The Revision: The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

Jacques Tardi’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec takes place in the early 20th century and follows the beautiful and savvy writer Adèle as she faces down all kinds of pulp fiction tropes. She’s no-nonsense while tackling mysteries of strange cults and newly hatched pterodactyls.

Adèle is always the smartest person the in the room. She outwits criminals and authority figures because it’s not hard for her. Tardi isn’t heavy-handed when it comes to people (mostly men) underestimating Adèle because she’s a woman, but that’s definitely present. It’s entertaining

The cover of The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec Vol. 1

The biggest thing that struck me this time reading the comic was just how funny it is. Things escalate into chaos quite often. There’s a very slow car chase. Characters wear a variety of disguises. While there’s some blood, most of the violence is slapstick and absurd. In “The Mad Scientist,” characters are constantly being knocked out by being bonked on the head. Once, it’s funny. After the third time, it becomes hilarious.

Adèle is Tardi at his most mischievous best. He’s having fun so you’re going to have fun. While the comic sometimes dabbles in darker things — I mentioned the cults — it’s all done with a light enough touch that it never feels heavy. Tardi’s strong and intricate lines communicate both action and emotion well and his panel layouts have a dynamic flow. It’s a comic that’s a blast to read and one I was disappointed when I finished it.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) is probably Luc Besson having the most fun I’ve seen him have as a director. His love for the source material is clear (he also wrote the adaptation) and he more or less made a children’s movie out of Tardi’s comics (the U.S. release doubles down on this, removing some pretty innocent nudity and much of Adèle’s smoking) but it works. While a lot of the satirical humor of the comic is a bit muted here, Louise Bourgoin’s winning performance as the title character carries this movie very far.

Vaguely adapting both “Adèle and the Beast” (called “Pterror Over Paris” in the Fantagraphics release) and “Mummies on Parade,” Adèle seeks to revive the mummy of an Egyptian doctor with the aid of Professor Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian) in order to save her sister’s life.

I understand Besson’s intention in giving Adèle more of a backstory and making her into more of an active heroine, but I did miss Adèle’s above-it-all detachment. Bourgoin is all charm, though, and her eye-rolling and sighing at the men who are wasting her time by getting in her way are delightful. She’s a treat here.

Nercessian looks pulled straight from the comic, and Nicolas Giraud works well enough as the lovelorn Andrej Zborowski, but most of the cast isn’t particularly notable overall. This is Bourgoin’s movie and everyone knows it.

The effects are a purposeful throwback to earlier adventure movies. It uses computer-generated effects made to look like stop-motion, but it works with the material. It’s not meant to be taken too seriously. The mummies, who leave their Lourve exhibit to go explore Paris, definitely evoke Ray Harryhausen. It’s all in good fun.

While I admire Besson’s incorporating the humor of the comic, some of the jokes fall flat. Inspector Albert Caponi (Gilles Lellouche) is constantly hungry because he’s overweight (or something?) and an off-camera guillotine gag feels incredibly out of place. The movie is less than 110 minutes but is a bit flabby in the middle. I think Besson’s deviations from the source material, while necessary in places, are the weaker parts of the movie.

Still, I like watching Bourgoin wear period clothes while going up against people who get in her way. She has a sensitive fearlessness that works well for this take on the character. In the end, it’s maybe not a faithful adaptation but taken on its own terms, it’s a good-natured take on the comic.