Silly Putty

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 —

It’s even the same aspect ratio as Besson’s film.

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…

Tardi’s titles, as well as his stories, are shorter.

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.

13 Responses to “Silly Putty”

  1. It’s not just Besson who “doesn’t do smart” in the commercial cinema anymore. This appears to be a “period” version of A Night At The Museum — which was a balantant ripoff of Gore Vidal’s beyond brilliant The Smithsonian Institution — which because of it will never be filmed.

    But who’s out there who could do it? Raul Ruiz is prepping to check out and Alain Resnais isn’t getting anymore physically dexterous. When he was here in L.A. two weeks ago Lambert Wilson showed my just how contorted Resnais’ body has become due to a debilitating bone disease — though his spirts are great and he’s still working. But not I suspect for much longer.

  2. Ruiz appears to be busier than ever after Mysteries of Lisbon and cancer treatment. Long may he reign.

    Although this does feature museum exhibits coming to life, it isn’t exactly like Night at the Museum, or, needless to say, The Smithsonian Institution. But it is a cut-and-paste of anything and everything. In making his protagonists a journalist and a detective, Tardi no doubt was following Feuillade. I doubt Besson is even aware of that.

  3. Arthur S. Says:

    Terry Gilliam might be good. Though ideally he ought to be adapting the terrific League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics which were most unjustly maligned in the terrible movie version. At the end of the comic you have Moriarty, of Sherlock Holmes fame, fighting Fu Manchu in an aerial battle over London. The movie replaces this with crap.

  4. Ruiz is back on his feet? Great news! Marvelous man, marvelous filmmaker, and I’ve never seen anyone capable of putting away more liquor without the slighest sign of getting drunk.

    Terry Gilliam needs no particular context to bring on the pterodactyls. Wish he had more opportunities to make movies.

  5. Arthur S. Says:

    He’s trying real hard to get his legendary Don Quixote movie to life. Apparently he got Robert Duvall as The Knight of the Sorrowful Face and Ewan MacGregor as his 21st Century Sancho Panza and Jeremy Thomas of Bertolucci and Oshima fame on board until it fell through.

    Which is odd because his Mr. Parnassus movie was an unexpected success and probably his biggest hit since 12 MONKEYS.

  6. Ruiz is apparently filming right now —

    Duvall as Quixote is appealing… as long as he doesn’t trot out the adenoidal English accent last heard in The 7% Solution. Since they didn’t mind Jean Rochefort’s thick French accent, no reason he can’t play it American.

    Besson, with his generally high standards of production design and costume, is a reasonable choice to helm a Tardi adaptation. Just not to write it. Likewise, the cataclysmic errors made on LOXG were mainly a matter of script. Stephen Norrington’s deafening direction didn’t help, but he was already working with crap (and hastened Sean Connery’s retirement with his obnoxiousness).

  7. Christopher Says:

    too bad..looks terrific..too bad even in france they have trouble injecting some real meat into the razzle dazzle..

  8. Christian Vadim’s mother is Catherine Deneuve. Chiara Mastorinanni is his half-sister.

  9. Since Milla Jovovich ditched him, Besson is injecting his meat into his producer these days.


  10. red skelington Says:

    Rather pleasingly an advert for ‘water soluble film’ has been inserted into this post for me, which I can only take as some kind of oblique summation of Besson’s ouef (sic)

  11. Beautiful! The poetry of the internet.

  12. Fingers crossed that Ruiz’s health continues to improve. He directed a play in Chile a few months ago and announced an ambitious filming schedule there and in Portugal for the coming months:

  13. I’m crossing all available fingers at this point. Slows up the typing speed, but it’s worth it.

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