Judge Michael Nazarewycz wishes he retained what he learned in high school French class.
Our review of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec (Blu-ray), published August 13th, 2013, is also available.
In Titanic, when Rose said to Jack, "I want you to draw me like one of your French girls," Adèle Blanc-Sec was not the kind of French girl Rose or Jack was thinking of.
Movies are starved for a strong, recurring female action lead. Once you get past the end of the Ripley and Sarah Connor eras (Alien and The Terminator), female action heroes are nothing more than wannabes (Angelina Jolie in the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films), one-and-dones (The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Geena Davis), or second-stringers (every superheroine from Halle Berry as X-Men's Storm to Scarlett Johansson as The Avengers' Black Widow). DC can't even get a Wonder Woman film made, and that character is already a popular, established brand.
So, with a writer/director (Luc Besson) who created 1990's La Femme Nikita, a good female-driven French action film which was ultimately spun off into a popular U.S. television series, and with Empire Magazine offering a pull-quote that invokes the name "Indiana Jones" as a comparative, I had hopes for The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. Those hopes were dashed, but all was not lost.
Facts of the Case
It's 1911, and Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin, A Happy Event) is a French adventure writer on a mission. Rather than visit Peru, where her publisher wants her to go, she instead travels to Egypt, where she hopes to steal the mummy of the doctor to Pharaoh Ramses II. This odd goal has heartfelt intentions.
Adèle's sister Agathe (Laure de Clermont, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is in something of a vegetative state and is considered all but dead. Adèle hopes that the advanced medical techniques of Ramses' doctor can bring her sister back to a normal state. What's that, you ask? How will an ancient Egyptian mummy bring Agathe back to normal? Well, Adèle's friend, Professor Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian, In the Name of the Son) has developed a telepathic ability that allows him to revive the deceased, so Adèle wants him to revive the mummy doctor so that the mummy doctor can heal Agathe.
In case you need proof that Espérandieu's psychic ways actually work, look no further than the pterodactyl he reanimates from an unhatched egg at the open of the film, which flies loose in the skies of Paris.
Let's get this out of the way: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec is not Hollywood's female action hero salvation. In fact, it's not even France's female action hero salvation. That's not for lack of trying so much as it is lack of focus.
Besson, who also adapted the screenplay from Jacques Tardi's popular French comic book series of the same title, has too much going on in the film. I'm not familiar with the source material, but knowing that it's based on a comic book series has me wondering if Besson tries to represent as much as possible from the series, instead of plucking out the more interesting narratives and dedicating more time to them.
The main plot line is that of Blanc-Sec's quest for the mummy. This is the portion of the film that invites the comparisons to Indiana Jones' adventures. It has an exotic locale, it uses ancient history and archaeology, it has a fun and adventurous escape, and there is an evil arch-nemesis in Professor Dieuleveult (Mathieu Amalric, Cosmopolis). It is great fun, but other than one other series of short scenes that have Blanc-Sec attempting to break Espérandieu out of jail (he was arrested for unleashing the pterodactyl), that ends the high adventure piece of the film. I wish there had been more.
Other plot lines involve Inspector Albert Caponi's (Mesrine: Killer Instinct) investigation into the pterodactyl. Caponi is kind of oafish, and seems more interested in eating than in pursuing the case. He's not a bumbling Clouseau type, but he's certainly no Hercule Poirot, either. To help him, he recruits a famous, yet equally doltish, big game hunter, Justin de Saint-Hubert (Jean-Paul Rouve, La Vie en Rose). These two provide what is supposed to be comic relief. There is a political scandal involving a retired Prefect and a can-can dancer, a lovestruck young man who pines for Blanc-Sec, the pterodactyl, Blanc-Sec's sister (and the interesting way she became incapacitated), and Espérandieu's mysterious ability.
Each narrative has its merits and each is entertaining to varying degrees, thanks to the near-caricature nature of each character. It just all so intertwined, the film becomes cluttered. There isn't a need for less-is-more, per se; there is a need for more-of-less-is-more—more Blanc-Sec and less of something else.
Having never been released theatrically in the United States; this video marks the first time the film will be available to the American general public, and the producers have done an excellent job with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec: Director's Cut (Blu-Ray). The 2.35:1 1080p image is sensational. From the pyramids of Egypt in the daytime to the streets of Paris at night, and with all of the intricacy and detail of turn-of-the-century costuming and sets in between, there isn't a flaw to be had here. The clarity is excellent from the DTS-HD 5.1 French audio track as well (I opted to read subtitles rather than listen to dubbing).
Of the three extras, only one stands out. Those that don't are a featurette of Bourgoin singing in a recording studio, and a collection of deleted scenes which are so short, they feel more like excerpts of deleted scenes. The 26-minute long making-of featurette, however, is excellent. It offers interesting interviews with Besson, Tardi, and others, and provides clips, behind-the-scenes videos, and more, and clocks in at a solid 26 minutes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Louise Bourgoin is simply delightful in this role. She's tasked with trying to infuse the attributes of action and adventure leads who have come before her (cinematically), and do so in a point in time that predates them all. She must also be a strong female in an era when females weren't that and be believable doing it. She not only succeeds, she has a spark to her that reminds me of a character that Katharine Hepburn might have played.
Another wonderful facet of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec are the CGI mummies. Yes, plural. In addition to the mummy Blanc-Sec liberates from Egypt, there are other mummies in the Louvre who find themselves reanimated by the film's end. They have some of the best lines in the film, and even though they are CGI, the animators have given them a very Ray Harryhausen feel. Had this film been made in America, surely these mummies would be considered for a spinoff property
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec is one of those films where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. While I was annoyed by pieces throughout, by the time the closing credits rolled, I found myself charmed by the entire experience.
C'est bon. Non coupable.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
• Deleted Scenes
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