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The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec(2010)
Adèle Blanc-Sec is a cynical novelist of popular fiction, who turns to investigative journalism as her research and subsequent adventures reveal further details of the mystical world of crime in Paris during the years before and after World War I.
For more about The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec and the The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Blu-ray release, see the The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on September 1, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Louise Bourgoin, Mathieu Amalric, Gilles Lellouche, Philippe Nahon, Jean-Paul Rouve, Nicolas Giraud
Director: Luc Besson
» See full cast & crew
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Blu-ray Review
. . .or the slightly naughtier adventures of Indiana Jones' female French cousin.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, September 1, 2013
Note: Shout! Factory engaged in the relatively rare (and some might argue questionable) approach of releasing the theatrical version of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec in August, only to follow up quickly with this Director's Cut version appearing just a few weeks later. Since the content is only minimally changed (another reason this approach may be questionable), this review will repeat some content from the first review. A discussion of the differences between the versions is found below.
Luc Besson was not particularly pleased to be lumped in with a movement that a French film critic called cinema du look, but there's little doubt that this prolific writer, producer and director offers visual delights by the handful when he helms features—at least for the most part. As if to prove that he could focus on substance at least as much as style, Besson's 2011 biographical film The Lady , about Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was a fairly restrained, almost elegiac, account of her long struggle to achieve democracy and basic human rights for her native country. But even a cursory glance at the bulk of Besson's other work indicates that as a director Besson often favors eye candy, which some audience members will love while others may disparage, claiming it's a diversionary tactic to draw attention away from a lack of actual content. Personally, I think that's at least a bit unfair. Even when Besson is at his showiest—in films like The Fifth Element or even The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc—Besson usually delivers at least a modicum of plot and character, though it's probably true that these two elements (no pun intended) tend to fade a bit in the light of Besson's often overwhelming visual style. Besson has stated that The Fifth Element was born out of his love of French comic books that he grew up on, and that same love seems to have inspired his adaptation of the popular comics cum graphic novels by Jacques Tardi about an early 20th century reporter and adventuress named Adèle Blanc-sec. Basing a film on what is already a two dimensional inherently cartoonish source has the added benefit of removing any real need to create "realistic" characters or plots. Perhaps that's one reason why The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-sec is such a charming film, at least most of the time. It's certainly as visually spectacular as many other Besson outings, but it doesn't pretend to be anything other than a breezy, semi-comic adventure film that plays somewhat like a distaff version of Indiana Jones.
In the making of featurette included as a supplement on this Blu-ray, Besson mentions that Tardi had already sold the film rights to another director—"a very good director" in Besson's own words—and so Besson thought that this opportunity had already passed him by. I'd personally love to know who Tardi's first choice was, for it seems inconceivable that someone else could have done a better job of translating a comic book to film than Besson does with his version. The film has a rather sly sense of humor, one which perfectly mimics Tardi's own dry humor, and Besson gets to his main plot through a variety of bridging episodes which play out like a virtual maze (at least in the film's opening scenes), something that again mirrors some of the aspects of the original Tardi comics.
A drunken man stumbles through the largely vacant streets of Paris in the middle of the night circa 1911. He stops at an ornate gilded statue to relieve himself and is amazed at a lightshow that emanates from the statue which almost resembles the Aurora Borealis. It turns out that that is the after effect of a bizarre experiment being done by an ancient professor named Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian, made up to resemble the most ancient version of Keir Dullea in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Espérandieu is exerting "mind control" on various objects and we first meet him as he levitates in his ornate Paris apartment, surrounded by a variety of ancient objects which twirl about him like satellites orbiting a heavenly body. We soon realize that Espérandieu has made contact with the consciousness of a long (as in long) gestating pterodactyl egg housed within the Paris Botanical Society. The hatchling breaks out of its shell and wreaks havoc in the glass domed building before flying out into the Paris skies.
Meanwhile a prominent French prefect has seduced a Moulin Rouge showgirl and the two are heading off to an eventual assignation in the prefect's limousine, which unfortunately is beset upon by the pterodactyl, leading to tragedy. Equally unfortunately, the drunk man witnesses it all, and the police do not exactly believe his account of the accident, especially since he's obviously highly inebriated. It's only at this point that we actually meet Adèle (Louise Bourgoin), and it's once again by virtue of an anecdotal incident concerning yet another supporting character, Andrej Zoborowski (Nicolas Giraud), a worker at the Botanical Gardens who happens to have a major crush on Adèle and who managed to meet her—albeit very briefly and awkwardly—at a book signing she held to autograph her latest tome.
Finally at this point (which frankly is not all that far into the film, indicative of how quickly Besson moves through establishing characters and interrelationships) we find Adèle on an expedition to Egypt, despite the fact that her publisher thinks she's in Peru. Adèle, like a distaff Indiana Jones, has tracked down a long hidden tomb of Ramses II, and is intent on finding the mummy of the pharoah's doctor. Only through subsequent revelations are we finally made aware that Adèle is struggling to help her twin sister who has been effectively lobotomized by a freak accident while playing tennis. Espérandieu also factors into this scheme, as Adèle had been planning on using the professor's telepathic abilities to reactivate the pharoah's doctor, who in turn would hopefully be able to cure Adèle's zombiefied sister.
