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Tintin goes native as Spielberg ‘brings him home’

Belgium rolled out the red carpet Saturday for Tintin, its most celebrated son, as Steven Spielberg premiered his blockbuster-to-be to enthusiastic crowds in the comic book hero’s home city.

“It is a great honour for us to bring Tintin home,” Spielberg told a news conference. “It was important to me. Brussels is his birthplace. Tintin is coming back.”

Fans swamped the city centre as airborne acrobats danced dangling from wires across giant scenes from the Tintin albums, and a parade of vintage cars, as portrayed by author Herge in albums set in the 1940s, cranked into town.

Posters of the intrepid boy reporter with the quiff and funny pants plastered the city, and Alain Chantrenne, owner of a polished 1949 Buick, said “it’s wonderful that an American’s interested in a hero from Belgium.”

Co-produced by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, who will direct two sequels to Spielberg’s “Tintin”, the movie is billed in the director’s own words as a kind of “Indiana Jones for kids”.

“I discovered Tintin in my thirties,” Spielberg said. “Unfortunately, these books never came to America. We didn’t have access to these books. I became an instant fan.”

“Hopefully, if the movie is popular in America, the books will be perhaps published. It will be a great thing.”

“The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn”, an Avatar-style movie using real actors to generate computer images, brings the boy hero and his trusty sidekick Snowy to European cinemas from next week before releasing in the US in the lucrative pre-Christmas season.

Loosely based on several of the 24 Tintin comic albums, the story kicks off in a well-known Brussels antiques market, and city authorities are looking to a tourist bonanza for “the most celebrated of Belgians” — as the posters say.

Tintin and Spielberg, whose project dates back 30 years, headlined papers and TV broadcasts in anticipation of the movie, which gets a second premiere in Paris later Saturday.

“There’s a lot of excitement over the movie,” said Dominique Maricq, an oldtimer at Herge Studios. “We’re curious to see how Hollywood portrays him.”

From the start of the project, Maricq said, Belgian specialists were “impressed by Spielberg and Jackson’s determination to respect the spirit of Tintin’s world, to not turn him into an American super-hero”.

“I think Herge would have loved the movie a lot. Honestly. We spoke on the telephone before his death. It was one of the most exciting phone calls of my life,” said the US director.

Herge, fabled for his artistic talent as well as his plots, “was like a movie-maker without a camera,” Spielberg added. “He did all the hard work” for the film.

Among the most avid spectators in the elite crowd getting a sneak preview, which included a royal princess, was a Belgian retiree with the distinction of being the sole person ever to have played Tintin on screen — 50 years ago in a French production.

Jean-Pierre Talbot, a round-faced 68-year-old retired schoolteacher with a Tintinesque quiff, became an actor by fluke after being spotted on a beach by a film director as resembling the comic book hero.

“I’m upset and a little emotional,” he said before seeing the Hollywood rendition. “I never acted again but for people here I’ve remained Tintin.”

Created in 1929 by Herge, whose real name was Georges Remi and who was then in his early 20s, Tintin and his colourful and sometimes foul-mouthed companions have achieved cult status for millions worldwide.

Shot using motion capture technology, Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliot” fame plays the fresh-faced hero, Daniel Craig the villain Red Rackham.

Bell said he had read Tintin aged eight “and I wanted to be him: courageous, intrepid, to travel around the world”.