Touchstone Pictures // 2002 // 131 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // October 7th, 2002
Prepare for adventure. Count on revenge.
With a pared-down script based on the novel, top class lead actors, and an energized adventure film, director Kevin Reynolds' effort in The Count Of Monte Cristo begins to make up for his Hindenburg-ian Waterworld. Buena Vista still tries to sell this disc for too high a price, but the technical presentation and package of extras is competently done.
Edmond Dantes (James Caviezel) is a young, dashing sailor, despised by his nautical rival, Danglars (Albie Woodington). Worse, Dantes' best friend, Fernand Mondego, future Count of Morcef (Guy Pearce), secretly hates Dantes for his happiness and covets his bride-to-be, Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk). A chance meeting with the deposed Napoleon, imprisoned on the Isle of Elba, proves catastrophic for Dantes. Unknowingly, Dantes has compromised the father of the prosecutor of Marseilles, Villefort (James Frain), who now has reason to silence that threat. When Mondego, Danglars, and Villefort cross paths, this evil triangle condemns Dantes to perpetual imprisonment in the hellish prison Chateau d'If.
After many years in his grotesque home, with the wise aid of fellow inmate Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), Dantes escapes the notorious prison. Fueled by an unquenchable lust for revenge, funded by a secret treasure cache, assisted by the steadfastly loyal Jacopo (Luis Guzman), the newly styled Count of Monte Cristo embarks upon a mission of retribution against all who have wronged him.
Written by Alexandre Dumas, who also has the Three Musketeers novels to his credit (among others!), "The Count of Monte Cristo" has spawned thirteen films, three television movies, and three television series. Clearly, his adventure story of a wrongly accused man and his thirst for revenge has timeless appeal across a broad international spectrum. However, as anyone who has read the novel can attest, the unabridged story is exceedingly verbose with well over a thousand pages. This gives anyone interested in adapting "The Count of Monte Cristo" vast leeway in deciding what elements to keep and which to discard.
As touched upon in the featurettes and commentary, much of the classic novel is not exactly cinematic. Huge swaths of text with characters spouting vast reams of exposition, discussions about past events, innumerable minor characters who come and go, and much carrying of swords but precious little using of them. Thus, the challenge faced by writer Jay Wolpert was to deftly adapt the revered tome "The Count of Monte Cristo" into a modern, entertaining visual feast. Though purists are likely to be offended, The Count of Monte Cristo pares the novel down to its essential elements, rearranges some character relationships (for example, making Mondego and Dantes lifelong friends), and injects energetic action for a rousing, well paced adventure. Paraphrasing Wolpert, if you want the novel, read the book. This is a well paced, entertaining film for a wide audience.
James Caviezel (The Thin Red Line, Frequency) is far too smooth as the supposedly uneducated commoner Edmond Dantes, but as the coldly focused Count of Monte Cristo, he truly commands the screen. Yin to Caviezel's yang, Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential, Memento) reportedly turned down the title role in favor of the "bad guy" Fernand Mondego, commenting that he wanted to make the audience thoroughly detest the utterly despicable noble. He succeeds brilliantly, imbuing the scruffy, caddish, amoral rake with an animating evil that makes us wonder how Dantes could have been so suicidally blind to have Mondego as his childhood friend!
As the woman caught between Dantes and Mondego, newcomer Dagmara Dominczyk (Rock Star) only has a few scenes but successfully builds chemistry with Caviezel and establishes Mercedes as more than a doormat. Backing the main cast, look for excellent assistance by Richard Harris (Unforgiven, Gladiator, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone) and noted British character actor Freddie Jones (Dune). Luis Guzman (Out Of Sight, The Limey, Traffic) is an imperfect fit as Jacopo, the Count's assistant, but his balance of gravity and comic relief is quite welcome and makes up for the questionable casting.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer does a good job with elements that can often pose a problem for this digital medium, such as low-light and misty scenes. This is generally a very good modern transfer, with the only drawbacks being very minor artifacts, a bit of grain and colors that seem toned down.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix fits in with what seems to be the most frequent sort of audio mixes these days. Namely, the front speakers are used cleanly and convincingly, with the subwoofer providing modest support and the rear surrounds used lightly, if at all. Acceptable, but hardly the sort of mix that will use the full capabilities of your speaker set.
Extra content is a competent package. The four deleted scenes (just over eleven minutes in total) include an overall introduction by director Kevin Reynolds and editor Stephen Semel, and short introductions for each of the scenes. The collection of featurettes is notable in that two of them are particularly helpful and informative! "The Pen" is a seven-minute crash course on Alexandre Dumas by Christophe Lagier, Professor of French Literature at Cal-State University of Los Angeles. "Adapting a Classic" is a nine minute featurette with writer Jay Wolpert, covering the decisions he made in adapting the novel for this film. The other short featurettes are still welcome, such as the eight minute "The Napoleonic World" (covering production and art direction details, such as choosing Malta for principal photography) and the ten-minute "The Clash of Steel" featurette (covering sword fighting training and choreography, featuring fight choreographer William Hobbs).
Not all of the extra content is as good. The commentary by director Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) is fairly typical, i.e. a fair amount of production chatter, but nothing earth-shaking or terribly wrong either. The three-minute "En Garde" clip shows raw footage from the climactic swordfight from two distinct camera positions with Reynolds' commentary. Nothing worth your time, unless you are easily amused. The multi-layer sound feature simply allows you to select between the composite, dialogue, sound effects, and music layers for the "Edmond's Escape" scene. Yawn.
With the exception of small children, I would recommend The Count of Monte Cristo as a fine adventure film for the entire family, full of thrills, action, and dramatic fun. You might even get them to read the book afterwards. Maybe.
Rental? Absolutely. Purchase? Certainly, if you can get a good deal or find it used. The list price ($30) is too rich for my blood without a nice discount.
Unlike Villefort, I see no need to detain The Count of Monte Cristo any longer. Though Buena Vista is still in need of improvement, the Court appreciates their effort and hopes that their future "regular" titles will continue this upward trend.
Review content copyright © 2002 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 131 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Director Commentary
* Theatrical Trailers
* The Pen (Feature on Alexandre Dumas)
* Adapting a Classic (Screenwriting Feature)
* The Napoleonic World (Production Design Feature)
* En Garde (Sword Fighting Multi-Angle Feature)
* The Clash of Steel (Fight Choreography Feature)
* Deleted Scenes
* Multi-Layer Sound Design Feature
* Official Site
* Behind the Scenes