An industry unto himself in his native France, Luc Besson returns to the live action arena for another slice of fantasy whimsy after the animated Arthur series with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec, a broad family-friendly adaptation of Jacques Tardi’s Franco-Belgian comic book series about an intrepid Indiana Jones-like heroine and her amazing adventures in pre-and post World War I Paris.
In what appears to be the first in a series or possible franchise, we are introduced to our fetching protagonist played by Louise Bourgoin in Egypt as she attempts to track down a mummified physician from the times of the Pharoahs needing said mummy to be brought back to life to cure her coma-induced sister. And… hang on a second! There’s plenty more story here and this all happens within the twenty minutes!
She is also being pursued by her arch nemesis Dieuleveut who is portrayed by an unrecognizable Mathieu Almaric in quasi- Gestapo garb and while in Egypt, her old codger accomplice Professor Esperandieu (Jacky Nercessian) accidentally hatches a 136 million year old Pterodactyl egg being kept in the Natural History Museum back to life with his telepathic abilities where the creature proceeds to cause some Parisian havoc. Phew!
Okay, so Besson throws us head and feet first into this world at a breathless pace without much pause or explanation for the uninitiated. Some exposition is delivered but at such a clip that it seems Besson is in a hurry to get to the films open-ended climax. I was completely uninformed about the character’s cultural importance going in so the films avoidance of the typically laborious, spoonfeeding Hollywood style was like a breath of fresh air.
Anchoring the freewheeling plot is a delightful performance from Bourgoin as the feisty Adele Blanc Sec. She displays a light touch throughout and aside from a not particularly amusing sequence in which she dons several latex disguises shows a far lighter touch than her co-stars who, when not mugging amidst Besson and Arbogasts Gilliam-esque compositions, are lumbered with ridiculous facial hair or grotesque make-up which renders them all but one dimensional cartoons.
Though, to be fair this extreme style seems intentional along with the buffoonish characterization of authority figures. Gilles Lellouche as Inspector Caponi suffers constant indignity throughout in a laborious running gag involving his unsatiated appetite for food.
Whilst sitting through this admittedly entertaining trifle, it was difficult to reconcile this mostly family-friendly excursion with Besson’s previous work – violent action melodramas such as La Femme Nikita and Leon which made his reputation. To see Besson return to more adult-oriented material and utlilize his considerable technical chops on something with a bit more meat to it may take a while though seeing that this potential franchise and the Arthur series pretty much keep his studio Europa Films afloat.
A strange, unwieldly combination of adventure, low comedy, fantasy and romance directed in a manner that suggests Spielberg colliding with Jeunet, Adele Blanc Sec is a charming, beautifully designed, often stupid but never less then enjoyable yarn; a Gallic version of old-ashioned adventure serials albeit with added nudity, satire and gags involving pterodactyl faeces.
The extras include:
- Making of
- Interviews with Luc Besson and Louise Bourgoin
- In the Studio
- Cinemoi interview with Luc Besson
Derek Mc Donnell
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc Sec is releases on DVD & Blu-Ray on 15th August 2011
- Number of discs: 1
- Classification: 12
- Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
- DVD Release Date: 15 Aug 2011