Before I ducked out of town for the day yesterday, I hit up Paramount Pictures’ panel for Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” The Beard was on hand to discuss the film (and pick up this year’s Inkpot Award), and a surprise appearance by Peter Jackson got the crowd buttered up nicely for the footage.
So let’s start with that. We were first shown test footage from six years ago featuring Jackson as Captain Haddock and an animated Snowy. This was back when Spielberg was still trying to decide what the best filmmaking technique on the film would be. After that, it was a collage of scenes from the film (which Spielberg noted represented some of the earliest renderings out of Weta).
My immediate reaction was that the film is Spielberg through and through. In other words, it has the energy, the cinematic thumbprint of a Spielberg film, the in-scene pacing and editorial signature of so much of his work. I wasn’t fully expecting that, but the truth is, they wanted a system of performance capture that would allow the director to be right in the middle of things.
Spielberg shot much of the film himself, with a lot of handheld work. He said it reminded him of his younger days shooting home movies on 8mm.
“All the big epic things, I could put my camera in places I never could on a live action movie,” he said. “So that might drive me back to this medium at some point. Performance capture is not a medium that is right for every film, but it was right for this particular story.”
It’s a story he called “dense” and he really seemed invigorated by the experience.
“It’s using new tools, but in a way I know how to tell my stories with,” he said. “We had to keep up with the state of the art, but the process of telling the story was the way I’m much more comfortable with.”
Interestingly, Spielberg had never heard of the Hergé Tintin books until he read a French review of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981 that kept comparing his film to them. He snatched up the film rights three years later, which left then-budding filmmaker Peter Jackson waiting anxiously to see the movie.
Jackson, you see, has a much different history with Tintin. Not only did he know of the books at a young age, but he was flipping through them before he even learned to read. He was nevertheless able to follow the stories, because, he noted, they were almost like silent movies.
“Tintin was like the older brother I never had,” Jackson, who serves as producer on the film, said. “Then as you get older and look at the books as an adult, there are layers of social statement that Hergé was making. We kind of wanted to make it to have the layers Hergé built into it.”
No stranger to motion capture (given his pioneering of the form with Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”), Jackson naturally wanted to push things further while tailoring the technique to the material.
“We wanted to have a texture and a level of detail so that you’d almost believe it was live action,” he said. “We wanted to create a vision of motion capture that allowed the filmmaker to step inside the locations and the sets. This is like a hybrid where Steven had a camera and was able to step in and film it.”
As to why “The Secret of the Unicorn” was the story chosen for the adaptation, it’s because of the background elements it provides.
“It develops the beginnings of this relationship with Haddock and Tintin,” Jackson said. “It goes into Haddock’s backstory. So it seemed to make sense to start with that.”
And both filmmakers are hoping the film is successful enough to keep going with future installments. If they’re so lucky, Jackson will be taking the directorial reins on the next, with Spielberg producing.
I have to say, outside of the fact that it feels so much of a piece with Spielberg’s filmography, I was still left somewhat unsold overall by the film’s footage. The look hasn’t settled with me and I actually think there are facial issues in the rendering that just aren’t fully there yet. Maybe that could be a attributed somewhat to this having been early renderings, I don’t know. But more importantly, I’m a bit more interested in the project than I was before hearing these two talk on it.
Questions from the audience were a sideshow unto themselves. Things started with Andy Serkis dropping in to pose as a rabid fanboy. And if you haven’t already heard, one lucky fan approached the mic with a flattering shirt aimed at Spielberg. He was brought up on stage for a photo op with the two filmmakers and was chatting with the local news immediately after the panel (pics below).
The highlight, I thought, was an adorable kid melting Spielberg’s heart by asking the legend what his favorite film to direct has been. The answer, I thought, was a perfect 10.
“The most important personal thing that ever happened to me in my life where a movie was concerned is ‘E.T.,’” Spielberg said. “I got so close to those kids that when I went home from the production, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to go back to the production. I realized for the first time in my life that I wanted to have children. I have seven now.”
Other questions regarded his work as a producer, and given that this is the year of Spielberg more than ever, they were timely.
“As a producer, I hire the director and I go away,” he said. “And that’s the smartest thing that a producer can do. My happiest moment producing was Bob Zemeckis’s three ‘Back to the Future’ movies.”
It’s also interesting to note that, of all the films he has “given away” as a producer, rather than direct himself, it is “American Beauty” that he kicks himself most about relinquishing. But he feels he made the right choice in hiring director Sam Mendes for the material.
One last thing. It appears a fourth installment of the “Jurassic Park” franchise is not only in the cards but well on its way. The screenwriter and story are already in place, as has already been reported, but Spielberg said he hopes to see the film happen within the next two years.
There was a press conference after the panel, but the audio was a bit echoey (which, mixed with my still-ringing ears from last night’s Soundgarden concert, made it difficult to transcribe). But I figured I’d offer up the audio, in case it’s just me and there’s something there you’d like to digest. Check that out here:
All in all, a pretty good panel. My fingers are crossed for the film, but the energy is up a bit more than it was before I walked into Hall H yesterday morning. That’s always a good thing.
[Photos: Kristopher Tapley]