Readers of Alexandre Dumas' deathless 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo understandably regard the 2002 film "adaptation" as an abomination. And while you'll get no argument from me that the film—directed by Kevin Reynolds from a first-time feature script by producer Jay Wolpert—repeatedly takes steaming craps on Dumas, perhaps that's a necessary evil of the film's resuscitation of Old Hollywood adventure filmmaking. No, it's not even remotely the sophisticated novel, but it is an enjoyable screen swashbuckler. Wolpert wrote the first draft of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (which was subsequently rewritten at least twice): when it comes to swashbucklers, I'll take Wolpert's unmolested molestation of Dumas over Pirates of the Caribbean any day of the week.
In the very broadest of strokes, Dumas' narrative spine remains: in 1815, illiterate sailing sap Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) becomes the patsy of Bonapartists, framed as a traitor and jailed for well over a deacde in the forbidding Château d'If. There, he gains an ally and an ace tutor in a fellow prisoner known as the "Abbé Faria" (Richard Harris), or "Mad Priest." Upon his escape, the well-schooled Dantes collects a hidden treasure and uses it to adopt a new identity (the Count of Monte Cristo) and exact revenge against the men who robbed him of his life and love, his fiancée Mercédès (Dagmara Dominczyk). The conspirators in Edmond's sights include romantic rival Fernand (Guy Pearce), who takes Mercédès as his own; passed-over sailor Danglars (Albie Woodington) and deputy crown prosecutor Villefort (James Frain). Well beyond those plot parameters, Wolpert and Reynolds freely stray, subtracting reams of plot; soap operatically questioning the parentage of Albert (Henry Cavill), son to Mercédès and Fernand; reworking the ending and, as a result, seriously warping Dumas' theme to indulge modern tastes (yes, we're more revenge-hungry now than Dumas' audience was then).
In the filmmakers' defense, Dumas' sprawling work cannot be faithfully adapted into a two-hour film, and, were it made at epic length, would surely try viewers' patience. If one can set aside the picture's literary crimes and take the movie on its own terms (admittedly hard to do when the titles identify the film as Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo), the film works surprisingly well as what Reynolds seems to intend: a throwback adventure picture in the vein of Captain Blood. Wolpert interpolates some bonus action, and Reynolds does a bang-up job of realizing the script. Caviezel, Pearce and Harris turn in faultless performances (and we get Luis Guzmán as Edmond's trusty second): as a movie, this Count of Monte Cristo moves, and it makes a good case for a revival of romantic adventure as opposed to explosive action. Though one wishes Wolpert and Reynolds had more faith in Dumas and in the audience (especially in the climax, given a textbookish once-over in neon highlighter), their embroidered version of the story is plenty entertaining.
In its Blu-ray debut, The Count of Monte Cristo unfortunately fails to dazzle. That's not to say that the hi-def transfer doesn't trounce DVD, which it does, but only to note that the results lack the crispness and pop of the best transfers, whether due to a dated transfer or lackluster source. Detail gets a definite improvement and colors are as robust as can be expected for this title; it's the contrast and shadow detail that hold this picture back, especially given how much time is spent in dark quarters and nighttime exteriors (matters perk up considerably during daytime exterior sequences). The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is adequate, though not the most exciting of mixes: most of the film rests front and center, only occasionally leaping into the surround channels for bursts of activity. The audio is always clear and mostly clean, but lacking in the razor-sharp dynamism that will have home theater buffs salivating.
The film comes with commentary with director Kevin Reynolds, who keeps up a reasonably steady pace in discussing the film from page to screen.
Five "Deleted Scenes" (22:17, SD) come with intros by director Kevin Reynolds and editor Stephen Semel. The "Alternate Final Duel" is presented for the first time.
The fine featurette "An Epic Reborn" (34:05, SD) comprises four sections ("The Pen," "Adapting a Classic," "The Napoelonic World" and "The Clash Of Steel") covering some fascinating history on Alexandre Dumas, the novel, its adaptation, and the production, including fight choreography.
Though presented in 2.0 standard def, "Layer By Layer: Sound Design" (4:47, SD) is an interesting "film school on a disc" feature. Using the audio button, one can access the final "composite track," dialogue track, music track or sound effects track.
"En Garde: Multi-Angle Dailies" (3:02, SD) uses a top-bottom split-screen to show dailies from two cameras shooting simultaneously during the final duel; Reynolds provides non-optional commentary.
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