Okay, this is supposed to be a write-off on the Three Musketeers and I am cheating a bit. I intended to write a review on the book. I had read it complete when I was in high school and abridged several times otherwise. I have a copy of the original, unabridged version but it has been buried somewhere in my crates and boxes of books. I searched in vain to recover the missing volume.
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I already had agreed to participate in this write-off so I figured that I would just cheap a little. I would do a review of a film adaptation of a different Dumas novel. Hopefully, no one will be too offended by my deviation.
The movie selection is a four part mini-series of "The Count of Monte Cristo". This movie was filmed in French and includes English subtitles. It stars one of the all time greats in Gerald Depardieu. I originally saw this movie when it aired on the Bravo network a couple years ago. It ran over the course of four nights. It's rare for me to commit to four consecutive evenings of watching TV but this one was worth it. I have since watched it twice more. I watched most of it on a subsequent airing on Bravo and I also watched it on video with a friend.
I was a bit skeptical because of the length. Of course, the unabridged version of the novel is nearly 1500 pages so this allows for the directors to cover more ground. The quality of the acting in this version is stunning. Gerald Depardieu pulls off a role that he is seemingly unsuited to play. I would never conjure Depardieu's hefty stature in the role of Edmond Dantes. It's a testament to his acting ability that those prejudices will be quickly put aside.
Depardieu is the greatest strength of the film. He dives into the role with great elán. But there are many splendid performances in the movie. Ornelia Muti is haunting in her portrayal of Mercedes. In an interesting twist, Depardieu's son Guillaume is cast to portray the young Dantes early in the film.
The director Josee Dayan does a splendid job of moving the story along. There may be a few lulls but the movie does not drag. It is best to view over the course of a few days. I enjoyed it best when I viewed it on Bravo. When I watched the video with my friend we watched two videos in the afternoon and then the last two parts in the evening. I feel that the suspense and drama builds better when viewed in parts.
There are several liberties taken with the original novel. In the film, for example, they make Bertuccio more like a friend to Dantes when he was truly a servant. They add a love interest for Dantes that is not in the novel. They also take some of the darkness out of Dantes character. They lessen his role in the downfall of Villefort. They are trying to make Dantes more likable than he actually was. They try to make things more black and white than what they really are. This will probably be offensive to many purists. It also diminishes some of the moral ambiguity and complexity of the novel. Dumas is often underrated as a novelist. This kind of alteration will probably not serve his reputation well.
The problem with softening Dantes character is that Dumas was trying to portray a blind pursuit of revenge in the Dantes character. The directors go as far as to allow Dantes and Mercedes to reunite in the end. That's not only taking liberties, that's changing the actual ending. It also takes away the moral of not seeking vengeance. In the novel, he comes to realize that the blind pursuit of revenge costs him the women he loves. The novel is more multi-dimensional than one would gather from this movie.
But after stating that, I still have to say that I greatly enjoyed watching the series. If one were to watch it without advance knowledge of the novel, they would be spellbound by the acting and the development of the story. From the initial betrayal in the beginning through the period with the Abbe Farria in prison through his return to France for revenge, the screenplay is very well written. Dider Decoin did a fine job with the script (in spite the liberties).
Depardieu executes his role with great skill. He is very believable in his portrayal of the character. Ornella Muti is bewitching in her interpretation of Mercedes. It is a shame that we don't see more of her in the film. I also found the actor playing Bertuccio to be excellent. He adds a bit of a comic touch to the film.
This is a great made for TV miniseries. If you are willing to look past the alterations to the novel, you will enjoy a tale of betrayal, redemption and vengeance. I don't feel that movies have to be exact replicas of the books they are recounting. I tend to view the two art forms as being related but different. What I expect from a film is different than what I expect from a novel. I demand more entertainment from a movie and more intellectual stimulation from a novel. So while I feel it important to point out the discrepancies between the book and the film, I don't feel the movie should be automatically discredited. Other than Dumas purists, this is a movie that can be enjoyed by most people who enjoy a gripping film dealing with many relevant human themes.
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