The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Review
Since the mid-1990s, when Léon and The Fifth Element became worldwide hits and established his reputation as an ambitious and talented director, Luc Besson has turned himself in to Europe’s most prolific writer-producer. Churning out a virtual conveyor belt of fair-to-middling, easily marketable action flicks (including franchises like Taxi, The Transporter and District 13), he has laid himself open to charges of spreading himself a little thin. His last two directorial efforts, Angela-A (2005) and Arthur and the Invisibles (2006), were met with a mixed critical response and indifferent box office internationally. Besson now returns to the director’s chair with his own adaptation of the popular French comic book by Jacques Tardi, originally launched in the mid-1970s.
Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) is an intrepid young writer living in early twentieth-century Paris, given to gallivanting around the world in search of adventure. Though she should be in Peru on an assignment for her editor, she instead heads to Egypt to recover the ancient remains of a mummified royal surgeon who, according to legend, has the ability to bring the dead back to life. Why she wants this particular mummy is only gradually made clear. Simultaneously, a fossilized dinosaur egg in a Parisian museum suddenly hatches, and its young Pterodactyl inhabitant begins to terrorise the local population; the result of an experiment by an elderly scientist whose talents Adèle also intends to make use of. A blundering police inspector is assigned to the Pterodactyl case, and predictably chaos ensues.
Besson’s films have often taken Hollywood archetypes or conventions and twisted them in to something refreshingly different; the unusual love story at the centre of Léon being one of the more obvious examples. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec takes this to a completely new level. Clearly inspired by the matinee adventure serials of the 30s and 40s, it pulls together elements from Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, popular American staples like The Mummy and Indiana Jones, and even more modern fare like Night at the Museum. Yet what emerges is something unmistakably French: a whimsical shaggy dog story, feather-light in most respects, with a strong dose of farce thrown in for good measure.
Once one has become attuned to the mishmash of surrealist and schoolboy humour, there is plenty to enjoy. The opening section set in Egypt has enough tongue-in-cheek action to compete with the most recent Mummy movies, even if it is just as overegged. After Adèle returns to Paris things settle down to a more leisurely pace, the mixture of laughs and action steadily ticking along without ever being truly exciting or hilarious. The best is saved for last, however, with the resurrection of an Egyptian Pharaoh and his entourage – by far the most amusing sequence.
Bourgoin is excellent as Adèle - sassy, tomboyish and at least three steps ahead of everyone else. She is deliberately an anachronism for the time, but then the film delights in its anachronisms and flights of fancy; don’t go expecting the grounded fantasy of something like Raiders of the Lost Ark. Strong support comes from Gilles Lellouche as the portly, slow-witted police inspector and Nicolas Giraud as the shy young museum assistant obsessed with Adèle’s fantastical exploits.
As likeable as its individual parts may be though, the film never really gels in to a satisfying whole. The quirky tone makes it difficult to take Adèle’s quest seriously, and the action and laughs are too infrequent to make a lasting impression. A deus ex machina twist which sets up the ending also tarnishes a story that, for all its jumbled elements, at least remained true to its own logic. And a pointless epilogue laying the foundations for a sequel is rather joltingly tacked on. But, though it may be inconsequential and ultimately forgettable, its pleasures are perfectly enjoyable while they last.