The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) Review
They used to make movies like this all of the time. The kind of swashbuckling adventure that threw in so many plot elements neatly and cohesively into one thrilling film that it appealed to audiences young and old alike. Director Kevin Reynolds managed to garner massive box office takings with his very anachronistic retelling of the Robin Hood legend in the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, and is now trying his hand at Alexandre Dumas in the form of The Count Of Monte Cristo.
The Count Of Monte Cristo tells the story of a young sailor named Edmond Dantès (Jim Caviezel), a man who plans to marry his sweetheart Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk) as soon as he is promoted to Captain. However, his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) has also buried a deep jealousy towards Edmond, especially concerning the beautiful Mercedes. Using some false evidence of treason linking Edward to Napoleon, Fernand has him locked away in the brutal fortress of Chateau DIf, thereby clearing the path for his opportunity to move in for Mercedes. Imprisoned with only his wits about him, Edmond meets the eccentric Abbé Faria (Richard Harris), a wise old prisoner who teaches him many new skills, and most importantly, the location of vast treasure hidden around Monte Cristo. Together with Faria, Edmond plans an escape and a recovery of the treasure, which will aid his quest for revenge against those that have enforced his imprisonment.
The Count Of Monte Cristo helps us to reminisce about this forgotten age of cinema, in which audiences never know which direction the films were taking in pursuit of grand adventure. It doesn't have Errol Flynn, but it does have a very capable lead in Jim Caviezel, a man destined surely to break the A-List celebrity league with his likeable charm and honest persona. In contrast to Caviezel, his co-star Guy Pearce, the Australian that used to be seen twice daily as Mike in Neighbours, seems to already be amassing himself a sizeable cult following, with excellent turns in L.A. Confidential, Ravenous and Memento. The lead actors manage to effectively take their roles in the film seriously enough whilst ensuring they still have fun. In fact, Richard Harris threatens to outshine everybody with what is his best performance in years. Harris adds tremendous charisma and comic relief to the character of Faria, whilst throwing in some splendid poignancy that sets the film in good stead for its third act.
The film's visual period detail is very impressive, and certainly gives the impression of a Dumas adaptation without being too distracting. The production design by Mark Geraghty mixes bright beauty with darker intensity to reflect the changing tone of the film, and this is corroborated in a fine fashion by Andrew Dunn's cinematography, which grants the film a thick, crisp visual glow. The screenplay by Jay Wolpert does a fine job considering how dense the original Dumas novel was as a reading experience. Wolpert may have sacrificed many of Dumas' original story elements, but he still manages to masterfully condense the novel into an accessible two-hour feature film.
The Count Of Monte Cristo feels a lot longer in terms of running time than it actually is, and in this case this isn't a bad thing, as the film jumps from so many plot lines and threads that it's often hard to catch a breath. Newer, more interesting characters seem to appear out of the woodwork when you least expect it, and they give the film a sense of literary importance amongst classic novel adaptations. The plot is never hard to follow; indeed plot elements are directed so assuredly by Kevin Reynolds that it's hard to imagine that this director was once bottom of the hiring list after the infamous Waterworld. Dumas' original novel was the ultimate redemption story, and yet credit should go to Reynolds for tackling an adult adventure with such intelligence and technical flair. What results is a film that doesn't rely on anything above a 'PG' rating in tone, and yet doesn't pander to any childish sensibility in favour of a large audience.
Essentially, it's hard to fault The Count Of Monte Cristo since it comfortably hits all of the targets it aims for without the material being compromised, in the form of delivering a thoroughly enjoyable grand adventure that both young children and adults can enjoy. It's lacking any virtuoso flair to ever be considered a masterpiece, but it excites you and wears you out just like the classic adventures used to, and this is all we ask it to do.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the transfer for The Count Of Monte Cristo generally complements the film very well, with a mostly pristine transfer that possesses a good, sharp level in terms of image clarity. Colours tones are slightly muted and contrast levels slightly hazy, but overall this is a fine transfer.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is quite aggressive, with a deep, dynamic range of sound events given a decent level of spatial channelling. Each of the different elements, from musical score through to dialogue and sound effects, are given appropriate room to breathe on the mix, and the background atmosphere utilises the surround setup splendidly.
Menu: A blank animated menu interweaving short clips of the film into the structure.
Packaging: Presented in an amaray casing with very minimalist cover artwork and a one page chapter listing insert included inside.
Audio Commentary By Kevin Reynolds: This screen-specific audio commentary by director Kevin Reynolds is an interesting factual companion for the film. Reynolds shares many technical anecdotes as well as brief character and story motivation for the film, along with an extensive insight into the shooting locations that were used and many other subjects usually ignored on commentaries. Reynolds is however quite a dry host, and could benefit from either of the two stars Caviezel or Pearce helping matters along.
Deleted Scenes With Director Introduction: Four deleted scenes are included and each are mere extension of scenes from the final film version. Director Kevin Reynolds along with editor Stephen Semel provides introductions on why the sequences were trimmed, and the scenes last approximately twelve minutes in total. The sequences are named Fernand & Danglars, The Villeforts, Mercedes & Fernand, Villefort's Arrest, and are each presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
An Epic Reborn: This is essentially a collection of four mini-featurettes focusing on different elements of the film's production. The Pen is a six minute featurette hosted by Christophe Lagier, a professor of French literature, and explores briefly the history of Dumas' writings. Adapting A Classic is an eight minute featurette hosted by screenwriter Jay Wolpert in which he explains how he came to adapt The Count Of Monte Cristo for the big screen. The Napoleonic World is an eight minute featurette that explores the different locations used for the film. The Clash Of Steel is a ten minute featurette mainly hosted by fight choreographer William Hobbs in which he discusses the various sword fights used in the film. Each of the featurettes are presented in fullscreen.
Multi-Angle Dailies: This is a three-minute dissection of the film's concluding sword fight, shown in a two camera setup so as to contrast the different angles used for filming the sequence. Director Kevin Reynolds provides a decent commentary guide to the sequence.
Layer-By-Layer Sound Design: This is a five minute dissection of the sound design used in the film, with the "Edmund's Escape sequence used as an example. Four audio tracks are available for this sequence, and switching on the fly between the four helps to present the various stages of the film's sound design. The tracks are Composite Track, Dialogue Only, Music Only, Sound Effects Only.
A rip-roaring adventure is given a fine feature film presentation on DVD with some decent, well-chosen extras that elevate themselves above other, more usual promotional filler material. Overall, The Count Of Monte Cristo is a fine package and contains much entertainment and excitement for all of the family.