Things approach farcical levels when a bumbling police inspector (Gilles Lellouche) and a big game hunter (Jean-Paul Rouve) try to capture or kill the pterodactyl, which has caused massive panic around Paris (this is rather fascinatingly similar to events in the French animated feature A Monster in Paris 3D). This also ultimately leads to Espérandieu, who is quickly imprisoned as a scapegoat, putting a temporary kibosh on Adèle's plans. It's all patently ridiculous, of course, as many comic books often are, but Besson approaches the material with great good humor and without a hint of post-modern irony. There's no winking at the audience throughout this film, at least not in a cynical way. Instead, the screenplay is full of wordplay and some great punch lines.
The film is elegantly appointed with beautiful production design and especially costumes which admirably bring the closing days of the Belle Époque to life. Besson uses some generally well done CGI throughout the film, literally and figuratively animating not just the pterodactyl but, later, a horde of resuscitated Egyptian mummies. The performances, while awfully broad at times (as befits the general tone of the film), are excellent, headed by the lovely Louise Bourgoin as Adèle. Bourgoin toes a fine line between pluckiness and vulnerability (the latter especially in evidence in scenes with her sister), and creates a surprisingly believable, sympathetic character. She also does fine in some comic moments, specifically a long sequence where she adopts a variety of disguises to try to free Espérandieu from prison.
The film still struggles occasionally with pacing issues, and it probably could have been trimmed by at least ten minutes to no great detriment. But this is an effervescent, charmingly ebullient entertainment that reestablishes Besson as one of the most visually appealing directors of his generation.
So what are the differences between the two versions? The theatrical cut runs 1:44:56 and this Director's Cut runs 1:46:57, which you math majors have probably already figured out accounts for barely two minutes of extra footage. And what is that comprised of? A few fleeting boob shots, for the most part, but those who are seeking this out for prurient reasons are going to be mightily disappointed, as nothing much is really ever shown. At a bit past the hour mark, our heroine tells her catatonic sister she needs to take a bath. In the theatrical version, the film then cuts to a shot from the rear showing Adèle in the bathtub. In this version, we see her smoking a cigarette and stripping in front of the mummy. This scene shows absolutely nothing, but may titillate the necrophiliacs out there (and you know who you are). Then we get a few more lingering shots of Adèle in the tub than in the theatrical version, including from the front, though again, nothing much is seen since the water comes up so high. There's also a bit more of her full body on display when she jumps out of the tub in this version, but literally only a moment's worth. Why this wasn't handled through seamless branching on the original release is anyone's guess (can you say "double dipping"?), as it seems that that technology could have easily handled these few additions. (For the intensely curious, I've included two screenshots from this brief added sequence. They're in positions 18 and 19.)
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-sec is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Shout! Factory with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.34:1, one which to my eyes is exactly the same as the theatrical version, save for the extra two minutes of footage. This is a virtually flawless transfer with a sumptuous visual allure, one filled with beautiful amber drenched sequences in Egypt and some cool blue tones in the Parisian segments. Fine detail is exceptional, revealing some fineries in the sets and costumes even in midrange shots. Colors are beautifully saturated and accurate looking. There are some very minor issues with shadow detail in some of the nighttime scenes, and at least one clunky use of CGI (when the pterodactyl picks up Espérandieu from the guillotine), but otherwise this high definition presentation is a real beauty.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As with the theatrical version release, there are four audio options available, listed in the specs above. While The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-sec features a new English dub in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 that might be preferable to those who don't like subtitles, I still recommend sticking with the original French language track, also presented via DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. While the dubbing isn't overly problematical, there are enough glaring differences between lip movements and spoken word to be distracting at times, plus if you're conversant in French, you'll pick up more of the fun wordplay that's involved that doesn't really come through in translation. One way or the other, you can't really go wrong with either of these mixes, both of which offer excellent fidelity and some fun immersive effects. The sequence in the tomb is a great example, where various booby traps spring, with attendant discrete channelization of effects, and then later when Adèle and the mummy go for a crazy ride through a whirlpool when the side and rear channels are fully engaged. The pterodactyl sequences also have some great panning effects. There's a spritely score by Éric Serra that also fills the surrounds quite nicely. Dynamic range is extremely wide, with some nice uses of LFE.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The same supplements which were on the theatrical version release are also included on this release:
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
My unqualified recommendation of this film remains intact, and so the only real question is, which version is preferable and is double dipping recommended? To the second question I personally give an adamant "no"; if you own the first version, there's no real reason to get this, unless you are really determined to see about a nanosecond of Bourgoin's upper areola (and that is all you're going to see). The first question comes down to taste. If you're a parent who doesn't want a child to see even a pretty non-objectionable shot of a semi-naked female, stick with the theatrical version. If you don't have kids, or aren't that concerned, you may simply want this version since you're ostensibly getting more bang for your buck. Either way, this Blu-ray comes Highly recommended.
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