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The Count Of Monte Cristo

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: PG-13 (For Adventure Violence/Swordplay and Some Sensuality)

Running Time: 131 minutes

Starring: Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris, James Frain, Dagmara Dominczyk, Luis Guzman

Screenplay by: Jay Wolpert
Based on the novel: Alexander Dumas

Directed by: Kevin Reynolds

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features:
Disc 1: Audio Commentary with Director Kevin Reynolds, Four Deleted Scenes with Introductions, The Pen, Adaptating A Classic, The Napoleonic World, The Clash Of Steel, En Garde: Multi-Angle Dailies, Layer By Layer: Sound Design. DVD-ROM: Weblinks

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (29 Scenes), THX Certified

Released: September 10th, 2002

 

 

Is "The Count Of Monte Cristo" some kind of fluke? Maybe it is, maybe it is not. I have a tough time deciding for myself, actually. To be honest, the film originally screamed "turkey" all over when I first heard about yet another film version of "The Count Of Monte Cristo." Thanks to the media and my constant filmgoing efforts, I was subjected to the trailer over and over. And yes, it was one corny trailer, especially in seeing it many, many times (which Disney has not included on this DVD release, as they don't seem to put the own movie's trailers on most DVD releases these days). To me, things were not looking so rosy for this new adapatation of the classic French novel.

But a trailer matters not in some cases, as what turned me off was not the ridiculous trailer really, but seeing the film getting pushed back over and over throughout 2001. Whether Disney wanted to release it a good time, didn't like the movie and thought it would tank or felt obligated to burn it off in some respect... the public may never exactly know. But when I see a movie keep getting shifted all over the release map, especially when these studios try to capitalize off their films, it is a pretty big turn-off and I don't hold my hopes high up. Inclinations about what the film could be (read:bad) tend to take over. I think the same can be said about most filmgoers.

To make things slightly less appealing to me, and to my somewhat surprise, I learned the film was being directed by Kevin Reynolds. I actually have some respect for Reynolds and his immense passion as a filmmaker. A USC film school grad, one must take note that his career has been quite... interesting (I like to call him an anti big budget filmmaker, since he sure did some big projects that were somewhat successful, yet bombed with critics and were never immensly GIANT hits). But let's be honest: "Waterworld" and "Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves" aren't Oscar® winning classics in the storytelling department (more like instant Razzie classics). Knowing his track record, I cringed and had a feeling it would fall flat, whenever it would see release. Simply put: I thought "The Count Of Monte Cristo" was going to be one helluva stinker.

But one should never judge a book by its cover, a lesson I have learned with certain movies and how I sometimes let the best get to me and forget this rather true lessons. Debuting in January 2002, "The Count Of Monte Cristo" actually scored a ton of positive feedback from movie lovers, rather good reviews and a very nice, though not earth-shattering, box office take. Even if it's all opinion and the worst movies do make lots of money, I could have been wrong. And yes, I was. So I learned the "book and cover" lesson once again (I'll try not to forget it this time - I promise!). Finally getting to check out the film on DVD, after being turned on to it with all of its commercial mainstream and critical success, I must say it's a very good movie that exceeded by expectations ENTIRELY and was quite the opposite of what I thought it was going to be (destructive of Dumas' work, dull, pointless, boring, laughable). It's deifnently nice to be wrong here and there.

While I never read Alexander Dumas' original classic novel, I have plans to check it out now after seeing this adaptation of the movie (and for the record, I haven't seen any other film versions of the book so my only basis for comparison is actually nothing, just seeing the movie as a pure film lover). The story follows Edmund Dantes (Jim Caviezel), a sailor who is accused by treason. To add insult to the painful ordeal, this was all done by his best friend Fernand (Guy Pearce). Fernand has always been jealous of his best friend, particuarly in the ways of love as he is also quite into Edmund's fianceé, Mercedes (Dagmara Domincyzk).

