Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bande Dessinée

I'm always getting a nervous itch when an American director tries his hand at an established piece of European culture.
So with the threat of Spielberg’s version of Tintin looming ahead, let’s cast a glance at how the French* fared in their own treatment of their comic-art heritage:

Blueberry is a highly successful Wild-West comic that comes in different cycles: Lt. Blueberry, Marshall Blueberry, Mr. Blueberry and Young Blueberry (for a timetable see here: Click). The movie Blueberry is a very loose adaptation of the comic, that after a promising start which reminds us that Europe once had a thriving Western movie industry, slowly succumbs to a convoluted new-age mystery plot. At the end there’s so few left of the original figure that one can only assume that all the makers were interested in was a popular name to tag on a otherwise completely mediocre story.

Working our way up from there we meet another French comic institution, Michel Vaillant.
A surprisingly entertaining, more faithful movie than Blueberry. There are times when the makers sacrifice realism in order to give their character a bigger than life appearance but nothing that would seriously hurt the story flow. My only real gripe with the movie was the drastic changes made to the character of Julie Wood, a fairly prominent secondary figure from the comic strip.

Going up in time and quality we come to Largo Winch. A fine example of how action movies have to be constructed. We get a continuous build-up of suspense and a story that gains both speed and depth over its runtime, right up to the not completely surprising but logical conclusion.
Largo Winch is a highly welcome deviation from the Bay school of movie making that doesn't simply rely on throwing money at something but actually builds on characterization.

To be counted as best comic to movie adaptation is most likely Les chevaliers du ciel, the movie by Taxi director Gérard Pirès is in all but name a mostly faithful take on the popular military adventure comic series Les aventures de Tanguy et Laverdure.

The fact that it doesn't say at any point that it is related, grants the movie a right to take liberties with its heroes that others can not claim. It is exactly this freedom that makes Les chavaliers shine where other comic to movie projects are most often bound to disappoint.

Finally we come to what looks already most promising to me, and by far outshining the mystery adventure comic title it was adapted from:
Luc Besson’s Les aventures extraordinaires d'Adèle Blanc-Sec.
The comic strips alwas looked to be a tad on bland side, but much the same can be said about Tintin's ligne claire style, and you simply have to love that poster. *Le sigh*
Besides, with Luc Besson we have a director at the helm that I'm bound to put much more trust on than I do on either Spielberg or Jackson.

We have to see how Tintin will play out, but it is always daring to try to adapt European comics which other than their American brethren tend to follow a more strict characterization. It's not like in the Superhero market which sees a new version for each new decade, or much rather every year by now, complete with "earth shattering" changes that will only last to the next re-launch, if that long...
European comic book characters evolve over time, they grow in character, they age, they ain't caught in an unfortunate, perpetual state of limbo that occasionally calls for plot twists which make Bobby Ewing's infamous return from the dead pale in comparison.
Franco/Belgian comics are grown up entertainment for grown-ups and kids alike, without having to resort to sex and senseless violence in order to appear adult.

*I know, I know, Tintin is actually Belgian, but that’s much the same market, if not he same style.

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