I thought that I’d heard of pretty much every film that French director/producer Luc Besson had directed…and had seen the VAST majority of them. Notable ‘stand outs’ in his filmography include ‘The Big Blue’ (1988), ‘La Femme Nikita’ (1991),’ Leon The Professional’ (1994) and ‘The Fifth Element’ (1997). Last I had heard, Besson was elbow-deep in producing, seemingly retired from the directors chair. Then, purely by chance, I come across mention of THIS quirky little French gem in an article, with none other that Mr. Besson himself behind the lens. This charmingly bizarre ‘period’ fantasy film seemingly takes the majority of it’s comic book sensibilities from Belgium’s ‘The Adventures of TInTin’ comics (which I loved as a kid, and still do…despite the blatant racism). In the strange case of this flick, the plot reads a little something like this:
So, it’s 1911. It’s the centre of Paris. Due to the accidental psychic meddling of an elderly researcher, a large, mysterious prehistoric egg (on display in The Louvre) suddenly hatches, releasing….a friggin pterodactyl!! Which proceeds to ‘mind-meld’ with the dottering old man, and promptly flies off. Meanwhile, in Egypt, the daring and intrepid adventuress, Adele Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin…looking like a French Keira Knightly), has embarked on a perilous quest to break into a tomb…to steal the mummy of a powerful pharoah’s personal physician!!! Along the way, there is a ton of traps, tricks and traitors!! As it is soon revealed, Miss Adele Blanc-Sec intends to have her pterodactyl-resurrecting researcher buddy somehow bring her stolen mummy back from the dead, so that he can (hopefully) cure Adele’s catatonic sister, the poor victim of a terrible tennis match/long-ass hair pin-through-the-skull accident. And then…things get weird!
This movie would never’ve gotten made in North America…the sheer quirkiness alone would keep it at an arms length from Hollywood. That…and the fact that this movie has no clearly defined target audience. It can go from totally Kid Appropriate to NOT in a heart beat. One moment, the young ‘uns would be enthralled with watching a rather horrific-looking flying dinosaur make friends with a cute, kidnapped doggie…only to wonder moments later why they are seeing Miss Adele Blanc-Sec’s boobies in the bathtub. Or they’ll laugh and cheer as Adele rides said dinosaur through the skies of Paris like some deranged Mary Poppins…only to have her comical ‘prison break’ shenanigans result in an accidental guillotine beheading. But I have to say…it’s THAT weird mash-up of ‘flavors’ that kept my attention. It was silly, absurd and fun.
In many respects, I was reminded of the work of one of my favorite (other) French directors, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Films like ‘Amelie'(2001),’ A Very Long Engagement’ (2004), and ‘MicMacs’ (2009); movies which also embraced the high-budget ‘absurd’…just with a slightly darker, heavier hand.
It’s still pretty clear that Besson is still able to command some serious money to make his esorteric fantasy films, because many of the visual effects are very cool in this one. Not all…but most. This flick features a small army of very personable mummies that wish to ‘see the sights’ post resurrection, and the ‘motion capture’ on the individual undead is great. They’re played as just more of the ‘normal strangeness’ that inhabits Miss Adele Blanc-Sec’s extraordinary life, and the detailing on the effects really help sell the amusing illusion.
With regards to ‘illusion’, I have to give props to Besson and his production designers for their commendable job in bringing 1911 Paris to larger-than-life. The costumes and styles are sweet, along with the myriad of ‘period’ sets and vehicles.
I know virtually nothing about the cast of this flick…and I’m all the better for it. It made the characters able to just be the characters. Besson has filled this flick with a cast of really interesting-looking actors, who seem to completely understand the ‘joke’ of the film’s tone. They all throw themselves into the roles and really pull the viewer into their comic book-like cinematic tale of danger, intrigue, derring-do!!!…and dinosaurs. With mummies. And….other fantastical…stuff.
All in all, I quite enjoyed discovering ‘Les Aventures Extraordinaires D’Adèle Blanc-Sec’. It was a fun, ‘out-of-the-box’ fantasy film that looked great, had charming and strange characters, a real sense of ‘Why the hell not?!’, and a story where you really couldn’t see where it was going…but it was fun finding out. If you’re a more discerning filmgoer, and can handle subtitles, this flick is worth seeing. It’s a good change of pace from a lot of the Hollywood dreck that gets frequently spewed across screens these days.
*Stick around for the credits. There’s an entire scene hidden in among them that amusingly fills in a big gap from the 3rd Act.
**Still not sure how I feel about the last place we see Miss Adele Blanc-Sec. Depending on your frame of mind, it could either be seen as fun ‘wink wink’ adventure stuff…or as a manipulative ‘downer’. Depends on YOU, I guess.