek nature of the story, while other find the inclusion of aliens to be a ridiculously fantastical element. It’s certainly not a conventional Tintin story. And, to be honest, I think this poses a bit of a problem for the team handling the adaptation. They’ve done a stellar job tying together the more straight-forward entries in the series, but seem to struggle with some of the stranger instalments.

And this, I’m afraid, is very strange.

Departure lounging around...

Don’t get me wrong, there are more than a few moments of comedy to be found in this animated adaptation of Flight 714. Most of the gags carry over from the source material, mostly involving the reclusive billionaire Laszlo Carreidas and sinister super villain Rastapopoulos. The slapstick adapts reasonably well to the new medium, and it’s entertaining to watch physical comedy like the villain’s failed attempt to crush a spider.

On the other hand, the tone seems a little… off. It’s almost as if the adventure as a whole is being taken far too seriously. Rather than the sequence of random events being treated as a ridiculous absurdity, most of it seems to be played relatively straight. There’s an attempt to generate genuine peril as Professor Calculus is left behind in the caves.

Could ahve done with injecting some fun into it...

It just always seemed to me that Hergé wrote the story to poke a great deal of fun at his series, with the larger-than-life villain dressed as a camp cowboy, the highly improbable sequence of events and the out-of-nowhere deus ex machina ending that references Chariots of the Gods in the same way that Cigars of the Pharaoh referenced the myth of the curse of King Tutenkamun’s tomb. It feels surreal to see the episode play most of this relatively straight, even with the same gags playing out. It’s almost as if the episode missed the biggest one.

It’s a shame, because it’s otherwise a well put-together adventure. If it didn’t have to worry about an ending where aliens literally nip in and save the day, it could pass for a fairly conventional entry in the series, but that last minute curveball just feels like too sharp a twist without the surreal and absurd tone. The episode feels far too much like a standard Tintin story for the ending not to feel a little bit “out there.”

Tintin joins the jet set...

Still, there are things to like about this. I admire how the animation team seems to have followed through on Hergé’s influences. In transitioning the adventure from a comic book to an animated episode, they are sure to reference Close Encounters of the Third Kind when it comes to the mysterious creatures who happen to be visiting the island. I actually think those scenes, from the moment the ship is revealed behind a cloud to the conversation against a white background, are all well-handled. Even the animation of the lava flow looks remarkably good, but we’ve come to expect that by now.

I know we’re nearing the end of the series, but I still feel incredibly frustrated by the use of chapter breaks here. Surely it wouldn’t have been too difficult to position a chapter break after the “previouslies” at the start of the second episode in each two-part adventure? Hearing Colin O’Meara recount stuff I just spent half-an-hour watching is more than a little irritating, especially when I’ve sat through close to twenty of them. I would also have loved the possibility of playing each as a “feature”, automatically skipping these – but even a fairly basic chapter break would have worked.

I like Flight 714 better than most, so I’ll confess to being quite disappointed with the animated adaptation of the story. I am curious, however, to see how the next episode will deal with perhaps the most reflective Tintin story.

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