Thursday, November 09, 2006

LE COMTE DE MONTE CHRISTO (french miniseries 1998)

The useful thing I took away from watching this film was this: some novels just do not translate well to the screen. I recently read the book, The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas for the first time. At just under 1500 pages, it is a brick of a book. But as far as a rewarding read goes, this one places close to the top of the list. As Robert Louis Stevenson was quoted to have said, 'it is an piece of perfect story-telling from beginning to end'. The development of the characters, the evolution of Edmond Dantes and his plot for revenge, the romance, and the thrilling political intrigue are all elements that make for an absolute delight of a novel. After reading it, I had that warm feeling in my chest that makes me kiss the book I've finished like I'm bidding farewell to a cherished friend. The end was satisfying but still, even after 1500 pages, I wanted more.

The story is well known. Edmont Dantes, at promising lad of nineteen, is wrongly accused of Bonapartism by the three men most likely to prosper upon his imprisonment. After escaping prison and obtaining a vast treasure (upon the admonition of a former prison-mate), he begins the long and arduous process of making his enemies pay. His scheme for revenge crosses years and travels over whole continents in its culmination. In the end, we are left w/ the same question that Edmond himself must ask, 'Can a person who has devoted their life to revenge, live for anything else?'

The story has been brought to the screen, both big and small, on several occasions. I've seen three of them (and plan to see the fourth when it releases to dvd) with mixed feelings. The 1975 tv version of the film, starring RIchard Chamberlain as Dantes (and co-starring Tony Curtis, Kate Nelligan, and Louis Jordan) is fabulous on its own. It is pretty close to the book and extremely well executed. However, after reading the book, I realize that the movie's 119 min run-time does not allow for the developement of key elements of the story and that is dissapointing. The 2002 cinematic endeavor is an wildly entertaining swashbuckler of a movie, when you don't compare it to the book. Jim Caviezel is a gorgeous Dantes and Guy Pierce a formidable foe as Mondego. Newcomer Dagmara Dominczyk is a stunningly beautiful Mercedes and Kevin Reynold's direction is engaging. Fans of the book, however, will be horribly dissapointed in the 'adaptation'. Huge liberties were taken w/ the timeline and the story that almost make the word 'adaptation' ludicrous.

The 1998 mini-series made for french television was very intriguing for me, at first glance. It was very long which meant that important aspects of the story that were bypassed for the sake of time by the other versions, could finally be addressed. But I must admit I was also very turned off by the casting of Gerard Depardieu as Dantes. Physically, he is completely wrong for Dantes who was often mistaken for Middle Eastern royalty and who throughout the book, is incessantly referred to as a man with long black hair and a lean physique. But, watch it I did.

I was right, by the way. Depardieu, great actor that he is, was NOT a good choice for Edmond Dantes. He seems blunt and clumsy due to his size, not the lithe and athletic hero of the book at all. The opening scenes of the film, thankfully, did not attempt to pass Gerard off as nineteen and the much younger Gillaume Depardieu (Gerard's son), who is infinitely better looking than his father, did the honors. He does fine but so little time is devoted to these early scenes that it is severely off-putting. One of the great aspects of the novel is the time taken to involve us in Dantes' early life, his blissfull happiness and successful career. These scenes along with Edmond's damning accusation and time in prison as well as his relationship w/ The Abbe of Faria are almost completely passed over, assumably to devote more time to the enactment of revenge. Unfortunately, without these particular points that draw us close to Edmond and his degeneration (or ascendance) into the executor of judgement on his enemies, the story loses much. With over 400 minutes of run-time and only about 20 of those devoted to the imprisonment and escape of the title character, I expected great things from the rest of the movie's deliberate handling of the tale. But again, from the moment Dantes escapes prison, great liberties are taken that change the whole momentum of the original story.

Some very odd things are handling accurately, almost to a fault. The conversations between The Abbe and Caderousse are almost identical to the novel, where they could have been cut entirely. The relationship between Valentine and Morrel is addressed in this version only and that is a blessing since it is one of the great things about the novel, throwing as it does, such a wrench into Dante's inner-workings. The murderous vendetta held by the new Mrs Villefort is also included although it doesnt translate as stunningly to screen as it does via written word.

But such strange changes were made to the story as well...pointless ones. Benedetto had an snip of a role that was completely out of keeping w/ his pompous character in the book. A lusty love interest was introduced into the story for Dantes that was just ludicrous since his love for Mercedes was a blinding force behind his actions in the book. His eventual transfer of his affections to Haydee was also ignored in this adaptation, for reasons unknown. The public pronunciations against Villefort, Danglars, and Morcerf were extremely faithful to the book but such was unnecessary since at times and without Dumas' narration, it was just plain tedious. The pirates, Albert, and meetings w/ Mercedes were also very sketchy and full of liberties.

Acting was fine by the leads. I was impressed by Depardieu, miscast as he was, because he did seem to feel his interpretation of Dantes and his performance was moving. Stanislas Merhar as Albert was also a pretty picture and he left an impression. The same cannot be said of Julie Depardieu, Gerard's daughter, as Valentine. She retained the same expression thoughout the movie and the inflection of her voice rarely changed. The tortured innocence of Valentine was replaced by a bland paper doll of a girl.

To sum up, I guess there are some works of fiction too great and too large to be successfully brought to the screen. It was dissapointing, especially after seeing the great Jane Eyre production starring Timothy Dalton and it's avid attention to the story, that the same could not be accomplished w/ this book. But it's to be expected, I suppose. A book as long and detailed as this one would be very difficult to visualize completely.

I can say that the Richard Chamberlain version is the best accomplishment in this respect and the Jim Caviezel film is vastly entertaining when not compared to its source material.

But this one was a large-scale dissapointment in most respects.

My rating: 5/10


Blogger bookyeti said...

I'm glad you finally had a chance to read the "Count of Monte Cristo" really is one of the best books I've ever read (and rivals Pride & Prejudice as my favourite novel ever).

Haven't seen this adaptation, but by your rating, I'm rather relieved I didn't. heh!

8:25 AM  
Blogger RosieP said...

I cannot recall a movie or television adaptation of "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" that ended with Edmond and Haydee together. Not one.

1:01 PM  

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