Review for Lucky Luke
For most people, it's going to be the name of Jean Dujardin that's going to attract them to this DVD. There's always a cachet associated with Oscar winners that lasts for a fair while following an awards ceremony, and it's easy to see that the UK release of this 2009 feature film is conspicuously timed to take advantage of that. Not for me though. For me it's Lucky Luke that draws me to this movie. Today my obsessions run towards anime and manga, and a few years ago, that would have been graphic novels. But my first introduction to the world of comic book storytelling came in the form of bandes dessinées, that art form from the European mainland that told comic book stories in glorious full colour books. It was at primary school that I first encountered these delightful tales, in a triumvirate of adventure stories comprising Asterix, Tintin, and Lucky Luke. Herge's Tintin was pure boys' own adventure, while Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix offered comedy and satire in equal measure. But Lucky Luke, a collaboration between Goscinny and Morris, was to me the ultimate epitome of cool.
Lucky Luke was the fastest gun in the West, faster than his own shadow. His best friend was his horse Jolly Jumper, the smartest chess-playing horse in the world. He also picked up the most useless guard dog in the world, the faithful Rin Tin Can. The poor lonesome cowboy, that was a long way from home, did battle against some of the West's toughest villains, including the infamous and vertically diverse Dalton brothers, keeping the innocent safe without ever taking a life. Most tales would end with the defeated villains, tarred and feathered, and railroaded out of town. You can see how I could easily fall in love with this re-imagining of Western history, and I still have some of the Lucky Luke adventures on my bookshelf.
There was a time when I would shy away from live action adaptations of comic book material, as filmmakers could rarely get the translation to the big screen right. But for a fair few years now, comic book movies have been some of the more satisfying releases. It's certainly true for the bandes dessinées adaptations I have seen, and even the Asterix live action features have surpassed the animated movies. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed Luc Besson's take on The Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, so it wasn't with much trepidation that I approached this Lucky Luke film. To my surprise, this isn't the first such adaptation of Lucky Luke. In 1991, Terence Hill produced and starred in two Lucky Luke films and a television series. 2004 saw the release of Les Dalton, in which Jean Dujardin had a minor role. This 2009 film is then the third adaptation, and sees Dujardin take on the title role.
It's coming up to an election, and the US President wants to stay in office. He needs to make an impression; he needs to show the US people what he is capable of. The one way to do that is to complete the Transcontinental Railroad, and unite the nation. But time is running out, and the place where the two halves of the railroad will meet, Daisy Town, is a lawless bed of outlaws and reprobates. So it is that the President calls on the Wild West's greatest hero to go in and clean up the town. You wouldn't think that would be too hard for someone like Lucky Luke, but Daisy Town holds great peril for him. For Daisy Town is where he grew up, it's the town that shaped him into the man he is today. That gives the current top dog in Daisy Town, an unprincipled villain named Pat Poker, an unprecedented advantage. For Lucky Luke may be the fastest gun in the West, he may be able to outdraw his own shadow, but he can't outrun his past.
I thought this war was over! It's 2012 and I'm still complaining about original aspect ratio! Lucky Luke was shot in the traditional Western aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but what we get on this DVD has been cropped down from the scope aspect to a screen filling 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. It's just not on, not in this day and age when most film collectors are better educated about these things.
Aside from that, the image is clear and sharp throughout, the comic book colours come across to excellent effect, and the film is free of any significant artefacts, or flaws in the transfer. It's a splendid looking film, one which captures the essence of the comic book in its production design with ease. It makes the cropped image all the more disappointing.
The audio is a simple DD 2.0 French stereo track, which does its best to bring across the action, and the film's eclectic music soundtrack. The dialogue is clear, and the player forced English subtitles are free of error and accurately timed. In a slight disappointment, the text gags and one-liners in the end credit scroll aren't translated.
Looking up the details of Lucky Luke and the previous cinematic outings on IMDb presented me with a whole host of negative reviews, lots of one star and two star opinions that didn't bode well for this viewing. I'm glad to say that I found Lucky Luke to be a wholly enjoyable experience, one which captures for the most part all the things that made the original comic books so entertaining. It has the same sense of humour, the same wry parody, the same left-field bizarre take on the Western genre that still makes me grin. I was laughing out loud more often than not last night, and it's been a long while since a feature film has elicited that response in me. What's more, Lucky Luke captures the look of the comic books perfectly, in terms of the costume and production design, and I have to say that Jean Dujardin is just right in the role.
It's a fast paced, comic western parody, replete with bizarre characters and inventive sight gags, half of which you'll miss the first time around. It's not meant to be taken at all seriously. It tells its own stand-alone story, but is so replete with the comic book lore, that anyone familiar with them will be tickled pink by how faithful it is to the essence of that series. The problem is that it is its own story, and as movies are apt to do, it develops its main character, and expands and deepens him beyond the surface layers of the comic book. Lucky Luke gets a past here, he gets a family, and while that is key to the whole story, it is what slows the film down and throws it off track for the middle act. Lucky Luke as a fallible hero with a dark past is a new invention for the film, and it's reiterated a little too often for my liking when it comes to the oft-revisited flashback sequences. Another element new to the film is the addition of a love interest in the form of Belle, a saloon singer who woos the heart of our hero, and leads him astray. When Luke has his identity crisis in the middle third of the film, she figures prominently. Once again, she is integral to the story, but like Luke's past, it's an element that detracts from the humour and comic book elements, and slows the pace down.
Fortunately, the comic book elements return for the finale of the film, featuring a grand shootout in a massive one-armed bandit, built behind a mirage in the Mormon community of Las Vegas. The film's rogues' gallery also takes a lot of beating, bringing much of the comic book elements alive. The bratty Billy the Kid, with his roulette wheel of a gun belt is a lot of fun, as is the Shakespeare quoting Jesse James. The manly Calamity Jane offers a lot of mirth as well, so it doesn't matter too much that the main villain of the piece, Pat Poker is a tad lacking in charisma. By this point I was having too much fun to pick nits about the film, until the end credits began to scroll, and an inset scene to conclude the film appeared in the correct aspect ratio, serving only to annoy me again by reminding me.
Lucky Luke isn't your regular Western. It isn't even your regular Western parody. It's a very Gallic take on the genre that is surprisingly faithful to the comic books it's adapted from. If you like the unexpected, left field and absurd, then there will be much for you to appreciate in this film. Alas, while the casting of Jean Dujardin is perfect, the film itself isn't, with a middle third that decidedly sags. But overall, it's the funniest Western I've seen since Blazing Saddles. I've had a look around the Internet, and it appears that both we and Italy are afflicted with cropped DVD transfers. France, Germany, and the Netherlands get DVDs with the correct aspect ratio and 5.1 audio, but alas it appears that only the UK version gets English subtitles.
But, if you are a Lucky Luke fan with a Blu-ray player, then you may be in luck. According to Play and Amazon, the French Blu-ray release of Lucky Luke has the correct 2.35:1 widescreen image, it has DTS-HD 5.1 audio, and according to those sites, and Blu-ray.com it has English subtitles. This release from Arrow films is fine to watch, perfect to rent, but if you want to own Lucky Luke, I'd import the Blu.