As a result of all of this, Edmund is imprisoned on the island of Chateau D'lf for many, many years. During that time period, Edmund goes through a transformation of sorts, succumbing to madness and plotting some kind of revenge. Through interesting circumstances, he meets a fellow prisoner named Abbe (Richard Harris). The two become fast friends, learning different things about one another. But Edmund ends up escaping, and has learned of a lot of treasure. With his newly acquired wealth and knowledge, it's time for him to extract his revenge and get his own sense of justice as the Count Of Monte Cristo.

This is director Kevin Reynolds' best film yet, and personally, I think that's saying a lot. Reynolds seems to be much more polished as a filmmaker here. The film moves at a great pace. Every little detail seems rather necessary in setting up the character arcs, themes and the events of what happens. The film has some excellent shots and is very well edited together, but style wise, it is definently wonderful. It feels incredibly realistic, probably due to the extensive sets, excellent production design and how the locations add so much to the story's atmosphere. Reynolds does justice to the story in a great fashion that is just plain solid filmmaking. I personally wonder what his next project is.

There are excellent and talented performers in this film, all doing great jobs. Jim Caviezel makes for quite a good Edmund Dantes, offering a riveting performance that feels somewhat subdued at first, but becomes much more fascinating, intense and perfectly executed as the film moves forward. Guy Pearce is equally convincing, showing off a fine sense of slyness, nastiness and some extent of charm to his part. He plays well against Caviezel, making the film even more interesting beyond its world and story. There's also fine little nugget of performances from Dagmara Domincyzk, Luis Guzman (woo!) and Richard Harris, who I thought stole the show quite nicely.

Jay Wolpert's script is nicely laid out in the story department and sports some fine dialogue, but since I can't compare it to the book, I don't know what else I can tell you. The film also sports some very nice fight sequences that give off a heightened sense of action and adventure, all of which are very well done and nicely crafted. A musical score Edwar Shearmur also fits the bill too. Overall, this is one fine movie that erased all my doubts I had. It is quite enjoyable and definently one of the best action and adventure films I've seen in a bit. I know movie fans will enjoy this one... and if you liked the book, there's a chance you may too.

 

Presented in a THX certified transfer, "The Count Of Monte Cristo" looks pretty dang good in its 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There is no edge enhacnment to speak of, and the somewhat mystical and 1800 French color scheme looks quite good on the transfer. Colors are pretty well saturated giving off a stark, bold and realistic look, especially since the colors often change. Be it the calming blues of the sea, the dim night, the dirt and musty colors of daytime in town and more. Fleshtones also look pretty solid. The film is definently nicely shot, and is pretty well represented on the transfer. Still, the main problem is that this transfer is WAY too soft. Dirt pieces, film blemishes and a good deal of grain become distracting and help flaw an anotherwise nice tranfer.

 

Also on the disc is a THX certified Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. While this mix doesn't break any new grounds in sound design, it certainly caputres the flavor and atmosphere of the film very nicely. There is a very soothing and strong ambiance to this mix, capturing the high sense of action and adventure the films offers. Surround effects do pack many strong punches. There is a lot of action to this movie as I mentioned, and boy, does it ever sound so fulfilling, crisp and really light up your channels. Be it those scenes with violence and high tension or classic swashbuckling fights, I found myself being quite engrossed in the mix. Dialogue is very clear and doesn't get lost in the shuffle of other sounds, while there is nice .1 LFE use throughout. The Edward Shearmur score also is well mixed. There should be no complaints here, as it is a fine job well done. Also included is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, as well as subtitles in Spanish and English, plus your usual English closed captions via your television set.

 

Perhaps due to the film's success, this title got what it deserved. It's not majorly packed, but there are a lot of things of interest here that fans of the movie - and possibly the book as well - are sure to enjoy. Why not we start of with the Audio Commentary with Director Kevin Reynolds. I believe this is a first for Reynolds, who I consider a pretty big name director, whether if he's made the greatest films or not. This USC graduate seems pretty comfortable talking about the movie, and it is truly a job well done here. This may not be a track for casual fans of the movie, but if you really got into it and want to know a load about the production, this is for you. It's a pretty technical track, filled to the brim with interesting information on the locations, budget issues, doing the action scenes, shooting certain scenes and making the best of what he had to work with, not to mention much more. I also enjoyed Reynold's soothing voice. Overall, a wonderful and interesting track that may bore some, but if you liked the movie, you will be quite pleased.

