I guess, in the great scheme of appalling Luc Besson films, LES AVENTURES EXTRAORDINAIRES D’ADELE BLANC-SEC is pretty inoffensive — great swathes of it are even good fun. Any movie turning a pterodactyl and an Egyptian mummy loose in Belle Epoque Paris had better be fun, if it’s going to be anything.
Adding to the pleasures are exquisite design and photography, mostly excellent special effects (but that din-riding scene — oh dear), and Louise Bougoin, who can talk as fast as Lee Tracy and look prettier doing it. The story, such as it is, cobbles together several comic strips by the great Jacques Tardi, including the one about the pterodactyl, which seems to have been inspired by this Max Klinger print —
In turn probably inspired by the ending of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD, a coda transformed out of all proportion in such movie versions as bother to nod to it at all…
Why, given all that’s in the movie’s favour, do I still find it intensely annoying? Maybe because Besson is so lazy — anyone can fold together a bunch of bande dessinees, if he doesn’t care about logic or structure. Everybody else has worked extremely hard to make this film as handsome as it is, but Besson’s contribution to the script feels like it probably took him a week. Furthermore, he still has that dreadful habit of encouraging his actors to do comedy double-takes at the end of scenes, which would be fine if he’d actually bothered to insert anything comedic for them to react to. Still, it beats the comedy double-take enacted in THE MESSENGER, where two English soldiers exchange a comedy glance when invited to participate in the violation of Joan of Arc’s sister’s corpse. That may be the precise moment Besson condemned his immortal soul to Hell, without possibility of reprieve.
There IS a lot of comedy in the film, some of it funny (genuinely terrific joke about the Louvre), some of it laborious or grotesque. An endless sequence of the heroine trying to bust a mad scientist out of jail fizzles out, having occupied our protagonist for much of the film’s “second act” — the time would have been more entertainingly spent watching her shop for her disguises at the boutique of M. Hubert Balls. I’ve just been looking at Andre Hunebelle’s deplorable sixties FANTOMAS films, and they make the same mistake of making the detective a moron, to show off how hip and cool they are — despite the fact that this makes his role in the story useless, a tiresome drag on the narrative progress which would be immeasurably faster and more entertaining with a smart man pushing it ahead. But Besson doesn’t do smart.
As some kind of substitute for wit, he serves up the expected accelerated-motion vooshes through CG fotoscapes, and bullet-time slomo when, with plodding literality, a bullet is fired. Well, “cliché” is a French word.
It’s not clear to me why, with the whole world to play with, Besson had Adele traipse to Egypt, thus reprising chunks of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and his own THE FIFTH ELEMENT, but I will admit to being charmed by his mummies, authentically skinny, leathery specimens taking good advantage of the possibilities of CGI. The Spielberg connection is deepened by his habit of plastering his male actors in prosthetics to turn them into grotesquely veined and liver-spotted, over-detailed versions of Tardi caricatures. This is what Spielberg’s TINTIN is going to look like, only burped out of a computer instead of a latex mould, complete with the four endings, each worse than the one before.
There’s enough going on here, some of it amusing, for you to get some pleasure if you’re habitually less irritated by Besson than I am — for instance, if you like the capering in THE FIFTH ELEMENT and don’t mind it stealing the ending of MOONRAKER (FFS), you’ll probably have a ball. Something about the anti-Bresson just gets on my wick, is all.