Jennifer and I saw the new Three Musketeers movie on Sunday. It is interesting to me how each retelling of this story chooses to emphasize certain elements and utterly ignore others.
This is inevitable, of course. If every single scene in the book were filmed with utter faithfulness, the movie would be about as long as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a script writer and as a director, you have to chose what to include and what to leave out when adapting a book to a movie. I’m not explaining a great mystery here, anyone with half a brain can understand this. It is the choices that are made that I find interesting.
It gets even more obvious when you factor in things like changing social norms, and the desire to include a bunch of Steampunk stuff, because Steampunk is cool, right?
Actually, Steampunk is cool. And I can forgive the director, Paul WS Anderson, for wanting to include it. Cannon-mounted airships are cool. That honestly didn’t bother me. I feel fairly certain that if Dumas had ever heard of Steampunk, he would have included all those elements himself. After all, this is a book about guys called Musketeers who actually use muskets maybe once in the entire book (and never in the movie).
This is the first adaptation in recent memory that included the servants. Well, one servant. They sort of rolled them all into one guy. Probably because the movie already ran the risk of having too many people to keep track of. But still, the servant was there. And like the book, Our Heroes treated him like garbage. So that made it in, but the fact that Constance was married did not. I guess modern society can get behind verbally and emotionally abusing hired menials, but not adultery? Yes, the fact that they left the rape scene out surprised exactly no-one, but the adultery thing caught me off-guard.
And poor Aramis. No one knows what to do with him. Other than Jeremy Irons in 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask, Aramis is usually treated as ‘oh and there’s him too. Isn’t he precious, with his quaint religious beliefs.’ For some reason, almost none of these movie adaptations show off the womanizing lech side of him. Again, I guess modern audiences can get behind the idea of a man leaving the priesthood so he can be violent, but not so he can have sex?
Porthos, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. For a world still trying to wash the mental images of Oliver Platt and (*SHUDDER*) Gerard DePardu out of their minds, Ray Stevenson’s Porthos was everything the character should be: A sensualist who plays the dumb brute, but is actually intelligent and devastatingly effective at fighting. Of course we ARE talking about Ray Stevenson, so much like Jeremy Irons as Aramis, there was almost no way this COULD go wrong.
The same, sadly, could not be said of Orlando Bloom’s Duke of Buckingham. And it is sad, because if you remove Bloom’s performance from the issue, you can see that the writers did him justice. The character, as written, was every bit as calm, smart, machiavellian, and deadly as the Cardinal. The scene where they just decide to ignore their respective kings and hammer out the peace treaty between them was just as it should have been. But then they turned Bloom loose on the role.
The thing is, he’s not a terrible actor. He really isn’t. He’s just comfortable in certain roles, and this, his big break into villainy and a ‘serious’ role, wasn’t it. He tried way too hard. Every moment on screen was either him playing “Look at Me! I’m EVIL!” or “Look at Me! I’m INTENSE!” and neither worked for the part. Contrast this with Christoph Waltz’ Cardinal Richelieu who was brilliant, and you see why we spent the majority of every scene he was in Rifftraxing his performance in our minds.
And someone, for the love of PETA, release that animal on his head back into the wild.
Amusingly enough, the two ‘big name’ Hollywood stars in the movie, (Bloom and Mila Jovovich as Milady DeWinter) were by far the most awkwardly cast of the ensemble. Everyone else was at least competent at their roles (even Mads Mikkelsen’s Rochefort was adequate if not great). D’artagnan was as bland as that role normally is, and Matthew MacFadyen’s Athos could have read the phone book out loud and we would have been utterly captivated.
I had to caveat “hollywood” stars in that last paragraph before people start telling me about how big a star Waltz is in Germany or MacFadyen is in the UK. They are awesome actors, and the fact that they are starting to break into American consciousness is wonderful (MacFadyen in Frost/Nixon and Robin Hood, Waltz in Inglorious Basterds and Water for Elephants), and I look forward to seeing more of them. But so far, they are not household names in the States the way Bloom and Jovovich are. And oddly, I think the movie would have been better without those two, who seemed like they were cast just so there would be ‘known names’ to try to fill seats in US theaters.
So in all, it was a fun time, not very deep. You won’t remember it years later, and other than the one bit already famous from the trailer, no one will be quoting it decades from now. But it was entertaining, swords flashed, swashes were buckled fiercely, and there were airships. Was it worth the $6 we paid? Yeah. Was it worth much more? Not really.