What If “The Adventures of Tintin” Was The Fourth “Indiana Jones” Movie?
Warning #1 – The article below contains heavy spoilers for The Adventures of Tintin and, quite possibly, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Many film critics – like Russell Hainline, of the Jacksonville Movie Examiner – have hailed the new Steven Spielberg film The Adventures of Tintin as the movie we SHOULD have gotten as the fourth chapter in the Indiana Jones series. Although it boasts a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is widely derided among fans (hence a 59% “audience” rating). I, myself, am infamous among my Film Nerds brethren as admitting that I really liked the movie. Granted, I’m a blind fanboy when it comes to the character and to Steven Spielberg action films, but I will admit that I’d rather the franchise go out on a more unanimously positive note.
Let’s go back to that statement, though. There is plenty of thematic and narrative crossover between Herge’s Tintin books and Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies, but what if we follow that question to its logical conclusion: What if the new Tintin film WAS the fourth Indiana Jones film?
Warning #2 – I am about to drop to the most depressing depths of film nerd culture – fan fiction. The only reason I’m affording myself this indulgance is because I think this is a discussion worth having. I don’t mean to reduce the effort that goes into making any kind of movie, and I certainly can’t compare a lunch hour of armchair screenwriting to the incredible time and effort that goes into crafting even the most rudimentary script. That said – if you’re with me, let’s go:
First we have to play with the timeline a bit. Let’s say that the development of The Adventures of Tintin happened a bit earlier. What if Spielberg looked at the story that had been broken by himself, Peter Jackson, Stephen Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish, and realized it could be easily transposed into the long-gestating fourth Indy film? What if, instead of using all of George Lucas’s rejected ideas and David Koepp’s final script, Spielberg just pulled a Die Hard with a Vengeance and converted The Adventures of Tintin into Indiana Jones & The Secret of the Unicorn?
Well, stay with me. Let’s get beyond that title. Think about it. The movie would still take place in the 50’s. Just take the basic arc of The Adventures of Tintin and replace Tintin with Mutt Williams and Captain Haddock with Indiana Jones. In this imaginary movie, Mutt would be our entry point into the story – an intrepid, young anti-establishment student reporter. You could keep the greaser look, and add a greater disrespect for the past and for tradition, with a knack for uncovering social injustice.
Follow me here. You could swap the great animated opening credits sequence of Tintin with an introductory scene of student reporter Mutt Williams busting up a commie spy ring on his campus. That could transition into Mutt taking a boring assignment to cover the auction of the Unicorn, part of the defaulted the estate of the late Henry Jones, Sr. – who, as far as Mutt knows, is a researcher who mysteriously died during World War II. The movie continues with Mutt finding the scrolls of the Unicorn, being approached by FBI agents and a mysterious villain, say a Russian professor. Before you know it, Mutt gets kidnapped for unclear reasons and thrown onto a boat that also houses another kidnapping victim – the drunk, bearded Indiana Jones.
The Russian professor and the FBI agents are both searching for the scrolls inside the Unicorn, just like Sakharine and Interpol are in Tintin, but the secret is different – we’d have to lose the whole pirate flashback. The problem for our villain is that the secret died with Henry Jones, Sr. Let’s ALSO say that the professor knows about the secret because he was researching with Henry Jones, Sr. for the US government during World War II, and was double-crossed by – not again – commie spies! Maybe that’s why Indy is soused, and has been for the last fifteen years – he knew about an espionage plot to bump off his dad, but couldn’t stop it because he was overseas in the war.
Whatever the case, the villain is a jerk, has ties to Sean Connery’s character from Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, needs Mutt’s scroll, and needs Indy’s knowledge to get what he wants, but Indy is too lost in booze to be useful. It should be said here that while Indy is a drunk at this point, he’s still the same character we’ve known – prone to fight, spontaneous, and dogged. He’s still an archaeologist, just not a very tidy one. When we meet him as the Haddock analog, he would be less pitiful than Andy Serkis’ quasi-suicidal bumbler.
