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'A Dog's Life': Spielberg's 1980s adaptation

Richard
UK Correspondent
#1 · Posted: 9 Jul 2017 23:06
Lengthy post ahead!

Earlier today I watched Moulinsart-Hollywood: quand Tintin fait son cinéma, a documentary by Benoît Peeters and Wilbur Legeube, made for the channel Arte in 1995. It covers the history of the various screen adaptations of Tintin, starting with the 1947 stop-motion Crab with the Golden Claws right through to the then-recent Ellipse-Nelvana TV series. Peeters had access to the Fondation Hergé's archives, which includes photographs from the live action films, and correspondance between studio staff and various film-makers who had wanted to produce their own screen adaptations of the Tintin books over the years.

According to the book Tintin, Hergé et le cinéma by Philippe Lombard, by 1985 Melissa Mathison (who amongst other things wrote the screenplay for E.T. the Extra Terrestrial) had finished a script for Steven Spielberg which was loosely (!) inspired by Tintin in the Congo, featuring Tintin this time fighting ivory smugglers in Africa.

Anyway, something that may be of particular interest to English-speaking fans is there's a sequence in the Peeters' documentary showing him reading Mathison's script with a few close-ups. I've transcribed what's shown in the documentary below. Note that the way the sequence is shot, in addition to rubber stamps across the script itsef, renders some sections illegible. This is what I was able to make out (note: Tintin's name is rendered Tin Tin in the script; illegible sections are marked [...]; multiple pages are shown so they don't necessarily follow on directly):

A DOG'S LIFE

by

Melissa Mathison

***

The KARABOUDJAN had docked just before dawn.

By noontime, a small crowd had gathered on the slippery dock, awaiting the unloading of this huge freighter. The crowd consisted of children primarily, with a nanny here, a parent there. The childrens' whispered anticipation indicated that something special had reached English soil that day. Something from Africa.

TIN TIN was just a boy in the crowd that dreary Thursday. An ageing boy, a gangly youth of sixteen or seventeen. He looked as eccentric as usual, wearing knickers, knee socks and a tweed cap. And, as always, he was accompanied by his small white dog, SNOWY.

Tin Tin lifted his binoculars and scanned the cargo doors of the barnacle infested ship. His view traveled the length of the "incoming" cargo area — bales of sisal, bags of coffee, sacks of cloves and vanilla beans — and came to rest further down the dock, on the "outgoing" cargo area. The Karaboudjan was already taking on goods for its return trip to the exotic Red Sea [as?] Tin Tin's view passed quickly over the automobile [???] the plastic furniture, the bottles of Coca Cola — and came to rest upon one cache of goods in particular: some twenty-odd wooden crates, wearing the stencilled inscription: PHOTOGRAPHIC EQUIPMENT FRAGILE MOMBASSA.

A man's head, topped in a white silk cuff, pinned with a lapis lazuli cufflink, reached into Tin Tin's view and patted out of these heavy crates. Tin Tin scanned the length of that arm and exposed the entire man to view: a tall, well-dressed, rugged-looking individual. Tin Tin knew him.

Tin Tin slowly lowered his binoculars from his small black eyes and said:

TIN TIN
Mordecai Strenge, I see you.

[...] just about to raise the binoculars again when [...] loud thud of an opening cargo door, and the [...] squeals of children. One child's voice was [...], shouting:

***

TIN TIN

Did you sail [...] beasts?

SKUT

I might have.

TIN TIN

Weren't you scared?

SKUT
I mind my own business.

The warehouse door opens and Mordecai Strenge sticks his head out. He eyes Tin Tin, but gestures to his man:

MORDECAI
Skut?

Skut fumbles for the door handle. The ever courteous Tin Tin opens the door for him. Skut follows his boss into the warehouse.

Tin Tin looks down the alley. The two dockhands are [?]er. Tin Tin raises a hand to them.

[...] On the dock hands, as they acknowledge Tin Tin [...] by slowing their pace and looking altogether [...]silly.

