Les Adventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) : Rollin In the Deep with Luc Besson
If you're like me, and I assume you are because you're reading this, then you didn't care for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Apart from nuking the fridge and making Indy's adventures an interstellar affair, Spielberg made a film that lacked heart, a surprise from a director who is usually all heart. Between Indy's adventures, trials, and foibles, I needed something more to connect the series of action sequences. What I never would have thought was to look to France, and Luc Besson, for a film to sate my appetite for an adventurous blockbuster with as much introspection as explosions. Les Adventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec (a.k.a The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sac for the French impaired) features a woman who is no wan Indiana Jayne, but rather it paints a portrait of a strong, independently minded woman who is educated, sexy, and clever, in the era directly after World War I, not a time renowned for advances in feminism. She doesn't explore for science or greed or even the discovery, but rather to save her sister's life. .
Adèle Blanc-Sec (Louise Bourgoin) is a writer turned adventurer-journalist, and having returned from her latest trip to the Antarctic, her publisher dispatches her to Peru to uncover the secrets of Machu Picchu. Unbeknownst to them,
Adèle has instead traveled to Egypt where she is tracking down the personal physician of Ramses II, in mummified form, and bringing him back to France where physicist and Egyptologist, Professor Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian), intends to bring him back to life to help
Adèle's ailing sister.However, while Adèle was away, the Professor decided to test his skills by bringing back a 135 million year old pterodactyl which has proceeded to terrorize Paris and incur the wrath of the President (who thinks it may be an anarchist plot). Dispatched to track the prehistoric bird down are the forever famished policeman Inspector Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) and the over-the-top Great White Hunter Justin de Saint-Hubert (Jean-Paul Rouve), but if they off the pterodactyl then the Professor might die with it. It's up to Adèle to use all her wits, charm, guile, and determination if she is to bring her catatonic sister back to the land of the living.
Luc Besson is a film maker/ writer/ producer behind such films as Leon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, and La Femme Nikita, so there is no doubt he can do drama,lavishly appointed sci-fi comedy, and craft a film with a memorable strong female lead. To do this under the auspices of what (almost) amounts to a family friendly film is quite a feat unto itself. (I say almost because quite unexpectedly the heroine gets nude for a bath scene. While certainly acceptable in France, by puritanical American standards it would get this otherwise PG film a R.) While the film starts off a bit shaky and needs narration to bring the opening moments together, once the characters are all set, the film moves at a breakneck pace, and it keeps the action and comedy coming at a steady pace. However, Besson never lets us forget that Adèle's quest is not one born of greed or academics, but rather a mission of mercy. By the time the cause of Adèle 's sister's mysterious malady is revealed, it packs a punch that is both darkly comic and actually informs everything we know of Ms. Blanc-Sec. Clearly Besson took a slice of inspiration from the Indiana Jones films (including more than a few screen-wipes), but he really stayed true to the tone of the French comics by artist-writer Tardi. I read a number of them after watching the film, and I can only hope that the proposed trilogy of films happens and Besson continues to draw from Tardi's magical, steampunky world.
Louise Bourgoin is the linchpin that pulls all the elements of the film together. Not only does she cut an impressive character as the determined adventuress, she shows a tender side and maintains a restrained sexuality (that, as mentioned above, is briefly unleashed). Bourgoin's performance brings together a different kind of heroine that just isn't seen in films nearly enough. Her supporting cast also delivers. Gilles Lellouche is the highlight of the film's comic moments as the ever suffering Inspector Caponi. While he doesn't go overboard (unlike the much needed zanyness of Jean-Paul Rouve's hunter), his reserved slapstick kept me eagerly awaiting his next scene. Nicolas Giraud, who had a small role in 2008's Taken, is also infectious as Adèle's stalkerish fan, and Les Adventures Extraordinaires should be commended in its ability to bring together the myriad of characters into an intersecting story line without feeling forced. Jacky Nercessian, Serge Bagdassarian, and Jean-Paul Rouve lend interesting textures to the film especially Nercessian's scenes with the pterodactyl. I would say there's no wasted characters, but the villainous Dieuleveult, played by Matthieu Amalric, a scientist clearly molded from Paul Freeman's Belloq from Raiders of the Lost Arc, seems to be there for little reason. I assume his role would be expanded in a sequel, but it felt kind of unnecessary. Once his early scene is over, the character is all but dropped until the film's last moments.
In my wildest dreams, Les Adventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec would inspire Hollywood film makers to take more care with their blockbuster offerings. It would prove that there can be more to a bloated action epic than just explosions, and that they could star a character that was more than a thick necked lug, a box office titan, or a snugly attired young lady. Seeing as Les Adventures Extraordinaires made its way to theater screens all over the world, but not the United States, I assume that this will remain a dream. Besson created a film that is intrinsically French, but it captures the kind of movie magic that delights people everywhere. They don't need to even think about remaking this one for American audiences either. I can't think of a single State-side star who could do justice to the role nearly as well as Bourgoin. Except perhaps Audrey Hepburn in her prime, but one would need a time machine and all manner of planning to make that happen. With shades of Indiana Jones, a splash of Night at the Museum, and a heaping helping of classic French broadness, Les Adventures Extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec doesn't nuke the fridge, it stocks it full of tasty goodness.