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The Adventures Of Blake And Mortimer

director: Stephane Bernasconi

621 minutes (PG) 1997
Anchor Bay UK DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 4/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Anchor Bay is really gunning for the success of The Adventures Of Blake And Mortimer, the creation of Herge collaborator, Edgar P. Jacobs. Full-page ads have appeared in Sight & Sound magazine two months running and, on the week of its release, in a corner of The Guardian's Friday review section. All 26 episodes on four discs! What is this wondrous hitherto unheard of series? The artwork clearly evokes the quaint adventures of Tintin and it must surely be some elsewhere oft sung about 1970s' series, long sought after for home viewing by nostalgic French adults. But no, this French-Canadian series aired in 1997 and the English language version probably slipped out shortly after. Like a fool I was sold on the advertised magnificence. In truth, as the episodes traipse by, the series is of ever decreasing curiosity value. It is a mix of Sexton Blake, Indiana Jones, Dan Dare and the cliffhanger serials of early cinema, taking the fantasy to ludicrous extremes, pitching its two bold humans against impossible odds time and again returning them unscathed. It does not have the necessary irony that had taken hold of children's animation by 1997, hoping to latch onto to viewers well outside the school age range. Fast as it is, The Adventures Of Blake And Mortimer is also found lacking in the abrasiveness of a lot of the contemporary animation. Rocko's Guide To Life, Ren And Stimpy, Inside Out Boy, Angela Anaconda and The Tick were scatological, horrifying, quirky, clever or technically adventurous animations, and that boldness continues, though today I have to confess only sampling it in tasters.

The Adventures Of Blake And Mortimer's take is safe and old-fashioned, but exaggeratedly so. Over the 13 two-part adventures, the duo will tackle the theft of treasure, curtail World War III, find and sink Atlantis, meet and rebound nasty aliens, dum-de-dum their way through the millennia in the accidental riding of a time machine and, despite all this, titter at the idea that there might be such a thing as ghosts. Any current 2D animation really has to step up the ante if it is to take on more dazzling styles and techniques, but Blake And Mortimer, though showing a notional knowledge of the Fortean universe, fails to introduce much in the way of character, inventive dialogue or original plot twists, and though perhaps casually bearable over 26 weeks in 26-minute bursts, it is insufferable over a shorter period of time. It fails to be rewarding. We might enthuse over something from the past that will ultimately be disappointing, be it Fingerbobs, The Double Deckers or Pipkins, but in re-investigating them in adulthood we tap into that tangible magic of youth, catapulted back to innocence and prickling wonder, a memory that tickles with invisible hands, a vivid island of fondness. The original teatime audience of Blake And Mortimer would have to have been very young to immerse themselves in this and they are probably not yet adults or of an age keen enough to want to go back and reminisce. They are likely to be teenagers caught up in life and other far more exciting entertainments. You wouldn't stand for Scooby Doo or Arabian Knights if introduced to them now and you will settle for this less.

Francis P. Blake is with British Intelligence and his good friend and companion in adventure is Professor Philip Mortimer who is expert in absolutely everything. The impermeable and imperishable pair have an arch foe in the dastardly, murderous and equally un-killable Olrik. In the first story, Mystery Of The Great Pyramid, Olrik is stealing antique treasures in order to fund larger schemes. He reappears as the new villain's zombie gofer in adventure two, The Yellow Mark, but comes back with a vengeance for Swordfish Versus Delta Red, which takes a surprising leap with a major war that threatens to envelope the world. The proliferation of prominent landmarks and cities throughout the series tell us that this is our world and a European war that the history books fail to log hint at the ironic. That is not the intention. The war is devised as if imagined a long time ago, just as you would accept the imaginings of old films whose future date has passed, forgiving the Moon for not having detached in 1999, or Raymond Massey's fancy dress not coming into fashion in the pestilent 1970s. Things To Come didn't and the Moon is still in Earth orbit. The scale of the third adventure would have been entertaining enough for a two-hour epic but is crammed into 47 minutes. The scale of murder and death, and the more personal passing of individual characters who have aided our heroes in this one tale is intriguing but an episode later, the world is back to normal and everyone is filling their pipe and barely cocking a snoop at the next oddball outing. The whiz-bang set-up and wipe out of an evil empire in two episodes and Olrik's demotion to the company of a couple of hoodlums again only one adventure later is just too silly.

As the series progresses one becomes more and more infuriated as Blake and Mortimer repeatedly fail to suspect Olrik is behind a scheme nor recognise him in his disguise, that each side fails to dispatch the other when the opportunity is there to do so, or that the pair can surviving any number of bludgeonings, falls and explosions. Mortimer has a couple of crap catchphrases, "by the tartan of the clan MacGregor" and "bless my plaid suspenders" which wear thin over the episodes. In fact the latter catchphrase is ditched completely in later stories. Civilisations that go unchanged and undiscovered for millennia, like Atlantis in The Atlantis Enigma, we learn are regularly found but nobody is permitted to take the truth back. That is until Blake and Mortimer set foot there. A time travelling trap in The Infernal Machine seems to be something impossible to return from, so of course they do. It feels as if it comes from a syndicated newspaper strip, with a need to include an incident every few frames or images. In The Atlantis Enigma a giant squid appears, grabbing Olrik. Blake shoots him free of a tentacle (why? he's the accursed enemy), the squid slips away, Blake's foot becomes trapped in a large clam, Olrik cuts Blake's air-pipe - and all this in a matter of seconds. Despite storylines that appear to be addressing an attention deficit, the series continues to be a drag.

A couple of later adventures revive interest with the spectacle of rock warriors stemming the flow of a volcano lava flow in The Viking's Bequest and the Rapa Nui heads realised as the image of alien beings in The Secret Of Easter Island, but you only wish that this could have been played out in live action and with more detailed effects rather than the old 2D. These two adventures come to the rescue but the series only throws itself back into the drowning waters with the final two adventures. The Druid is particularly galling. Twelve episodes in and you are thinking, well they've thrown in everything but an alternate reality, and of course, here it comes. And that alternative reality is some medieval Nazi bodge, with leprechauns and giants chucked in for dreadful measure. Over the four discs you increasingly begrudge and narrowly come to hate the series, certainly as a committed reviewer. DVD purchasers beware; this is ten hours not well spent.

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