The rest of the film would proceed similarly to The Adventures of Tintin – Through Mutt’s nagging and the sobering dehydration of the Sahara, Indiana Jones slowly returns to being himself. He not only wants to remain stable and become the clear thinker he used to be, but to get ahold of the MacGuffin and – most importantly – get revenge for his dad’s murder. Mutt, like Tintin, pushes to break the story of wartime espionage, and is surprisingly enraptured by the history behind whatever the MacGuffin is.
While the first half of the movie would be all set-up for Mutt and the mystery, the second would be just what Tintin is – a rollicking succession of mind-blowing action sequences. Yes, shooting much of these sequences in the real world would be impossible, so they would have to be logistically tweaked and brought into the reality of the great action scenes of the Indy franchise. No one can argue that the motorcycle chase in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was anything but a marvelous throw-back to the series’ earlier movies, and a high point in that film. (It should be said that this whole fictional scenario presupposes that Spielberg is going in avoiding CGI, as he seems to have done in his other 2011 release, War Horse.)
What’s exciting about this idea is that it strays from Indiana Jones formula, only to find its way back. It also gives a more dramatic backstory to the character we all love, and raises the stakes by taking us to a dramatic place we might not want to go – the murder of The Last Crusade’s lovable sidekick. I think one of Crystal Skull‘s greatest crimes was its devotion to fan service, having to include quick and shallow references to the Ark, Jones, Sr., and Marion. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the existence of the film in general is a symptom of today’s reliance on fan service. Lucas and Spielberg gave us what we asked for 12 years. The problem is that they didn’t go far enough to give us something new. Yes, this Tintindiana Jones idea would put a lot of the weight on the shoulders of the Mutt Williams character, but how much more satisfying would that character have been if he was a fully formed character outside of his relationship to Indy? Since we are completely inhabiting a world of fantasy here, what if we recast the role? How would you feel about a Tintin-inspired, jaw-socking Mutt Williams played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt?
On the flipside, Indiana Jones would almost start as a supporting character, before we realize his journey – just like Captain Haddock’s – is actually the heart of the movie. He goes from a bitter old codger to a re-invigorated version of the young archaeologist we knew so long ago. What a perfect arc it would be for both characters to learn from the other; for Indy, he stops regretting the past and becomes aware of current situations. Meanwhile, Mutt realizes the past has value and informs the present. Honestly, you could still even throw in the father/son revelation, and tie that to the villain’s motivation for getting Mutt involved. Hell, maybe Marion Ravenwood owns the campus pub, and makes a brief (BRIEF) cameo in the first act.
Regardless of whatever shameless fantasy I blather on about, I’m encouraged by The Adventures of Tintin. It’s a fantastic film in its own right, despite lacking the kind of depth we got with Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade (which, to be fair, might be the greatest buddy action movie of all time). That said, its characters do give us plenty to chew on, and the adventure clips along so quickly that the characters’ actions speak just as loudly as any bits of exposition or bloated dialogue. Again, I still enjoy Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but I certainly can’t begrudge everyone that hates it. It was a Spielberg homework assignment rather than a Spielberg field trip, and it shows. I’m still optimistically holding out hope that Spielberg makes his patented “apology” film (re: Raiders, Saving Private Ryan, Last Crusade) and gives us the last Indiana Jones movie we all want – full of grit and grime and spontaneity.
What do you guys think? Would you sacrificed the final Indy movie and the new Tintin movie to get the film described above? What about Snowy – would you miss him? Would it be sacriledge to knowingly use a Tintin story as a farm for an Indiana Jones adventure? Am I wandering, woefully naive, past the fact that this property is owned and controlled by LucasFilm – NOT Amblin or Wingnut? Or, was there just never any good reason for another Indiana Jones film to have been considered in the first place?
Hash it out in the comments section!
Also, be sure to check out the Cinematrimony podcast that Matt and Francesca recorded about The Adventures of Tintin! You can find more of my stuff here on the blog, and you can find info on my independent feature films at their respective websites (The Nocturnal Third and A Genesis Found), as well as on Twitter ( @wondermillfilms ) and Facebook (/wondermillfilms)!