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I'm very surprised to read negative reviews of this movie by Luc Besson, as I found it richly entertaining from one end to the other. Do people no longer recognize clever wit and silly fantasy when they see it? Can they not recognize that somebody might made a cartoonish adventure that doesn't play by the rules of the Marvel/DC monopoly?
As displayed in some of the first issues of the 1970s graphic comic magazine Heavy Metal, French fantasy comics had a big influence on the worldwide graphic novel explosion. Jacques Tardi's series of "Adèle Blanc-Sec" adventures threaded a careful course between juvenile antics and more erotic fare -- in his interviews he contrasts his spunky Adèle with the old comic strip heroine Barbarella. The setting for her fantastic Jules Verne- like adventures is the pre- WW1 Paris of the Louis Feuillade serials. Adèle's escapades are definitely cartoonish, but they're always elegant.
Viewers will be enchanted by Luc Besson's gloriously flamboyant The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, which combines and adapts two separate Tardi Adèle adventures. Besson's film doesn't compete with the mass-appeal movie franchises of Spielberg and Lucas. The opening episode has quite a few parallels with Raiders of the Lost Ark, including similar characterizations and an ancient tomb rigged with Land of the Pharaohs- style traps. But Besson's adventure soufflé is possessed of a lighter, brighter spirit of fantastic fun. In a decade that has seen technical effects marvels like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's not easy to come up with something new and worthwhile. Tardi and Luc Besson's picture is for viewers that like their stories resolved with good humor, not an explosion.
In Egypt, writer, explorer and adventuress Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) seeks the lost tomb of Ramses. She needs the mummy of one of the Pharaoh's doctors for a special job back home -- it seems that the ancient medicos effected incredible cures unknown to modern science. She then discovers that her guides are really thieves intent on looting the tomb. The spunky Parisienne is rescued by her nemesis, adventurer-profiteer Dieuleveult (Mathieu Almaric), who then threatens her life as well. But Adèle won't let go of her mummy -- and she's a tough sister to kill.
Back in Paris, the aged and frail Professor Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian) has used his studies in Eastern philosophy to perform amazing feats of levitation. Convinced that he can also raise the dead, he focuses his mind on an egg in a museum display -- which hatches into a formidable and very living pterodactyl. As they are spiritually linked, Espérandieu can control the monster. But whenever the professor sleeps the pterodactyl spreads a wave of terror over the city. Inspector Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) is assigned to track down the monster, aided by the pompous big game hunter Justin de Saint-Hubert (Jean-Paul Rouve). Adèle rushes back to Paris with her precious mummy, only to find Professor Espérandieu on death row, convicted of the pterodactyl's murders. She tries to sort things out while gently pursued by a potential new suitor, Andrej Zborowski (Nicolas Giraud), a love-struck museum assistant from the museum where the pterodactyl egg hatched. All of Adèle's efforts have been for one important purpose: to restore her twin sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre), who has been paralyzed since a traumatic tennis accident years before!
"Now we've mastered the unbelievable, let's perform the impossible!" shouts Adèle, evoking the kind of whimsical fantasy one might associate with Baron Munchausen. As embodied by Louise Bourgoin, Adèle Blanc-Sec is a wonderfully anachronistic female adventuress. She has a sharp tongue and a short temper but also a keen sense of humor; when a stubborn camel won't move she'll resort to highly unladylike swearing. Feisty and fearless, she has faith that everything will turn out okay, even if some events throw her into fits of despair. Adèle hasn't time to be a lover, at least not in this adventure. She's forever breezing past the love-struck Andrej, and sees nothing wrong with deceiving villains like the nasty Dieuleveult -- who has the hots for her as well. "Into My Arms!" shouts Adèle at regular intervals, but her goal isn't sex. She's either throwing herself into an ancient sarcophagus, or knocking the President of France to the ground to keep him from being decapitated by the flying dinosaur.
Think of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec as a distaff Indiana Jones adventure, except with more wit, finesse and refinement. It's not uncommon for French comedy to be uneven, especially when local ideas of slapstick humor are involved. Adèle Blanc-Sec jumps from one kind of comedy to another with surprising dexterity. Adèle deals with murderous Egyptians in a booby-trapped tomb one minute, and the next moment Inspector Caponi is unknowingly playing hide-and-seek with a giant flying reptile. In a sequence that reminds us of an Inspector Clouseau comedy, Adèle tries to save Professor Espérandieu's neck from the guillotine by donning a series of disguises. Farcical elements mix with genuine tragedy as Adèle recounts the bizarre events that turned her sister Agathe into a staring zombie, with a metal pin protruding from her forehead.
Luc Besson's 1997 breakthrough picture The Fifth Element was one of the first to use computer graphics to create an entire world. This show transports us to the Golden Age of Paris in 1912 and bathes the screen in tasteful, eye-pleasing spectacle. The company did go on location to Cairo but the computer generated Paris reconstructions are equally marvelous. The movie even takes us into the Louvre at night.
The realistic trimmings are but a stage for Besson to present his charming fantasy. It's amusing to see the flying monster 'possessed' by the Professor's telepathic control; it reminds us that the original book The Lost World concluded with a pterodactyl accidentally set loose in London. The film's final act involves the totally preposterous but very welcome resurrection of the Pharaoh's entire court of priests and assistants, all of whom turn out to speak eloquent French. Adèle is at first horrified to find that she's brought the wrong Mummy back to life: the gentlemanly Patmosis (voice: Régis Royer) is a nuclear physicist, not the Pharaoh's MD. The desiccated Patmosis has shiny black eyes that would be scary if he weren't such a charmer, making small talk and showing a real sense of humor. His first act upon revival is to ask if he can make tea. By the conclusion, the regal Pharaoh (voice: Christian Erickson) thoughtfully compliments this odd French culture on its architectural sense.
Mathieu Almaric is unrecognizable as the dastardly Dieuleveult. He and the other leading men work under heavy character makeup that transforms them into exaggerated comic book characters - more than weird, but not quite as goofy as the ugly-mugs in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. The marvelous score By Eric Serra changes moods faster than Luc Besson can change his scenes. After the over-hyped pseudo- "French" atmosphere of Martin Scorsese's Hugo, Besson's The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec is an exhilarating, charming entertainment, a real breath of fresh air.
Shout! Factory's Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec finally imports this great picture for U.S. viewers. In a sane world the film would have received a gala theatrical launch -- when I think of how much more worthy this is than Spielberg's Tin Tin movie, it's obvious that something is seriously amiss in the kinds of films that win major distribution.
The widescreen (2.35:1) image looks great at all times on Blu-ray; I know that the DVD looks good because I accidentally watched half an hour of it thinking it was the HD disc. Full audio tracks are provided in subtitled French (recommended) or an overdubbed English track.
The extras allow viewers to see the captivating Louise Bourgoin out of character, and learn more about the world of Adèle Blanc-Sec. A basic featurette covers the main topics while a very brief music item shows Ms. Bourgoin recording a song for the credits sequence. She claims that she's no singer, and that the sound experts will need to tweak her voice to make it useable. Several very brief deleted scenes are a succession of bits with Adèle and Agathe as young girls, to illustrate a flashback about the sisters' competitive childhood.
A French disc release contains a longer bathtub scene with some casual nudity (Adèle makes major decisions in the bath). The sequence is missing from this PG-rated disc release. Shout! Factory has announced a Director's Cut to be released in October.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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