Film - Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

Adele poster

Susan Omand heads for Edwardian Paris avec subtitles to watch The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec...

"Now we've mastered the unbelievable, let's perform the impossible"

It’s Friday night. There’s nothing much on the telly and you’re looking for something to pass a couple of hours, what do you do? Me, I take a punt on a film I know absolutely nothing about on Amazon Prime. That’s how I came to watch The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, a 2010 film directed by one of my favourite directors, Luc Besson.

It’s November 1911 and Ferdinand Choupard is wandering home through the streets of Paris after a good night of cards and drinking. Caught short, he stops to relieve himself at a statue but, mid...erm... flow, the statue appears to light up. The mystery lights in fact come from the flat behind the statue, which belongs to Professor Marie-Joseph Esperandieu who has been conducting experiments to reanimate the dead and, indeed, he had written a book called Is There Life After Death. At the same instant as the lights flashed in his apartment, rendering him unconscious, across the river in the museum a very large egg in a very large glass case hatches. Prof Esperandieu starts to squawk as the pterodactyl (yes really) breaks out of the egg and the exhibit case. It appears the pterodactyl and the professor are connected in some way as it starts to fly and breaks though the museum ceiling, soaring around Paris while Police Inspector Albert Caponi sleeps through the lot. He is a highly decorated police officer, who received his medal a few years earlier from the ex Prefect (Mayor)Raymond Pointrenaud who, at that moment is entertaining a cancan dancer in the back of his car, which is subsequently crashed into by the pterodactyl. (With me so far?)

Meanwhile, Mademoiselle Adele Blanc Sec, an author of adventure books, has been sent to Peru by her publishers to unravel the mystery of the last Incas. However, she listens to her instincts more than her publisher and is currently riding through Egypt on a camel. They come to an encampment and Adele meets a couple of dodgy looking characters with “treasure.” They descend a ladder into an underground antechamber, leading to a mummy’s tomb and use the treasure, symbols on a parchment, to open the tomb door, out of which oozes oil. The bandits hold her at gunpoint until she points out quite how flammable the oil is. She pours some sand on a scale to open a secret trapdoor and they discover the real tomb of the mummy. The bandits loot the tomb’s gold as Adele is only interested in the mummy itself. The treasure is, of course, cursed and, of course, she isn’t the only one after the mummy, a doctor to Rameses II, as the evil Prof Dieleveult, resplendent in the regulation black fedora and floor length black coat of a bad guy, enters the tomb. She explains to him that she needs the doctor’s help to cure her sister. She is going to use the book written by the aforementioned Prof Esperandieu, Is There Life After Death, to reanimate the Doctor so he can help.

Adele scales

Adele is tied up and taken away by Dieleveult’s henchmen. As her last request before she is shot, she asks for a cigarette and sets fire to the oil in the tomb, diving into the mummy’s sarcophagus to escape down a waterfall and through an underground river to surface in a lake just outside the encampment. She uses the sarcophagus, still occupied by the mummy, as a canoe and heads back to Cairo.

Meanwhile, back in Paris, Ferdinand Choupard is in the police station trying to explain about the pterodactyl crashing into the ex Prefect’s car. He is thrown in the drunk tank as the police force try to find out what really happened, having been warned to keep it low key. Needless to say it’s hit all the headlines the next day and the French President, who has seen the pterodactyl for himself, asks for the government to deal with it. They phone the police commissioner who puts Inspector Caponi on the case (see how this is tying together now?)

The scientists at the museum, and a young scientist from the Botanic Gardens who has a crush on Adele, have discovered the broken egg and the pterodactyl has discovered Professor Esperandieu and they are busy making friends when the Inspector comes to his door. The professor hides the pterodactyl behind some curtains but it escapes after the inspector starts eating hard boiled eggs for lunch and the professor is declared “deranged” and taken off to prison.

Adele and her mummy have, in the meantime, returned from Egypt. Once back home, she opens the bedroom door to reveal her sister propped up in bed, strung up by a contraption and with a hat spike through her brain, this being the cause of her malady. Adele unpacks the mummy into a case in the bedroom and goes looking for the professor. As she is about to leave she bumps into the young scientist, who tells her about the pterodactyl and the professor’s incarceration. She masquerades as the Professor’s lawyer to speak to him in the prison. He tells her that his technique works, the pterodactyl is proof, and she is pleased that the Mummy will be easy after that. However, the professor says he must stop the pterodactyl first as he is connected to it but can’t control it while he sleeps and its killer instinct takes over. However, first she has to break him out of jail before he is executed and before a famous hunter, recalled from Africa by the Inspector, kills the pterodactyl, currently residing at the top of the Eiffel Tower, so that the mummy can be reanimated and save her sister.

Hunter

If this hadn’t been in French ... did I mention this was actually IN French with subtitles? ... and directed by Luc Besson with a female protagonist, it would be a cross between Night at the Museum and an Indiana Jones film but directed by Terry Gilliam at his Monty Python best. I’ll let that sink in for a moment because that’s just as much batshit (pterodactylshit?) weird as it sounds. Besson also wrote the screenplay, based on a 1970’s and 80’s French comic book series of the same name, getting assistance from the original comic book artist Jacques Tardi. The humour, therefore, is suitably “French” if you know what I mean. Think of Jacques Tati or M Hulot’s farcical escapades and you get the idea, especially when Adele tries to help the Professor escape prison using various disguises and the Inspector and hunter dress up as sheep and get covered in pterodactyl vomit. But it also had its darker, melancholy moments so indicative of a Besson film, as well as some wonderfully surreal supernatural magic. So it didn’t matter at all to me that it was in French, that I had to read subtitles or that I didn’t recognise any of the actors, as the action and plot carried the film at full speed, never boring, and the cinematography and set dressing were utterly beautiful, especially in the flights over Paris and the effects, especially with the mummies, were very well done.

So all in all a surprising but delightful find for my evening’s entertainment and something I would never have expected from Besson, more known for his darker action films such as Leon, Subway and Nikita and certainly not known for pterrorising pterodactyls, tea-drinking mummies and fanciful farce. But it was great fun and, if you do view it, remember to keep watching after the end credits, that’s all I’ll say.

Images - IMDb