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September 21, 2017

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The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (丁丁歷險記)

Filmmakers mess with viewers' childhood memories at their peril, so Steven Spielberg is taking a risk tackling Tintin.

In the United States, the teenage adventurer is an acquired taste, known mainly to Europhiles and comic fans. But for millions around the world, the globe-trotting young journalist is a beloved childhood friend — the most famous comic book journalist since Peter Parker and Clark Kent. Unlike those characters, Tintin has no superhero alter ego, just an unquenchable curiosity and a white terrier named Snowy who more than matches his master in resourcefulness and pluck.

The archetypal American Spielberg may seem an odd choice to bring this European hero to the big screen, but Spielberg has been an admirer since a critic compared the Tintin stories to his "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Belgian cartoonist Herge, who created Tintin in the 1920s, gave Spielberg his blessing before his death in 1983.

And it turns out Spielberg is perfect, his love of vintage Saturday afternoon serials exactly in sync with the spirit of the comic book yarns. "The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn" is a nostalgia-tinged romp, blending thrilling chases, quirky characters and sly humor — a sort of Young Indiana Jones: Brussels Edition. The original comics, particularly the notorious 1931 story "Tintin in the Congo," have been accused of colonialism and ethnic stereotyping, but the film carefully avoids controversial terrain.

The movie, adapted from three of Herge's original stories, follows Tintin (played by Jamie Bell, who starred in the movie "Billy Elliot") as he joins forces with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), a whisky-soaked seaman who becomes his friend and ally, in a race against nefarious Ivan Sakharine (Daniel Craig) to pirate treasure and the secret of a lost galleon, the Unicorn.

It's a sign of how big Tintin is around the world that the film debuts internationally on Oct. 26, almost two months before its Dec. 21 U.S. opening — time, producers hope, to build a global buzz and intrigue American audiences.

The movie's most contentious feature, for some viewers, will be Spielberg's decision to use performance capture technology, in which live actors are recorded digitally, then layered with computer animation to create finished characters and sets.

The animation was handled by the WETA visual effects house of "The Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson, who produced "The Adventures of Tintin."

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