The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec (Luc Besson 2010) – out on Blu-ray and DVD
Luc Besson’s return to madcap French blockbuster is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 15th August.
The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec
(Luc Besson, Fr, 2011)
The style is all Besson’s, likewise the complete absence of substance. But the awkward tone, veering between childish and cynical, lacks his usual vibrancy.
The only extraordinary thing here is that Luc Besson still hasn’t grown up. He’s well into his 50s now, and yet he maintains his infectious, even childish, desire to perfect a Gallicised take on the Hollywood blockbuster – in this case, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and their ilk. But compared to the surreal abandon of Besson’s best (say, The Fifth Element) this is laboured, unfunny and pretty boring.
Based on a comic strip about a globetrotting lady journalist whose assignments invariably lead to battles with the supernatural, Besson has delivered a film that combines both the best and worst of comic-to-screen adaptations. In its favour, it is a handsomely mounted production, with regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast contributing luscious, golden tones which highlight the exaggerated elegance of the Belle Epoque costumes and the Dick Tracy-esque prosthetics which turns the supporting cast into a memorable menagerie of grotesques.
“Luc Besson is having so much fun making The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adele Blanc-Sec he forgets to explain why we should share his delight…”
But the downside is a lurching, episodic plotline that largely ignores its stated premise. This is supposed to be about a writer, but Adele instantly rebels against her publisher’s commission to kickstart a personal crusade to save her near-dead twin sister, a bold gambit involving Egyptian tomb-raiding and corpse resurrection. But even this gets put on hold by the appearance of a pterodactyl that is terrorising the people of Paris. Besson is having so much fun he forgets to explain why we should share his delight. Barring the Egyptian sequence – with loving nods to Lawrence of Arabia and Raiders of the Lost Ark – Adele barely appears in the film’s first half…and when she does get involved in events in Paris, it takes mountainous coincidences to bring her into the fold.
There’s a void at the centre of the film, which Besson hopes to fill with a frantic relay race between characters, all mugging shamelessly as they dash hither and thither in search of a plot. The tone, somewhere between the anarchic and the merely whimsical, is the sort of thing Jean-Pierre Jeunet could do in his sleep, but Besson lacks the inclination or the finesse to make his characters interesting. That leaves a cavalcade of shameless mugging and the broadest physical comedy – including, sadly, the normally reliable Mathieu Almaric, unrecognisable in appearance and tone as Adele’s nemesis – but the only gags that don’t fall flat are unexpectedly violent ones that shock through their sudden lurches into bad taste. Like Adele’s gratuitous nude scene, there’s a clumsy lack of co-ordination between the old-school matinee trappings and the fleeting attempts at something more adult.
Which leads to the film’s biggest problem: Adele herself. The character is wonderful played by Louise Bourgoin with refined sarcasm and lithesome, lightly-worn grace, but Adele is also an unreflective risk-taker whose selfish mission causes death and chaos across Paris. Far from being extraordinary or even adventurous, she strolls through proceedings with an unearned, solipsistic rudeness. Far from galvanising the plot, she drags the narrative madness back to a very prosaic, maudlin place – revealing, even a character mockingly points out how small-scale Adele’s ambitions are, during an inert final act that lacks Besson’s usual pyrotechnics but finds only ersatz emotion and childish humour to replace them.