The Three Musketeers (2011/Blu-ray)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
This take on the Three Musketeers is to Alexandre Dumas what those classic velvet paintings of dogs playing poker are to Rembrandt.
All for One and One for All
The story begins at the tail end of an adventure for the Three Musketeers and their distress-creating damsel companion, Milady de Winter. Their efforts to steal Leonardo Da Vinci's plans for flying warships are thwarted by a double-cross. Given their failure (and budget cuts), the Musketeers have been delisted from royal commissions and find themselves unemployed.
The Musketeers barely miss the point
Thankfully, Europe's facing a 17th-century apocalypse and the heroic trio manages to find an excuse for an adventure if not a truly righteous cause to guide their actions.
The Three Musketeers is the kind of movie wants to be all things to all people; it offers a mix of humor, adventure, and action, all wrapped up in a fanciful world boasting technology way ahead of its time. While righting some previous cinematic wrongs, such as now correctly portraying D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief) as a teenager instead of a thirtysomething and Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz, Carnage) as a war-savvy man of the cloth, the movie in some respects is a case of two steps forward, two steps back.
Instead of the expected franchise-starting blockbuster, the end result is an odd mix that's hard to get excited about. All of the pieces are there, right down to sympathetic protagonists and young love, but perhaps it's a nagging sense of over-calculation that creates a buzz kill.
Sacre Bleu Cheese
Movies like this are in some respects heartbreaking.
The Three Musketeers is a gorgeous movie with loads of vibrant visual effects, striking scenery, and colorful costumes. It's a highpoint in terms of technical splendor for Paul W.S. Anderson, who's directed some of the Resident Evil movies among other schlocky fantasy/horror flicks. Visions of 17th century Venice, Paris, and London offer loads of digital detail and the movie's $75 million budget seems extremely modest given the imagery on the screen.
The cast is also, by and large, appealing. Particularly effective are Matthew Macfadyen (Ridley Scott's Robin Hood), Milla Jovovich (the Resident Evil series), and Ray Stevenson (TV's Rome). But for Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), the artistic hangover from his heady Oscar buzz continues and for Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean) the transition to bad guy is awkward. Bloom in particular is a curiosity. His acting seems to be good, but his Pompadour is an unintentionally comical distraction that, quite oddly and unfortunately, throws the merits of Bloom's performance into question.
The big problem is this fanciful spin on the classic Three Musketeers stories of yore requires an equally fanciful sensibility that Anderson lacks in the director's chair. He's missing a certain je ne sais quoi in his approach, while a director more seasoned in the world of the quirky and the outlandish, such as Terry Gilliam (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) or Gore Verbinski (the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies) could swash the mash-up's material into a more robust farce.
This review refers to the 2D Blu-ray edition. Also available are 3D Blu-ray and DVD editions. Given the movie flopped in the United States and performed only modestly well abroad, it's nice to see the movie was still given a feature-rich Blu-ray release.
There's a collection of 12 deleted or extended scenes (14 minutes). While the disc's jacket indicates a filmmaker commentary is available, that does not appear to be the case. Regardless, it's a strikingly dull set of primarily extended cuts, although the captions identifying the extended footage and deleted scenes are a nice touch. The most interesting is the extended duel between D'Artagnan and Rochefort. The sequence includes incomplete visual effects and sound effects that make for a good look at how, from a technical standpoint, at how the scene was shot.
There are four featurettes, totaling approximately 10 minutes.
For Paul W.S. Anderson's Musketeers the title says it all. This one plays more like a commercial for the movie's appealing elements than an informative featurette.
In Orlando Bloom Takes on the Duke, the take-away is that Bloom was encouraged to use David Bowie, Jim Morrison, and Mick Jagger as inspirations for his portrayal of Buckingham. It's a copycat attempt to latch on to Johnny Depp's use of Keith Richards as a model for Jack Sparrow.
In 17th Century Air Travel Anderson discusses his preference for practical sets with minimal CGI enhancement. It's a sentiment that is much appreciated in this overly artificial and digital age.
Uncovering France in Germany looks at the location work and how Germany filled in for 17th century France, both for interior and exterior shots.
The real meat of the supplements is the well-done audio commentary with director Paul W.S. Anderson and producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer. Anderson refers to them as the Three Budgeteers and they engage in a lively, informative track.
The revelation that Anderson was enthralled by Richard Lester's version helps explain some of Anderson's modus operandi, or at least his primary inspiration. It's interesting to hear Lester, who also directed Help! and A Hard Day's Night, wanted to have the Beatles star as the Musketeers. That thought reprises this writer's notion that a certain sensibility is required to make this material work and, well, Richard Lester's approach isn't a particularly solid model to follow. Couple that with using Da Vinci's inventions as a key twist to give people something "extra," given the number of times the story has already been told, and the end state of this Three Musketeers becomes understandable, if not entirely appreciable.
There's also insight into the derivative nature of Anderson's approach to making this film. During the commentary, references are made to the board game Risk, spaghetti westerns, the Assassin's Creed video game, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Peter Weir's Master and Commander, Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, even Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire. Anderson's cultural souffle gets a ding for referring to Amy Adams in Sherlock Holmes. That should be Rachel McAdams. But he makes up for it with a couple interesting notes about real world history.
On the humorous side, Anderson had endless meetings about hair extensions on Buttercup (a horse).
The centerpiece of the Blu-ray release is Access: Three Musketeers, an extravagant picture-in-picture immersion into the world of The Three Musketeers. While watching the movie, content will appear under the categories Ultimate Access, Cast & Crew, The Look, 17th Century Action, Fight Meter, and Did You Know? Each category can be turned on or off for a custom experience. Based on the content type, elements such as a meter of the Four Musketeers' derring-do will tally points based on the type of maneuver executed; a trivia bit will appear; or a behind-the-scenes video clip will play, either in full screen or split. It gets really interesting when the screen splits between the movie, a behind-the-scenes clip, and the fight meter.
It's superbly executed and a prime example of why Blu-ray is a valuable distribution method even as Hollywood tries to force an advancement of low-grade, bare bones movie downloads.
Picture and Sound
While the movie itself is hit-and-miss, there's nothing spotty about the quality of the Blu-ray.
This is a top-notch, showcase-worthy presentation. The wonderful visuals and Paul Haslinger's lively score are immaculately served up on this Blu-ray's 1080p 2.35:1 presentation and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
Also available is a Spanish track in Dolby Digital 5.1. Optional subtitles are available in English for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish. No doubt the limited audio and subtitle options are a sacrifice made to provide the space for all of the supplemental material.
How to Use This Disc
Enjoy the movie for what it is, a misguided farce. Those so inclined should most definitely check out Access: Three Musketeers.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.