Written and directed by Luc Besson on 2010 and based on the series of comic books by Jacques Tardi,
The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec is set in 1912 and begins with our titular writer and adventurer, Adèle (Louise Bourgoin), in Egypt. Why? Because her sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) is comatose, that's why. How will Adèle's presence in Egypt help this? Well, she's looking for the mummified remains of a doctor who once served the Pharaohs, the theory behind this being that once she gets him back to her native Paris she can have him brought back to life and he can work his particular set of skills in ancient medicine on Agathe and set things right for the Blanc-sec sisters.
Unfortunately for our heroine, when she gets back the scientist who was to help her, Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian), has moved on to another project, that being the hatching of a pterodactyl egg that's been sitting quietly in the museum for some time now. When the egg hatches, the pterodactyl does its thing and is loosed upon an unsuspecting populace but Adèle isn't the type to just let something like that go unattended to. On top of that, there's the involvement of police inspector Albert Caponi (Gills Lellouche) and President Armand Fallières (Gérard Chaillou), a strange man with an unusual love for dogs. All of these characters and plot lines collide as Adèle does what she can to bring that flying dinosaur to safety and get her sister the treatment that she needs.
The comparisons to high adventure films like the Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider pictures are inevitable and if you wanted to, you could probably make some comparisons to the revamped The Mummy what with all of the Egyptian motifs in the first part of the movie. The early part of the picture is a bit choppy, a lot of characters are introduced without much in the way of obvious reason, but as the movie progresses the strands of the story come together fairly cohesively and what initially seems ridiculous soon turns out to be a lot of quirky fun (Why does Adèle only read her mail in bathtub? Why not!). While Besson's name has, in more recent times at least, pretty much instantly conjured up hardboiled and ultra-stylish action movies, here we got for more of a pulp feel, and the film succeeds in its attempt to bring to the screen the comics and books on which it was based without sacrificing the sense of wonder that that type of source material can inspire.
None of this is meant to be taken all too seriously and there's very definitely an obvious sense of humor at work behind all of this. Most of the time the comedy works quite well (watch the movie in its original French language for best results in this regard) and even when it's not always side-splittingly funny, it's weird enough that you'll take notice. Characters parade about in bizarre costumes and, well, a pterodactyl gets involved in all of this. That's kind of strange, right? And the whole concept of resurrecting a doctor from centuries past to help poor Agathe is bizarre enough in and of itself, and yet the film uses many of these plot devices as a launching point for more and more. Is it weird for the sake of weird, the kind of nonsense that doesn't always further the plot but it put into the movie simply because it can be? Yes, very much so, but don't let that dissuade you for the movie is never lacking in charm.
Fast paced and consistently gorgeous in its visual depictions, the film also benefits from a great cast. Gills Lellouche and Gérard Chaillou are both quite funny in their respective roles while nutball scientist Jacky Nercessian steals most of the scenes in which he is involved. The real star of the show, however, is the lovely Louise Bourgoin. She has grace and she has spirit and she has a nobility to her that makes her a pleasure to watch in this movie. She's also strikingly beautiful, which never hurts. In the end, this is a distinctly European film, it has a quirky French sensibility to it that might not necessarily appease American audiences not used to the odd side of French comedy but give this one a shot as the adventurous aspect of the storyline keeps it moving at a good pace. It might not add up to much more than ridiculous entertainment, but it never tries to.
Note: This is touted as a director's cut release. Having not seen the theatrical version released by Shout! Factory surprisingly recently, it's impossible to say what the differences are but a logical guess would be that the fleeting nudity that takes place in one of Adèle's bath scenes is part of it. Even as it stands, there's nothing here to push it past a PG-13 rating.
The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec is framed at 2.39.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and for the most part, it looks excellent, in fact, outside of a few short scenes where shadow detail is ever so slightly muddy, this is pretty much a reference quality picture. Detail is outstanding throughout the movie, you'll have no trouble identifying individual fibers in the costumers or picking out blemishes on the faces of certain characters. Skin tones look lifelike and realistic and it's a pleasure to note that the color reproduction here is beautiful (given the use of color in the film, that's obviously key). Black levels are nice and deep and there are no issues with any dirt or debris. There aren't any noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement issues, haloing problems or noise reduction to note. This movie looks great.
French and English language options offered in both DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and LPCM 2.0 Stereo with optional subtitles provided in English only. If you've got the hardware to handle it and don't have an aversion to subtitles, the French 5.1 mix is the way to go. The film's score, which is very heavy on sweeping orchestral music, is used very well throughout the movie and this mix really opens it up and does some fun things with its placement. The same can be said for the sound effects which, during the action scenes at least, tend to come at you from all directions. Dialogue stays crisp and clear and easy to follow and as you'd expect for a movie as recent as this there are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note.
There aren't a ton of extra features here but hidden beneath the menus are a few supplements, the most substantial of which is the aptly title featurette The Making Of The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-sec. This piece runs just over twenty-six minutes in length and is comprised mainly of interviews with writer/director Luc Besson and creator Jaques Tardi and many of the principal cast members as well, including the lovely lead actress. It's an interesting enough piece worth watching to learn more about what went into making the picture, how the character made the transition to the big screen, and what it was like working on the project. There's some interesting behind the scenes clips in here too
Aside from that? Two minutes of Deleted Scenes that expand on Adèle and Agathe's respective backgrounds and a two minute Music Featurette that explores the work that went into bringing the score to life. Menus and chapter stops are also included and as this is a combo pack release, a DVD version including the same extras is also included inside the case, which fits nicely inside a slipcover. A download code for a digital copy is also included.
The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec doesn't go for a whole lot more than slick, super-fun high adventure but on that level it's a pretty great success. It's charming, it's light, it's great entertainment, never striving for anything more than that and never really needing to. The art direction is superb and the cast are pretty much all perfect in their roles. It's occasionally quirky enough to stand out from the pack and Shout! Factory's Blu-ray release, while a little light on extras, looks and sounds beautiful. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.