Unless we're talking candy bars, four isn't better than three, Judge Joel Pearce notes.
The pursuit of glory…
All things taken into consideration, one of the things that we need least in the world is yet another movie based on The Three Musketeers. Few things prove that fact as vividly as The 4 Musketeers, which is yet another adaptation of the classic Dumas tale, this time from France. Stay away from this stinker: it may actually have you crying for the crappy Disney version.
Facts of the Case
This is for those of you who've never actually heard of The Three Musketeers. In 17th Century France, a hotshot young nobleman named D'Artagnan (Vincent Elbaz, Almost Peaceful) longs for nothing more than to be a Musketeer. He arrives in Paris, where he meets three fun-loving buddies named Aramis (Gregori Derangere, The Light), Athos (Heino Ferch, Downfall), and Porthos (Gregory Gadebois). The four loyal men get into a world of hot water when they land in the middle of a plot by the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Tcheky Karyo, A Very Long Engagement) to get the King (Tristan Ulloa, Sex and Lucia) to turn on the Queen (Stafania Rocca, Heaven). The Cardinal has a secret weapon on his side in the form of Milady Winter (Emmanuelle Beart, 8 Women), an assassin with supernatural powers.
"Wait," you say. Supernatural powers? Since when did Milady Winter have supernatural powers? Well, as each new adaptation of this classic story arrives to the screen, something new needs to be added. Here, it's supernatural powers. This twist ends up being the undoing of what may have been a mediocre version of the story. You see, The 4 Musketeers is a pretty good story, which is why it's been told over and over again. It doesn't really need magic for any of the plot devices, and its addition is confusing, ridiculous, and overbearing. The powers that Winter has never make much sense, and they transform what could have been swashbuckling goodness into Xena-esque CGI crap.
Not that the magic is the only problem with this tired retread. It's never entirely clear what the production team was trying to accomplish with The 4 Musketeers. With a running time of three hours, it feels like they were trying to piece together the most quintessential, complete version of the story yet. However, so much of it is poorly handled that it threatens to descend into camp. Somehow, even through three hours of cliche-ridden, contemporary dialogue, we never get to know any characters well except D'Artagnan and Winter. The fight scenes are poorly choreographed, suggesting that the cast was too scared to do any genuine sword-fighting.
At the same time, I have to credit the members of the cast for their sincerity. Vincent Elbez hams it up with some serious gusto, and the rest of the musketeers never look embarrassed to be there. The always reliable Tcheky Karyo puts in a subtle performance as the Cardinal, and even the supporting cast takes everything seriously. The work on the costumes and sets is also impressive for a television production, despite the occasionally ridiculous cinematography. There are moments of quality mixed into this lumbering beast, but they are darned hard to find.
Alas, sincerity isn't enough to make a good film. The pacing is stilted, and action sequences are few and far between. All the convolutions of the original tale have arrived intact, but with so little clarity that I was often lost and confused. Sliced to about half the length, The 4 Musketeers might have had a chance, but as it stands I can only consider it an embarrassing disaster. I sincerely pity anyone else who is trapped in front of this mess for the full three hours.
I can't be much kinder for the quality of this DVD. The image was transferred poorly from a PAL master (probably tape rather than film), and the result is pretty ugly. On a progressive display, there's horrible interlacing, and everything just looks fuzzy on a regular TV. The sound is 5.1, but there's a strange doppler effect from the sides, almost as though the film was poorly upmixed from stereo. Only a dub is included, which has some of the worst timing I've seen in years. The dialogue is sometimes incomprehensible, and I wonder whether it's due to the translation or the original script. Since I don't have the French language track, I'll never know for sure. There are no special features, which I consider a great blessing in this case.
I could probably write more, but there seems little point. This is a story we've seen many times before, and so much better. While I had some hope for a French film version, none of my hopes and expectations was realized. I can't think of any reason to recommend The 4 Musketeers to anyone.
I vote for the axe!
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