[...] warehouse door. It is locked. [...] disappeared around the side [...]

***

[...] Mordecai Strenge leans against a post smoking [...] stands near the backdoor. A gentleman approaches Mordecai and tries to start up a conversation as the auction continues in the background. This is JULES. He is an entrepreneur.

JULES
You have pieces here today Mordecai?

MORDECAI

A couple of nice bull pair. Soft Congo.

JULES
Couple of pair hardly pays the rent, does it?

Mordecai lets this pass.

JULES
Let me give you a friendly word of advice Strenge. Those bloody savages can't keep fighting forever. Guns are a limited business. But there's always a market for ivory.

[...] auctioneer holds up a splendid [...]

***

[...] as his eye is cleared, he is [...] speedboat's wake. He curses softly again [...] make his way back to the dock, but he misses a [...] falls into the murky cold water.

CLOSE: On Snowy. Not greatly concerned.

CUT TO:

EXT. WAREHOUSE - DAY

Mordecai Strenge leaves the warehouse. Skut is already in the car and has the engine running, but Mordecai has only reached the passenger door when he is stopped by a dripping hand. He turns to face the sopping-wet teenage boy. (As if Tin Tin didn't look odd enough, his hair, as it always does when wet, is sticking straight up).

TIN TIN
Mr. Mordecai Strenge?

MORDECAI
And if I am?

[...] then laughs. He shakes off Tin Tin[...]
snowybella
Member
#2 · Posted: 10 Jul 2017 01:49
That sounds very interesting. Proves how an adaptation of Tintin in the Congo is actually possible, and it was quite an idea to get the KARABOUDJAN and Skut involved in the story!
jock123
Moderator
#3 · Posted: 10 Jul 2017 09:57
Richard:
Steven Spielberg which was loosely (!) inspired by Tintin in the Congo, featuring Tintin this time fighting ivory smugglers in Africa

Ah, this is all very interesting!
I'd never thought about the elephant-themed adventure being "inspired" by Congo before. I've heard the titles Tintin and the Lost City of Ivory and Tintin and the Elephants' Graveyard, and think that the former was the title which was announced by "Tintin" in animated form on Network 7 back in the Eighties, so the A Dog's Life is also new to me.

Excellent research there Richard, as always!

snowybella:
Proves how an adaptation of Tintin in the Congo is actually possible

The idea was to throw away the story in its entirety, and replace it with an ecological "message" film, as far as can be told, and throwing away the title in the process makes it bit like the hundred year old broom which has had ten new heads and twelve new handles - not a lot of the original left!
Richard
UK Correspondent
#4 · Posted: 10 Jul 2017 20:09
jock123:
A Dog's Life is also new to me

Thinking a bit more about it, it's entirely possible this wasn't meant to be the title for the entire film, but perhaps only a sequence/act.

I was perhaps being not entirely serious about the notion of Tintin in the Congo serving as source material, although Philippe Lombard suggests it (again, quite possibly equally tongue-in-cheek). The relevant section from the book reads (in my loose translation):

The story (inspired by Tintin in the Congo) takes place in Africa where our hero – who doesn't have a quiff! – fights ivory traffickers. "To help anchor Tintin in American culture," remembers Ivan Noerdinger [of Casterman], "they had planned to give him a black girlfriend! I also remember a scene where Haddock saves La Castafiore from a bush fire and she thanks him with a fiercely passionate kiss." As for Marlinspike, that's relocated to England.

Having read all of the above, it makes me thankful that the film we eventually got stayed so faithful to the source material!
jock123
Moderator
#5 · Posted: 10 Jul 2017 23:53
Well it wouldn't be the first time that such a system was used - the film rights to the James Bond books and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seemingly went out of their way to stop the books being used as the basis of the films, Ian Fleming and his estate seemingly having some objection to the notion.
I could imagine that there might have been a notion that you would "sell" the rights to the books along the publication order, but not necessarily make the story of that book.

It does seem that there might have been quite a large deviation between the Tintin of the printed page and his screen persona!

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