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Adapted from one of the few remaining graphic novels not to have made the transition to screen, the story, set in Paris circa 1912, follows the eponymous Adèle (Louise Bourgoin), an intrepid reporter seeking the cure for her mysteriously paralysed sister who sports an unexplained spike protruding from her forehead. Together with her friend Professor Espérandieu (Jacky Nercessian), an eccentric physicist, they hope to awaken a long dead Egyptian medic, mummified for thousands of years in a lost tomb located along the Nile. During this process, Espérandieu inadvertently hatches a pterodactyl egg which proceeds to wreak havoc and mischief in Paris. Naturally, the gendarmerie don’t take too kindly to this and the services of Justin de Saint-Hubert (Jean-Paul Rouve), a renowned big game hunter, are brought in to capture the dinosaur and track down the perpetrator who unleashed it.
All the elements required for a blockbusting adventure romp are there; the period setting, elaborately tailored costumes, exotic locations and the obligatory tourist board approved landmarks. Of course, everything is there apart from a palpably absent vitality, the film an unfortunate mirroring of Adèle’s catatonic sister: the body may be in the room but the soul and spirit are off playing truant instead. For such a fast paced film, it feels oddly sluggish, the side-effect of a meandering plot structure and an unnecessarily protracted final reel.
The dialogue and characterisation are frequently problematic, Adèle’s innate abilities and intelligence unintentionally coming across as arrogant and cold. Whilst this is justified, to some extent, by her desperate plight to resurrect her sister, her sarcastic and damning one-liners eventually become somewhat gruelling, diminishing the sympathetic response that the script tries and fails to invoke. The audience should be behind her every step of the way yet one feels ambivalent and at a distance.
Whilst Adèle Blanc Sec is by no means an outright failure, it rarely charms and cries out for cohesiveness, a stronger marrying of its parts. Younger audiences may marvel at the special effects but, aside from its episodic visual splendour, there isn’t enough conviction to carry what is otherwise a derivative and half-hearted affair, perhaps the strongest indication that it is a Luc Besson film.