DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1998/2005)

Seven-hour French miniseries successfully dramatizes the thick novel

Published on September 15, 2006

Alexander Dumas’  The Count of Monte Cristo (1998/2005)
Alexander Dumas’  The Count of Monte Cristo (1998/2005)

Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Ornella Muti, Michael Aumont, Jean Rochefort, Pierre Arditi, Sergio Rubini
Director: Josee Dayan
Music: Bruno Coulais
Studio: Koch Lorber
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo, French
Subtitles: English
Length: 414 min.
Rating: ****

I used to suspect this, but now I’m convinced: The television mini-series format should be used to present any classic book longer than 450 pages. This was true in the seventies with the famous BBC presentation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and it’s true today, with this splendid French production of The Count of Monte Cristo. Famous thick books really need seven hours in which to present all the intrigue, suspense, and character development they contain. In this one, I kept waiting for the pace to stall to a crawl, for my attention to flag over some drawn-out 19th century discourse. Happily, it never does. The production speeds through its allotted time quicker than a rapier parry. Each 90-minute segment ends on a dramatic precipice, making the film a cinematic page-turner.

The characters are sharply drawn, even the minor ones, like Caderousse, the venal innkeeper. Watching him lurk into a scene, I half-expected a Wagnerian leitmotif to accompany him. Gerard Depardieu, at a hefty fifty years of age, acts with his usual mixture of passion and theatricality. It’s a bit hard to swallow his disguises as Pere Busoni, Lord Wilmore, and the Count of Monte Cristo. Unlike Jeremy Brett in the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, he makes no attempt to vary his voice or walking carriage. Small potatoes. Monte Cristo’s transformation from a revenge machine to avenging angel is in the end believable and satisfying. He lays waste to his youthful tormenters (or they lay waste to themselves). And he gets the girl. What more can the adolescent in all of us require?

– Peter Bates

 




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