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The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

Director: Luc Besson
Cast: Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric, Gilles Lellouche, Jean-Paul Rouve, Jacky Nercessian

(US DVD: 13 Aug 2013)

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec is a film based on the French graphic novel of the same name by artist-writer Jacques Tardi. Tardi is a well-known and prolific creator, and his work includes such adult themed books as the WWI screed Goddam This War. His Adele Blanc-Sec books are lighter fare, and seem like perfect material for a movie in the Indiana Jones mode. So they might be, but this outing is more tiresome than entertaining, for a variety of reasons.


The story focuses on a series of uncanny incidents in and around Paris, primarily the appearance of a pterodactyl which has apparently hatched from an egg housed in the Louvre. Before long we’re whisked to Egypt, where the titular Adele is busy digging up ancient sarcophogi and waxing eloquent about ancient history while dodging treacherous Egyptian villains (yawn—no patronizing, postcolonial wish fulfillment here). The story then jerks back to Paris, where some hocus pocus ensues about bringing the dead back to life, which explains the pterodactyl, although it doesn’t explain why experiments aimed at restoring the dead would focus on a 165-million-year-old dinosaur egg, but whatever. If you’re looking for logic, this is the wrong movie for you.


Mixed in with all this is some quote comic relief unquote in the form of a big game hunter and a number of bumbling policemen, who are busy tracking the dinosaur with the aim of putting a bullet in its brain. This is just a sideshow, though, as the main story revolves around Adele’s attempt to revive the dead Egyptian mummy whose arcane knowledge will allow Adele’s comatose sister (injured in a freak accident) to come back to life. Raise your hand if you’re confused.


Rather than trying to make sense of the Byzantine plot, it’s probably just better to sit back and enjoy the pretty pictures—they really are pretty—and not think too hard about anything. If the malicious representations of nefarious Egyptians bothers you, well, good luck with that, but at least the scenes in Egypt don’t last too long. And to be honest, there are plenty of portrayals of stupid Frenchmen too.


Meanwhile, there are things to enjoy here. The movie looks great, for starters; its vision of early-20th-century Paris is lovely. Special effects are perfectly adequate, with the pterodactyl and, later, the array of reanimated mummies stealing the show. There are comical moments and occasional bits of suspense, and the flashback illustrating the accident with Adele’s sister is well done.


Balancing this, though, are many problems. Much of the humor is painfully overdone, with hammy performances from an array of supposedly comic characters. The Egyptians, as mentioned, are repulsive, and the plot ports a bewildering array of logical holes. The filmmakers are apparently afraid to let the audience decide for itself whether or not they are being entertained, so the score hits the audience over the head like a laugh track: This bit is whimsical! This bit is hilarious!


None of this would matter so much if the movie had any kind of charm or lightness to it, but it doesn’t, largely because of the character of Adele herself. Louise Bourgoin, who is pretty enough and embodies a likeable verve, is also unpleasantly shrewish in her manner; her voice is sharp and grating, and she comes off as frankly unpleasant much of the time. Perhaps she is supposed to be feisty or strong-willed, a tough gal in a world of men, but she’s simply unkind more than anything else—to her assistants, to her landlady, to everyone but her sister. She isn’t anyone I particularly want to be with for 90 minutes, never mind a character I’m supposed to be actively rooting for.


The DVD/blu-ray combo pack offers options for the dialogue, including the original French supplemented by English subtitles. This was my choice for the initial run-through, but later I watched again with the English voices dubbed in, wondering if a different voice would render Adele more palatable. My finding was: no, not really.


Extras are significant, especially the 26-minute featurette on the making of the movie. This relies rather heavily on self-congratulatory interviews with Bourgoin and director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), but is diverting nonetheless for its behind-the-scenes footage and peeks at how 1911 Paris was recreated for the film. Two minutes’ worth of deleted scenes are also included, which add little, and a brief feature on the film’s theme song, which adds less.


It’s tough to recommend The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Brlanc-Sec to any but the most indiscriminate of viewers. There are better movies out there, including better ones for kids, but perhaps parents tiring of the usual Hollywood product will find something diverting here. It’s too bad that this isn’t better, as there are inventive elements sprinkled in among the mush, but ultimately this is just too strident and overwrought to be enjoyable.

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DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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