The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec
Directed by Luc Besson
Playing at cinemas across the UK now.
You know, I first saw the trailer for this movie over a year ago... and since that time I’ve been absolutely ravenous to see it. I like Luc Besson even at the worst of times (I have fond memories of going to the old Lumiere cinema as it was then in St. Martin’s Lane back in 1990 five weekends in a row just to watch Nikita over and over again). I’m quite used to both the brilliance of Besson and, to be fair, the way in which he tends to, for the most part, gloss over the characters and concentrate more on the slick surface details of a story in a graceful tribute to the triumph of style over content. Perhaps not the best modus operandi but one which Besson can usually make very credible and acceptable. His films have mostly, with the possible exceptions of the aforementioned Nikita and also The Big Blue, been about the crash bang wallop of the incidents which define his characters, rather than an exploration of the characters themselves (and even in Nikita and The Big Blue these characters are still quite broadly written in UPPER CASE letters in case you are in danger of seeing something more subtle).
The one possible exception of recent years I can think of might be Angel-A, but I’ve only seen that one the once at the cinema so will need to catch that again before I can firmly make that claim.
Now the trailer for The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec is fantastic. Based on a comic book originating from Belgium/France, it highlights a series of exploits with the title character, a no-nonsense, no shilly-shallying adventuress of a woman as she encounters Egyptian mummies and a troublesome Pterodactyl. Right up my street and anyone who knows me would instantly know that this is the kind of movie I would be gagging to see.
However, alarm bells began ringing shortly after because, well... it’s now taken over a year since its French cinema release to reach these shores and that can often be the sign of a terrible movie where interested film companies are umming and ahhing as to whether to bother releasing it in other territories or not. On the other hand, it could just mean that any of the companies in question have no idea how to market the movie and it’s a gem of a masterpiece waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting public.
Having now seen this movie, it gives me no real pleasure to report that, although this is a far cry from a terrible movie... it’s also no gem. The story hangs together well enough but it often seems quite anti-climactic... which I think is no mean achievement when you have some quite humorous reanimated mummies and a flying dinosaur added in to the mix. The characters are, again, very broad and the style becomes almost slapstick in some scenes. I’ve never read the comics (I believe they’re being translated into English for a release in a few months time, presumably to coincide with the DVD release) and I realise that the problems of the characters may well be due to a dogged determination to stick to the style of the original material on Besson’s part. If so... well done Mr. Besson.
There are some nice action scenes in this movie, something Besson always does well, but they are tempered with an over cuteness or twee-ness which tends to nullify, at least for this viewer, any investment in the characters. Don’t get me wrong, Adele herself is adorable but the other characters, for the most part, seem thrown in the shade when compared to her... with the exception of one of the reanimated mummies who is actually quite funny and companionable and gives the film some much needed lift for the last half hour or so.
Louise Bourgoin is absolutely brilliant as Adele and I’m amazed that we got some nice moments of nudity with her too, in a movie which only carries a 12 rating over here... are our censors finally calming down a little? However, I could have really done without the constant “woman of many disguises” rescue attempts as she tries to get her friend out of jail... it’s like the worst elements of the first (and otherwise totally brilliant, shame about the sequel) Fletch movie... only done in French. I just hope that comes straight out of the comic or I will be very annoyed that Mr. Besson saw fit to inflict those scenes on his poor audience.
But there are some nice things too... the tomb raiding scene in Egypt may bring back memories of the brilliant opening sequence of Besson’s The Fifth Element to some... although it doesn’t have those cool, mechanically guised lumbering aliens which that movie had. However, I must just comment here that, if you liked The Fifth Element then you should have absolutely no problem whatsoever with enjoying The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec which is vastly superior to the former film because, unlike said movie, it doesn’t make the tremendously huge mistake of putting Chris Tucker in it to completely kill off and bleed anything of any entertainment value out of the movie. This is a good thing. If Luc Besson has learnt anything in the intervening years it’s this... do not put Chris Tucker in your movie!
Another nice thing about this movie is that it sees the return of the great collaboration between Besson and his once regular composer Eric Serra. Finally a new Eric Serra score for a Luc Besson movie... if there’s anything worth trumpeting about this film it’s that. And it’s a nice little score too with some interesting pseudo-Egyptian techno-Serra noodlings which make for a very interesting listen... especially on the nicely designed, side scrolling Egyptianesque credits. Good work Eric!
Ultimately this is a film which doesn’t really quite work... but who cares because there’s a sense of fun, even in its worst misfires, which will help lift the duldrums from your mood... even if it is froth which is quick to dissappear. This is still going to be a definite DVD purchase for me when it comes out and so even though I was a trifle disappointed with it, I’m still happy to repeat watch this thing.
And if further recommendation is needed to all you old school Besson fans out there to dip your toes in the fascinating world of Adèle Blanc-Sec... I’ll repeat this now so you can view it safe in this knowledge... Chris Tucker does not turn up in this movie!