RE:View The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-SecThe Dark Herald
America invented the comic book and gave it to the world.
Which is a good thing because we kinda suck at it now.
There isn’t a lot the traditional publishers can do about it at this point. Fredric Wertham came along just as American comics were finding their way out of the it’s- just-kid-stuff ghetto in the 1950s. Admittedly, EC Comics were shlock garbage but you gotta start somewhere. Thanks to the Comic Book Code, the kid’s stuff ghetto was where American comics were forced to stay for decades. When things finally relaxed enough to start getting around the comic’s code it was too late. American comics were tied to inextricably tied to superheroes. The Vertigo line from DC did its best to break out of this mold in the 1990s but by then it was too late. The market share was diminishing, and it was smarter for the comic book publishers to put their chips on safer bets. And more importantly, Marvel and DC comics were locked into a niche by the expectations of American culture.
French comics on the other hand, have never shied away from more adult themes. They developed their own voice and their own vision, free of the constraints that shackled American artists and writers.
Part of American comic art’s problem is the format the customer base came to expect for decades. The one that the American trad-pub comics industry is built around. The 24-page pamphlet. Every story or chapter of a story has to be done in 24-pages or less.
Japanese Mangas, on the other hand, is released in huge books in a 5 x 7-inch format. French comics are released in 50-page albums in a huge 8.4 x 11.6-inch footprint. The artwork, not unnaturally, heavily leaned towards the art nouveau school.
The medium is the message, and these mediums affected the kind of stories that COULD be told in each format. More importantly, which stories couldn’t.
Adele Blanc-Sec has been around for a while. In fact, she nearly predates Metal Hurlant (Heavy Metal for us Americans). She was steampunk before steampunk was a thing. That isn’t surprising because there were still living memories of the Belle Epoch when she was first published. Adele was a not overly attractive young reporter who smoked like a chimney and had adventures that were as bizarre as they were fantastic.
Speaking of bizarre and fantastic, it took a French comic book fanatic and cinematic lunatic Luc Besson to bring her to the screen. Besson is the man who brought us The Fifth Element and while that kind of money wasn’t spent on Adele Blanc-Sec, it is very much in that vein.
A one sentence review of this film would be, “if liked you Fifth Element, you’ll like this one too… Probably.
The film opens in Paris of the 1890s, with a professor (in exceptionally old man make up) psychically linking himself to a pterodactyl and raising it from the dead.
I mentioned the Fifth Element guy was the director, right? Okay, moving along.
The tourist from the Jurassic takes flight and for some reason attacks the car of the Chief of the Police, knocking the car along with the Chief, his mistress, and the chauffeur into the Seine. Thus, creating a little bit of public relations problem for the Paris PD.
We bounce away from that all the way to Egypt where we meet our heroine for the first time. She is after a very specific mummy. But then she runs into her worst enemy just as she reaches her objective. This scene feels very much like a call back to the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, this subplot is based on one of her early stories (which I admit I haven’t read) so it could be Lucas and Spielberg who ripped off Jaques Tardi. Adele eventually escapes riding a sarcophagus down the Nile, while her enemy screams in rage.
Not a bad start, regardless. And thank god there is no origin story.
It turns out the reason Adele was after the mummy was because he was the greatest physician in history and she needs him to bring her sister out of a coma. There is the whole matter of him being dead, but Adele likes to handle one problem at a time.
Inspector Clouseau’s grandfather appears to be running the inquiry into the Chief’s untimely demise. Through bumbling luck, he finds his way to the ancient professor who raised the flying dinosaur from the dead. He arrests him for murder, although the murder-weapon seems problematic in my opinion. Regardless, murder was little more serious business in guillotine era France. Things are looking a little bleak for the Ancient Professor.
However, the whole raise something from dead thing has caught Adele’s interest. Her mummified Egyptian physician could use a little more get up and go. She sets about planning to spring the Professor.
And that is all of the plot you are getting.
The character of film is French absurdist. Although the action scenes are up to Besson’s usual standard.
There is a stylistic use of prosthetic make-up to render quite a few of the main characters as caricatures, strongly resembling the characters from the original comic. This is most heavily used for the villains of the film.
Adele is very much a strong female character. And by that I mean she is reasonably well layered as a character, she is quite female and quite feminine. She is also courageous, stubborn and relentless. What she is not is a pixie-ninja. When she defeats her male opponents, she does so by outsmarting them. She doesn’t beat the crap out of them. She doesn’t mind attracting the male gaze will occasionally throw herself at man if she thinks he has earned it.
The one problem this film has is a lack of directed antagonism towards Adele. The bad guy in Egypt immediately drops out of the movie for most of it’s run time. Another baddie eventually shows up to hunt the pterodactyl but eventually gets replaced by the guy from Egypt.
From that perspective it’s a mess but truth be said, Besson has never really concerned himself with narrative structure and neither do you when you are watching one of his films. His specialty is stuff like this.
“It culminates in a delirious finale involving cops, big game hunters, flying dinosaurs, and of course tea-sipping gentleman mummies with advanced cravat-knotting skills.” The Extraordinary Adventure of Adele Blanc-Sec is an absurd steampunk rollercoaster. More whimsical than funny but it is very much in keeping with the French comics traditions that created it.
The Dark Herald Recommends with Enthusiasm
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