Britain braces quietly for 'Tintin'

Posted by · 2:55 pm · October 7th, 2011

While Americans have to hold tight until December, it’s less than three weeks until “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” hits UK screens. If I’m being honest, however, it hardly feels that way. Given what a rare treat it is to have a two-month head start on the US with a big-league blockbuster — and Steven Spielberg’s first film in three years, at that — you’d expect the British marketing to have gone into overdrive for a project in which many comic-book sentimentalists have a rooting interest, and yet I’m surprised at how low the film’s profile is, this near to its unveiling.

A fleshed-out UK trailer only dropped two days ago, leaving rather a tight window in which to whip up public anticipation. Looking around London over the past week, the film’s outdoor advertising presence is surprisingly low-key, while it’s less than ubiquitous on the local blogosphere. I find myself wondering what proportion of regular moviegoers have the film on their short-term radar.

And yet the short-game approach could well prove a canny one. Among those who are aware of “Tintin,” there’s a sizeable streak of skepticism running through. Loyalists of Hergé’s classic comics, a group in which I count myself, are concerned about how Spielberg’s Hollywood touch will affect this most European of childhood heroes, while those who didn’t grow up with them may think the whole retro enterprise looks rather twee from afar.

In both factions, there are many who have yet to be persuaded on supposedly “dead-eyed” motion-capture as a storytelling medium; the trailer has been well-received on balance, but it may have been wise enough to release it late enough to avoid advance perceptions (or in some quarters, concerns) about its look setting in. As it stands, the film itself will be a mostly fresh commodity to many viewers, which could work in its favor if critics are kind and word of mouth upbeat. (UK critics will get a look at the film next weekend.)

The film premieres in Paris on the 22nd — a choice of location that seems intended as a respectful tip of the hat to Tintin’s Euro origins. (Hergé was Belgian, but Brussels would hardly be as sexy a venue.) With that in mind, I findly myself increasingly drawn to the idea that the film could make its UK debut a day later, as the Surprise Film at this year’s London Film Festival. No Spielberg film really needs festival cachet, but it’d be a nice mark of prestige for a film with little advance buzz beyond the speculative.

Whether its UK reception, positive, profitable or otherwise, matters much for its US release near Christmas is open to question. By unusually serving the film as a mere appetizer for the opening of Spielberg’s more heavily-hyped “War Horse” only four days later, the studio appears to be curbing their expectations — perhaps on the basis of most US viewers’ lack of familiarity with the source material. All in all, it’s an unusual situation: concerns of overprotectiveness and indifference, respectively, could account for the film’s cautious positioning on either side of the Atlantic. It’ll be interesting to see if it pays off on both.

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