Four Deleted Scenes are presented too: "Fernand & Danglars," "The Villeforts," "Mercedes & Fernand" and "Villefort's Arrest." There is a nifty introduction from film editor Stephen Semel and Kevin Reynolds. The scenes themselves are introduced by the two, and they explain the reasoning of the cuts quite well in what they were trying to accomplish and the challenges of making these very cuts. One scene is actually an extended scene. The scenes themselves are quite interesting, but I must agree with the duo on why they don't work. The scenes are fully edited and in non-anamorphic widescreen.

An Epic Reborn is actually broken down into four featurettes. The first, The Pen, is actually quite interesting. The focus here is on Alexander Dumas himself, introduced by Cal-State University of Los Angeles' Professor of French Literature, Christopher Lagier. Presented in full frame and featuring stills that represent Dumas the man and his work, I learned quite a lot within the six and a half minutes about Dumas and how timeless his writings are. It actually makes me intrigued to read about him now.

Adaptating A Classic, also in full frame, focuses on screenwriter Jay Wolpert. The man is quite passionate about his work, talking about how he condensed the novel into a two hour film. Wolpert comes across quite well, discussing the meaning of the work, the plot and what he did, what he changed and how he took Dumas' vision, made it his own to some extent all while keeping the original flavor of the text and making it have something that all audiences can enjoy. Lasting nearly nine minutes, this is another fine featurette.

The Napoleonic World, lasting eight minutes and twelve seconds and in full frame, has behind-the-scenes footage of making the film, but the focus here is quite neat as we see what it took to make all the locations in the present day world. Featuring interviews with executive producer Chris Brigham, Kevin Reynolds and production designer Mark Geraghty, it was quite a big challenge and deal to take the movie and set it in the world Dumas imagined. I was quite impressed how they pulled it off as well as how it helped the movie, and naturally, this featurette impressed me as it went into this on a nice scale. Also included are non-anamorphic widescreen film clips.

Finally, The Clash Of Steel is a really entertaining featurette on the film's fight scenes. The man here is William Hobbs, the fight choreographer. Hobbs talks about his work and how he got into the film industry. But more importantly, he talks about the art of how the scenes are accomplished. It's pretty enrapturing actually, as we see the rehearsal process, how the actors learn through the footage and then some final film to see how far they come. James "Jim" Caviezel, Guy Pearce and stunt coordinator also contributes some comments too that are interesting. I definently enjoyed the assorted behind-the-scenes footage too. This runs a solid ten minutes and twenty seconds.

En Garde: Multi-Angle Dailies is your standard split screen comparison, but interestingly, it's of the actual dailies and not the final film. The scene is for one of the final battles, and Kevin Reynolds does commentary on all of this. He discusses using two camera for these shots, and what the advantages and disadvantages are. Very cool. It runs three minutes. The other featurette, Layer By Layer: Sound Design, lasts about five minutes and lets you switch the audio on the fly from the composite track, dialogue only, music only or sound effects only for the "Edmond's Escape" scene. Also very nicely done. Finally, for DVD-ROM users, you'll find some Weblinks to check out and standard ROM features.

 

While I couldn't tell you if this is the best "Count Of Monte Cristo" film adapatation yet or even if it holds its own in compared to the classic novel (though like most major pieces of literature brought to the screen, one must suspect it's been Hollywood-ized in some form or another), there's no denying that it's quite an entertaing and fun affair. This DVD sports a nice presentation of the film, plus some very nice supplements. Certainly worth a rental, and if you're a fan of the movie, it should make a nice addition to your DVD collection.