"Without killing anyone, make the king a fool in Buckingham's
I have an extensive knowledge about writer Alexandre Dumas. I know that he wrote "The Three Musketeers." I also know that he was…uh…a guy who lived a long time ago. Oh hell, obviously I know as much about Dumas as I do quantum physics. However, I don't think that you have to have a lot of background on great literature to enjoy director Peter Hyams' The Musketeer. Released in the summer of 2001, The Musketeer did a graceful swan dive after its initial release to theaters. Did this action flick deserve such a harsh fate, or is it worth a second look on DVD?
Facts of the Case
Set in 17th Century France, The Musketeer focuses on the story of D'Artagnan (Justin Chambers, Liberty Heights) and his place among the swashbuckling Musketeers. As the story opens young D'Artagnan witnesses his parents death at the hands of the snarling Febre (Tim Roth, Planet Of The Apes). Years later a Spanish invasion is feared while crooked Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Rea, The Crying Game) has assembled a secret army led by the evil Febre. Apparently, King Louis XIII's loyal musketeers have been disgraced and now hide out among the townspeople. Soon D'Artagnan assembles the downtrodden Musketeers to help out the Queen (Catherine Deneuve, Dancer In The Dark) and her attractive handmaid (Mena Suvari, American Beauty) on some quest that isn't worth mentioning here. With an assassination attempt planned on the king and queen, as well as some general plundering and mayhem, can D'Artagnan and his band of Musketeers stop Febre and his men before it's too late?
The Musketeer is the perfect example of a story that hides behind a bunch of well choreographed action sequences just so the filmmakers can say, "See? There's a story there…err, somewhere. You just have to look. You'll find it." This isn't to say that The Musketeer isn't a good movie; just a very well choreographed one with a story the size of a pea.
Now, before I get angry letters about my apparent pooping on writer Alexandre Dumas, let me say that this movie is not the author's fault; I have the feeling that Dumas didn't anticipate his book being made into a film by the same guy who directed Hanover Street and End Of Days (did I just hear a collective retching from the crowd? I thought so). I'm torn by my view of this movie—on one hand, it has unbelievably taut fighting scenes and some great moments of explosive action. On the other hand, the story is there just to keep these action sequences rolling. The whole thing has something to do with the Musketeers, the Queen hiding among the peasants, a deceptive Catholic cardinal, a vicious swordsman who makes a vow to kill D'Artagnan…blah, blah, blah. What we've really come to see are some rollicking bing-bang-boom scenes, and by golly, Hyams gives them to us, one after another.
Many of the fight sequences were choreographed by the legendary martial arts master Xin-Xin Xiong. Xiong has had a prolific career in bit parts and stunt roles in Hong Kong (he was Jet Li's stunt double in Once Upon A Time In China) and has recently moved into behind the camera work as a stunt coordinator, most notably for Tsui Hark's Time and Tide. By all means The Musketeer features some wonderful sequences that border on breathtaking. In one of the first fight scenes D'Artagnan fights off a batch of bar patrons by leaping from wine barrels and holding himself on some ceiling crossbeams (how much you enjoy this type of action will depend upon how good your suspension of disbelief is).
The actors all do a serviceable job, especially Tim Roth as the megalomaniacal villain Febre. Roth is one of those rare actors who is good in anything, no matter how crappy the material is. Here Roth plays Febre a bit low key, but just enough so that his character doesn't become too much like a cartoon. Mena Suvari's only job is too look like eye candy (she typifies what I like to call the "dirty old man fantasy"), and Justin Chambers as D'Artagnan is serviceable, if possibly a tad bit bland.
I enjoyed The Musketeer. While I don't think that it's something I ever need to see again, at least I don't feel like I wasted almost two hours of my life watching it. I think that's the best compliment I can give it.
The Musketeer is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. As expected from such a new release, this is a great looking picture that shows hardly any imperfections or flaws. Except for only the slightest amount of edge enhancement, The Musketeer is void of any grain, dirt, shimmer, or digital artifacting. The colors and flesh tones are all very bright and well saturated while the black levels look deep and dark. Universal has done an excellent job on this transfer and should be commended.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in both English and French, as well as DTS Surround in English. Both the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks are very well mixed. Each of these tracks feature bombastic and full surround sounds that fill up both the front and rear speakers during almost the entire film. There are a lot of explosions, swordfights, and runaway carriages in this movie, making sure that the listener's sound system gets a hearty workout. If I was to pick one soundtrack I'd go with the Dolby 5.1 mix. All aspects of the dialogue, effects, and music are clear and free of any excessive distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are some English captions.
In the way of extra features, The Musketeer leaves much to be desired. Aside of the usual production notes, cast and filmmaker bios, and theatrical trailer, there is also a very short two and a half minute piece on the movie's stunts (featuring interviews with director Peter Hyams, stunt choreographer Xin-Xin Xiong, and actor Justin Chambers). There is also a short (under two minutes) feature on the casting of actor Justin Long. Before his movie career took off, Long was a model for Calvin Kline. That's the deepest information I pulled from this segment, which tells you how informative it is.
I can see why The Musketeer didn't perform very well in theaters last summer. While the action scenes are great, the story leaves much to be desired. However, on the film's behalf I can say that this is definitely better than that Charlie Sheen/Kiefer Sutherland/Chris O'Donnell fiasco The Three Musketeers which Disney produced a few years back (and if I ever hear that damn Rod Stewart/Bryan Adams/Sting song again I will be taking hostages). Universal has done a nice job on this disc, though the lack of supplemental materials makes this a somewhat pricey title for everyone but hardcore fans.
The Musketeer is out on bail but must appear in court again once it gets itself a better story. Case dismissed.
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• Casting Justin Chambers
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