Fox Lorber // 1999 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // March 14th, 2000
Justice denied becomes revenge unleashed.
Alexandre Dumas' classic novel comes to life in the perhaps too respectful hands of an impressive European director and cast, laying before us the oh-so-patient plan of a wronged man to take his measure of revenge upon his tormentors and regain the life he lost. It is a pity that Fox Lorber could not muster any similar degree of respect when it slapped this transfer on the two discs and sent it out the door.
"Count of Monte Crisco...by Alexandree Dum-ass...?"
"Dumas. Know what that's about? You'd like it. It's about a prison break."
"We ought to file that under 'Educational' too, oughtn't we?"
-- Heywood, Andy Dufresne, and "Red" discuss additions to the prison library in The Shawshank Redemption
The strongest point in favor of this disc set is the novel upon which it is based. Not entirely serious drama, The Count of Monte Cristo is an escapist adventure where the audience is asked to suspend its disbelief and ride along on the story currents as they unfold. The basic plot of injustice and revenge is simple enough, though Dumas certainly padded a lot of flesh onto such a modest skeleton, and by all accounts the writers of this adaptation left a lot of it in place. This is one of the problems of an adaptation, where the writer must decide between a faithful, textually based adaptation and one that takes liberties in order to make it a better film.
There is plenty of room here in the over six hours running time to lay out the characters, their motivations, and a rich web of relationships that give the story its heart. Still, there were great spans of time with characters emoting and chatting where I wished a Monty Python chorus of Gumbys would pop up and chant "Get ON with it!" The Count of Monte Cristo is not for the impatient or the sleepy, but if you want to brush up on your French, I bet it's a pretty good study aid.
To help speed this review along, let me refer to the on-disc episode summaries for assistance. We begin in the hard-core French prison Chateau d'If in the early 1800s, where sailor Edmond Dantes (Gerard Depardieu) has been held without charge or trial for eighteen horrible years, ever since he was arrested at a party celebrating his betrothal to a young Mercedes (Naike Rivelli). A fellow prisoner, Abbe Faria (Georges Moustaki) becomes a dear friend, so when Abbe lies on his deathbed, he entrusts Edmond with the secret location of an immense cache of treasure. With his friend now dead, Edmond decides that he's had quite enough of prison and risks life and limb to make good his escape.
Once on the outside, Edmond recovers his fortune with an eye towards revenge upon those who caused him to be imprisoned, namely his "friends" Mondego and Danglars, as well as the Crown Prosecutor Villefort. Their conspiracy, born of greed and familial duty, also cost him his dear Mercedes, who upon his imprisonment married Mondego, now known as Count Morcef (Jean Rochefort). Assuming the identity as the Count of Monte Cristo (and an array of other disguised personalities), Edmond uses his immense wealth to gain references and admittance into Paris society. He furthers his plans by unexpectedly saving the son of Count Morcef (Stanislas Merhar), thus ingratiating him into Morcef's favor.
To further support his cover identity, Edmond woos Camille de la Richardais (Florence Darel), a beautiful young widow who rarely ventures out of her declining mansion. Slowly unfolding his revenge, Edmond parlays his friendship with Morcef into a social event where he arranges for Danglars (Michel Aumont), now a successful banker, and Villefort (Pierre Arditi) to confront a scandalous secret from the past. Edmond next uses his wealth and a bag of "dirty tricks" to force Danglars to the point of bankruptcy, even as Villefort's illegitimate son, Toussaint (Thierry de Peretti) is apprehended during a murderously failed burglary of the Count of Monte Cristo's estate.
In the course of events, Edmond learns that Villefort's wife, Heloise (Helene Vincent), is poisoning members of her family for reasons practical and diabolical. This information is used to force Villefort to suffer great pain, further worsened when Villefort learns that he will have to ask that his own son face the guillotine for murder. Morcef is humiliated and utterly ruined when Edmond exposes Morcef's duplicitous corruption in a past military campaign to the press, and a final push sends Danglars over the edge, forcing the former banker to flee for his life without a franc to his name. His revenge complete, Edmond turns his attention to the remains of his own life and his hopes for a happy reunion with his lost love Mercedes. As the story reaches its final chapter, the final resolution is in doubt.
Gerard Depardieu may be France's foremost actor, but he seems flat and constrained by his role as Edmond Dantes, AKA The Count of Monte Cristo. I find it hard to put my finger on it, but something about his performance doesn't ring true. More problematic are his "roles" as the various personas that he takes on, as the disguises are so transparent as to defy belief and the personalities not terribly different than his main character. Perhaps he translates better (if you will pardon the pun) if you can understand him without benefit of subtitles? Ornella Muti is exquisitely exotic as the lost love interest trapped between the past and her present and Sergio Rubini excels as the devoted but independent servant of Edmond Dantes.
Perhaps most worthy of acclaim is Christopher Thompson as Dantes' favored friend, Maximilien Morel and Florence Darel as the widow Richardais, who steal their respective scenes with their emotional range and genuine style. The rest of the cast fit acceptably well into their roles, but they are not as compelling and given to stiff emoting, as if the costumer had starched the actors as well as their costumes. All in all, there is little emotional involvement with any character (other than Maximilien Morel and the widow Richardais), so whether they live or die is of minor consequence. We just wish they would get it over with already!
Perhaps the best way to describe the video is to say that it looks like an average pre-recorded VHS tape, which is a damning statement for a DVD! While it is a clean picture, free of dirt and defects, and the colors are modestly saturated, that is where the good news ends. The picture is far too soft and fuzzy as well as being afflicted with plentiful video noise, making me feel like I had taped this series off of cable tv.
The audio is also not exactly a stellar example of what you can find on DVD. Subwoofer and rear surround use is nonexistent, and even the front channels are sparingly used, leaving the center channel to do the work. While I had no difficulty in hearing the dialogue, not being a French speaker, it wouldn't have mattered anyway. The score is appropriately grand and classical, but it does not appreciably help the emotional context of a scene, or help inject some needed energy to keep us awake and interested.
The extras are a basic sort, doing little to give us insight into the task of adapting such a classic novel of fiction, the people involved in the creation, or the process of filming. Since not much was spent on the transfer, I would have thought there would be room in the budget for at least a featurette! As it is, there are some limited production notes, cast & crew filmographies, episode summaries, and a TV spot from the Bravo cable tv network. The menus utilize music from the series, and in a small surprise the scene selection menus use full-motion video clips.
As a final point, the prosecution wishes to note that if you want to see a foreign mini-series about a sailor adapted from classic fiction with improved story, a gorgeous picture, and some decent extras, then try the Horatio Hornblower box set instead.
If you watch the Bravo cable channel or PBS a lot, or have an interest in intellectual, historical-oriented drama, then this may interest you as a rental. Why not a purchase? Well, with the MSRP of $60!!, I think very, very few would want to shell out that much for a disc of such limited quality. Fox Lorber has real guts to set a price point that makes Disney look good.
In consideration of the classic literature upon which it is based and the lyrical pleasure of the French language, The Count of Monte Cristo is permitted to return to France without further ado. The Court remands Fox Lorber into custody, pending a psychological report to determine why they decided to release a DVD of this quality at an astoundingly outrageous price.
Review content copyright © 2000 Nicholas Sylvain; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Fox Lorber
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Summaries
* Production Notes
* Television Spot