Thursday, 27 July 2017

Flight 714 to Sydney - The Adventures of Tintin 22 by Hergé

The full title of Flight 714 to Sydney is a recent change, bringing it closer to the original French Vol 714 pour Sydney. The English language translation was originally published as just Flight 714 back in 1968; the same thing happened with the Dutch (Vlucht 714) and a number of other translations seem to have taken their cue from one or other of these editions. But in the last decade the destination has been added, maybe to increase the album's appeal in Australia, maybe to create greater conformity, maybe for some other reason.

But however long the title is, it's a misnomer. For the whole adventure is an interruption from Flight 714, with the characters having temporarily disembarked in Djakarta (now Jakarta) for a refuelling stop, only to transfer to another flight. Only at the end of the story do they once more board a commercial flight, also numbered Flight 714 and we never actually see them arrive in Sydney. In between they wind up on a deserted island and make some highly unusual discoveries.

The first two-thirds of this album reads as a relatively conventional Tintin adventure, making a change after recent experimentation. The cast is relatively small, leading to some notable absences. Thompson and Thomson are nowhere to be seen, perhaps because the structure of the story doesn't allow them to come in midway through. Also absent is Bianca Castafiore who doesn't even pop up on a radio. Jolyon Wagg does make an appearance at the end, representing the ordinary public as he watches a report on the aftermath of the events in sheer disbelief. Returning though are a few characters last seen in The Red Sea Sharks. Skut is now working as a private pilot and proves the link that draws Tintin, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and Snowy into the story. And when they are diverted to the island of Pulau-Pulau Bomba they find the kidnap has been arranged by none other than Rastapopoulos, once again accompanied by his sidekick Allen.

With The Adventures of Tintin having now grown beyond a series into a franchise, it's understandable that there was a desire to have a recurring foe who could be brought back time and again - and even here Rastapopoulos's fate is sufficiently open ended that he could potentially return again. But for such a recurring foe to work, there needs to be a personal element to the repeat appearances beyond merely being a persistent nuisance. There's just no sense in this encounter that Tintin has become that for Rastapopoulos, despite the latter's fall from grace such that he is now reduced to trying to steal a fortune from another business tycoon. Also, there needs to be a real sense of menace to make a recurring foe credible. In one regard Rastapopoulos is shown to be quite an intelligent foe, who despite his limited resources has managed to assemble a strong plan. His advanced planning is the most credible, having seemingly played on the resentment by Spalding, Carriedas's secretary, at the way he is treated by his employer such that he betrays confidences, as well as having tricked Sondonesian nationalists into believing he will be a key ally in their struggle. He has also recruited Doctor Krollspell, the head of a psychiatric clinic who has a devised a truth serum, in order to obtain the information needed. Unfortunately, Rastapopoulos's third caper plays him for laughs, time and again failing to achieve such limited goals as treading on a spider or finding that when applied to compulsive lying businessmen the truth serum in fact results in endless confessions of everything but the desired account number. He gets accidentally injected with it himself, then later stumbles around the island getting knocked on the head by accident, nearly blown up with a grenade and even has his mouth plastered shut. This high level of slapstick just undermines the character, reducing his credibility for such a role as an archenemy.

The target of the grand kidnapping is Laszlo Carreidas, an eccentric millionaire and tycoon involved in many different industries. In a remarkable piece of foresight his interests include both aviation and a rather disgusting cola, some decades before Richard Branson did either of these. However the parody was instead of the French industrialist Marcel Dassault. Carreidas is a self-centred obsessed man with limited regard for those around him and, as he admits, a lifelong history of theft and deception, stretching from stealing fruit as a young child through to using closed-circuit television to cheat in a game of Battleships with Haddock. Such is his track record in business that he and Rastapopoulos actually wind up arguing who is the worst. Despite this he is ultimately rescued by Tintin, though not without causing problems on the way.

The setting on a deserted island makes for a tense tale on a limited scale though even within this confines some elements of the story go undeveloped. Rastapopoulos is aided by Sondonesian nationalists, but this aspect of the story is underdeveloped and it's not clear just where "Sondonesia" is supposed to be or exactly who the nationalists are struggling against. Thus we get a generic set of natives, with rather primitive English though some of their dialogue is in an Indonesian language. The island itself has resources left over from the Japanese occupation and makes for a tense environment as Tintin and the others escape through the jungle. Though not without its faults, the bulk of this album is a reasonably strong traditional style adventure.

And then things get silly.

During their flight, Tintin hears a strange voice in his head that guides him and the others to a series of caves containing a temple to strange beings whose depictions look like astronauts. Inside they discover Mik Kanrokitoff, a journalist for a space magazine, who is equipped with a telepathic transmitter and comes to the island twice a year to communicate with aliens who have been coming to the planet for thousands of years. Through a mixture of telepathy and a flying saucer, Kanrokitoff is able to rescue Tintin and the others from a volcanic eruption triggered by explosions, wipe their minds and leave them floating in a dinghy whilst Rastapopoulos and his key men are taken away aboard the flying saucer. The aliens themselves are never directly shown.

This story was written at a time when the "ancient astronauts" theory received a lot of special attention and thus aliens who have visited Earth over thousands of years and been mistaken for deities can be found in a lot of science fiction from the period. But the Adventures have generally been rooted in a degree of scientific fact, to the point that even the Moon adventure avoided all aliens and other fantastic elements in favour of realism. Although there have been some elements of fantasy in the series so far, in general it's been pretty much tongue-in-cheek adventure in a realistic setting. The aliens thus do not fit what has been shown of this world up to now. Worse still this revelation pretty much comes out of nowhere towards the end of the story, with only Snowy's howls and Calculus's pendulum even hinting that something strange is afoot and that doesn't excuse the deus ex machina resolution. Though it isn't a complete reset switch, as the villains are spirited away, the end of the story puts most of the characters back where they were at the start with no memory of what happened on the island and only Snowy knows the truth. This ultimately makes the whole thing feel inconsequential.

Had this story been about ancient astronauts from the start then it might well have made their introduction to Tintin's world at least feel like a natural build-up. Instead this album is two-thirds kidnap adventure/farce and one-third science fiction, making for a very awkward hybrid tale with an extremely poor resolution. For a story that seemed to be a return to the more conventional style adventure after recent experiments this instead turns into a right mess.

No comments:

Post a Comment