Steven Spielberg has been an avid fan of 'The Adventures of Tintin' comic books since 1981, when a review compared Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) to Tintin. His secretary bought him French-language editions of each book, but Spielberg did not have to understand them: he immediately fell in love with its art. Meanwhile, 'Tintin' creator Hergé became a fan of Spielberg (reports say he "thought Spielberg was the only person who could ever do Tintin justice.")
The painter at the beginning bears the likeness of Hergé, creator of the 'Tintin' comics. Furthermore, he draws Tintin's portrait in Herge's style. Using Hergé's likeness is an homage to the artist's own private joke of incorporating the likenesses of friends and family in his Tintin works.
This film combines the Tintin tales 'The Crab with the Golden Claws' (Tintin befriends Captain Haddock whose ship has been hijacked by smugglers) and the two-parter 'The Secret of the Unicorn' and 'Red Rackham's Treasure' (Tintin and Haddock search for pirate treasure).
Since the Tintin comic book series is virtually unknown in the United States, the movie was first released in Europe, hoping that favorable reviews would warm American audiences to the movie. Despite a favorable 77 million dollar box office in the USA, this is a relatively rare example of a movie produced in the USA that was considerably more successful overseas (296 million dollar).
Originally, Steven Spielberg was going to do a live-action adaptation of Tintin, and called Peter Jackson to ask if his VFX company Weta Digital would work on the film, in particular creating a CGI Snowy. Jackson, as it turned out, was a longtime fan of Tintin, and convinced Spielberg that live action would not do justice to the comic books, and that motion capture was the best way of representing Hergé's world of Tintin. However, Snowy would still be CGI.
At the beginning of the movie, when Tintin is having his likeness drawn, the other likenesses posted in the background are of characters featured in various Tintin books and as shown in the inside covers of every Tintin book.
Steven Moffat finished a draft of the script, but could not polish it because of the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, and afterwards becoming executive producer of Doctor Who (2005). Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson amiably allowed him to leave and fulfill his duty to the series (Jackson being a fan of the Doctor), and brought in Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish to rewrite Moffat's draft.
In the German dub, during the motorcycle chase when Haddock reaches out for the three pieces of paper flying over the canal, he calls the pieces "Mein Schatz". This is a nod to the English dub, where Haddock is voiced by Andy Serkis. Serkis played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and in the German version, Gollum's "My Precious" is translated to "Mein Schatz".
Michael Kahn has collaborated with Steven Spielberg as an editor for over 30 years, having cut his movies on a Moviola and KEM when working with Spielberg. This is his first movie that he cut digitally with Spielberg, using Avid (though he has cut movies digitally before, such as Twister (1996)).
During the final dock scene, a bunch of cans with a crab symbol falls from a crate. A similar logo was seen at Ben Salaad's palace. These are the same canned crabs that serve as a McGuffin in the original "Crab with the Golden Claws" album.
In the opening credits, there is a scene where a flip sign at a train station shows various destinations. Those are the places where Tintin has his adventures in the comic books (i.e. Syldavia, Tibet, Black Island, Djakarta, etc...).
According to Steven Spielberg, when shooting he always keeps one eye closed when framing a shot, so that he can visualize the film in 2D ("the way viewers would"). But on this film he had both of his eyes open, as it was 3D and he wanted to treat the film like live-action.
Steven Spielberg shot his portion of the film in 31 days (taking up March 2009). Peter Jackson was present for the first week of filming, and supervised the rest of the shoot via a specially made iChat videoconferencing program. Simon Pegg said Jackson's voice would "be coming over the Tannoy like God."
The framed newspapers on the walls of Tintin's apartment feature headlines and photos that recall his other adventures. The headline "Tintin Breaks Up Crime Ring," with a picture of several Egyptian mummy cases, refers to 'Cigars of the Pharaoh' and the headline "Tintin Recovers Valuable Sceptre" refers to 'King Ottokar's Sceptre'.
When Tintin shoots down the seaplane, he fires his pistol in a peculiar stance where he steadies the gun on his elbow. This is a reference to the Tintin comic Land of Black Gold where Tintin fires a pistol using this stance.
When Captain Haddock first gets woken up by Tintin and Snowy, he yells, "A giant rat of Sumatra!" This is a reference to a Sherlock Holmes adventure mentioned by Watson but never related in the Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle. It is also a reference to the Peter Jackson film Dead Alive (1992), in which a (fictional) Sumatran Rat Monkey, whose bite infected the victim into becoming a zombie, is transported on a cargo ship.
Tintin creator Hergé has an animated cameo a little over four minutes into the movie as a man painting. This is played up when the painter asks Tintin if he's drawn him before with an answer of "occasionally."
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The coordinates on the parchments point to Marlinspike Hall as the treasure's location, which is hidden inside a statue of a globe. The Tintin comic "Red Rackham's Treasure" gives a more elaborate explanation: The coordinates lead them to the Island off which the real Unicorn sank, and following a diving expedition a box was found in the sunken ship which had an old document stating that Marlinespike hall was owned by Haddock's family, and after acquiring the Hall through an auction they went into the cellar where Tintin picks clues and presses the location of the island on the globe statue to reveal the treasure.
When Barnaby is shot, he leaves a clue by marking in blood letters on a newspaper headline. The newspaper Barnaby points to is Le Petit Vingtième ("The Little Twentieth"), the real-life newspaper in which Tintin's adventures were first published from 1928-1940. Le Petit Vingtième was the youth supplement to Le Vingtième Siècle ("The Twentieth Century"), a Belgian newspaper published by the Catholic Church. Both papers ceased operation when the Germans occupied Belgium in 1940, but Tintin's later adventures were published in the Belgian newspaper Le Soir ("The Evening"), and in Tintin's own magazine, Le journal de Tintin.
In the Tintin comic "The Secret of the Unicorn", Professor Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine starts off as a suspected villain, but turns out to be a mere art collector. In the film, he is combined with several other characters by being made the main antagonist and Red Rackham's descendant.