Shout! Factory // 2010 // 107 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 13th, 2013
The adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, the coolest author and adventuress in all of Paris
The superhero movie currently rules the roost of the summer blockbuster season. So entrenched is this dominance that it's hard to remember they got their start in comics. Even in the world of comics, superheroes dominate so much that many people don't even realize there's a whole world of comics outside the spandex-clad superpeople. Of course, there is. France in particular has nurtured a wide variety of non-superhero comics culture. Perhaps the most famous of their exports is Tintin, but that property is only the tip of a large iceberg. One of the more long-running series in France is The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, which began as a parody of turn-of-the-century adventure fiction and has since become a darker take on the interwar years. Luc Besson returned to the live-action director's chair to helm an adaptation in 2010. Although the effort didn't get much of a release, curious viewers can check out the excellent The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (Blu-ray) for a lighthearted romp through Paris.
Adèle is in a bit of a pickle: in the Paris of 1912 her sister is gravely ill, and her only hope is to resurrect the personal doctor of Ramses II. In this she has the help of a scientist Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian, Le grand voyage). So, while Adèle goes off to Egypt to find the mummy, Espérandieu tests his resurrection technique on a pterodactyl in a local museum. When Adèle returns with the mummy, she must contend with a run-away dinosaur and the Paris police as they investigate.
The original comic of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec started out as a parody of twentieth century adventure comics (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-style), so it's not surprising that the film version feel a bit like a pastiche of a bunch of other adventure movies. The review copy on the box mentions Amelie and Indiana Jones, which isn't too far off the mark. To that list I would add The Mummy (where Adèle herself is a combo of both Brendan Frasier and Rachel Weisz's characters) and Night at the Museum. There's even a trace of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in there as well.
This blend of fantasy and familiarity is one of the film's strengths. Adèle Blanc-Sec is a great character (and I can see why there were plans for a trilogy before this flick underperformed at the box office). More importantly, her journey is one that will appeal to pretty much every viewer: She wants to save her sister, and she has to tame a pterodactyl to do it. What more could viewers ask for? Along the way there are goofy characters, incompetent authorities, and some great visual gags (though the scatological pterodactyl moment might be a bit too much). The series of adventures that Adèle must undertake even manage to replicate the feel of a comics-page serial; though there is an over-arching plot here, there are enough flashbacks and individual mini-quests for the film to feel like it could make an excellent television show, miniseries, or continuing set of films. This seriality also contributes to the element of surprise in the film; viewers might often not be sure what's going to happen next as the plot veers from one incident to the next, with only a joke to connect the threads.
The other major triumph of the film is Louise Bourgoin as Adèle. She's marvelous as the spunky heroine, and she's both charming and abrasive in equal measure. Of course, she's a total anachronism, but so is most of the film. Her journalistic wiles pair well with a fantastic wardrobe, and her work requires her to wear several amusing disguises. Throughout all of it, Bourgoin shines through, both sympathetic and amusing. It's a shame that no trilogy seems forthcoming, as I'd love to see Bourgoin return to the role regularly.
For a film that didn't do particularly well at the box office and didn't receive any American attention, The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (Blu-ray) is solid. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer does justice to Luc Besson's visuals. We get a richly detailed transfer with well-saturated colors and consistently deep blacks. Perhaps my only complaint is that the overall film looks a bit too digital, where a more filmlike look would help in building the era. That's not a problem with the transfer itself, though. The DTS-HD 5.1 French soundtrack is excellent, with dialogue coming through clean and clear, while the surrounds get workouts during the action sequences. English subtitles are also included.
Extras start with a 26-minute making-of featurette that includes on-camera footage, a number of interviews, as well as a discussion of the source material (including comic-to-screen comparisons). The film's music gets its own short featurette as well. Four deleted scenes give us more interaction between Adèle and her sister.
The whimsical blend of fantasy and adventure isn't going to appeal to everyone; from what I can gather, it's not going to impress most fans of the comics. More importantly, for American viewers, the film is aimed at the wrong audience. The adventure aspects and lack of romance or sexuality would peg this flick right in the 8-12 range visually and in terms of storytelling. However, few kids I've known at that age would want to read subtitles to get their adventure fix, and the dub offered on this disc is so bad that I couldn't last more than five minutes of its over-the-top pseudo-comic nonsense. It's simply terrible. Those who miss the filmmaking of The Professional and want Besson to stop producing crappy French thrillers probably won't enjoy this particular offering from one of France's most prolific directors.
The Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec won't change anyone's life. It's an intentionally goofy romp that harkens back to a number of other cinematic adventure stories. Louise Bourgoin's performance is easily watchable, and parents who can get their kids to read subtitles (or suffer through the dub) will find a family friendly story here. The strength of this Blu-ray makes the flick easy to recommend for a rental.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (English)
* PCM 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy