Friday, March 7, 2014

Streaming: Luc Besson is back with something different and delightful: THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADÈLE BLANC-SEC

We've been hearing about THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADÈLE BLANC-SEC -- the 2010 film directed, written and associate-produced by Luc Besson -- for several years now, always wondering: Will it ever be released over here? I think it was shown at FIAF in New York City some time back, and of course distributed in most of the rest of the countries around the world. But not here -- until it finally hit DVD in the USA last fall and is now available via Netflix streaming. It's an odd bird of a film, especially for someone known so well for his action movies as is Besson. Yet it has been received rather well throughout the world, and now that we have the chance to finally view "Blanc-Sec," it is easy to understand why.

What this famous French movie-maestro, shown at right, has done is to take the very earliest reason that so many of us folk grew up loving film -- the sense of wide-eyed, childlike spectacle and adventure that movies can provide -- and hand it back to us as adults. This works surprisingly well and so we lap it up all over again.

Set in the early 1900s, the film is lavish in its use of sets and costumes that beautifully whisk us back 150 years.

If the basic story is pretty paint-by-numbers -- intelligent adventuress gets involved in Egyptian tomb robbing, romance (rather one-sided) and a pterodactyl (this is the film's pièce de résistance), the execution of that story is done with such sprightliness and charm (not what you would call M. Besson's calling cards up until now) that we are easily carried along.

Truthfully, this movie is such a very odd compilation of story, style, events and special effects that it resembles little else (certainly little in Besson's catalog). The film it most calls to mind is Belpheghor: Phantom of the Louvre, though  Adèle is better than Belpheghor in every way. Its oddness is actually what keeps us amazed and amused. From the outset, as we watch an event of phaux physics taking place that results in the hatching of said pterodactyl, then take a trip to the Folies Bergère (above), go off for some Egyptian mumbo-jumbo that may bring to mind a female Indiana Jones, events are so fast, furious and far afield that we can only watch, open-mouthed and chuckling.

In the lead role, Besson has cast an upcoming actress, Louise Bourgoin (above, from The Girl from Monaco and Black Heaven) and then surrounded her with some current icons of French cinema -- from an unrecognizable Mathieu Amalric (below) to a nearly unrecognizable Gilles Lellouche (center, further below), among others. Everyone gets into the correct spirit of foolish fun and delivers the right kind of performance to keep the movie's tone on track.

The film boasts two expert pieces of special effect cinema played for all they are worth. One is that pterodactyl, a remarkable piece of work that will keep you glued to the screen, breathless and laughing at the same time. This big bird is a marvel that will scare, charm and finally even move you a bit. (I could find not a single photo of him, either, so you'll just have to watch the movie to see him in action!)

The second "wonder" is a unwrapped mummy -- eventually, an entire horde of them -- who come to life and prove quite the intelligent tourists in the Paris of two centuries past. The mummies are played as much for charm and humor as for any fright factor, and this decision was quite the smart one. I think that the late Ray Harryhausen, bless his special-effect soul, would have loved both these wonderful creations.

What Besson has done is to pretty much re-imagine family entertainment, giving the kids plenty to gape at and laugh at, while their parents get spectacles of another sort: costumes, sets, wittier humor and irony. And all this is live-action, remember.

Even if much of the film does resemble a cartoon, the style, tone and movie-making skills on display render it all into this very odd mixture of goofiness, charm, beauty and child-like delight.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec is available to view now via Netflix streaming & via Amazon Instant Video or DVD/Blu-ray.

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