Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Count of Monte Cristo Blu-Ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
When I think Monte Cristo the first thing that comes to mind is the yummy ham and cheese sandwich.  The second thing is the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo, a film I own on DVD and rarely watch.  Every time I watch the movie I think to myself,” I really liked that” and I wonder why I don’t watch it more often.  The third thing is the book which I admit I’ve never read.  I have no idea how true to the book the movie is or what important plot points were left out (if any).  I can tell you that The Count of Monte Cristo tells the story of the dashing and guileless Edmond Dantes (Jim Caviezel) who is betrayed by his best friend (Guy Pearce) and wrongly imprisoned.  He then becomes consumed by thoughts of vengeance.  After a miraculous escape, he transforms himself into the mysterious and wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, insinuates himself into the French nobility, and puts his cunning plan of reprisal in action.  Bonus features include deleted scenes, a production design featurette, a multi-angle sword fighting feature, and much more!

Film (3 out of 5 stars) 

As the cover reads “Prepare for Adventure.  Count on Revenge.”  The Count of Monte Cristo is based on the Alexandre Dumas book of the same name.  Jim Caviezel plays Edmond Dantes, a poor naive man who has the love of a beautiful woman named Mercedes (Dagmara Dominczyk).  Mercedes has also caught the eye of Edmond’s best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce).  Fernand betrays Edmond over Mercedes and Edmond is falsely imprisoned for treason.  Fernand sums up his frustrations telling Edmond “I shouldn’t want to be you.”
Edmond is sent to an island prison, the Chateau D’if where innocent men are hidden away and it’s not long before Edmond’s friends and family are sent word that he was executed. Although he is not executed, as reported, Edmond is whipped every year on the anniversary of his imprisonment.  During his long imprisonment, Edmond befriends a priest and former soldier Abbe Faria (Richard Harris) who was incarcerated because he claimed not to know the location of Count Spada’s fortune.   Edmond agrees to help Abbe dig his way to freedom and in exchange is taught to read and write, learns mathematics, philosophy, and military strategy and most importantly unravels the details of how he ended up where he is.
During their escape to freedom, Abbe is killed by a cave in leaving Edmond free and the beneficiary of the treasure which makes him a very rich man.  With his new-found wealth and knowledge, he transforms himself into the ficticious Count of Monte Cristo and begins plotting his revenge against Fernand.  He   learns that his father committed suicide after hearing the news of Edmond’s supposed execution and that Mercedes and Fernand are now married and have a son named Albert.  Edmond inserts himself into their lives by arranging to save Albert from a contrived kidnapping and in gratitude, Albert invited the Count to his birthday party.  Mercedes is not in love with Fernand, and she begins to recognize her former love Edmond because of  small cues like his signature hair twirling.  When she finally confirms it is Edmond, she admits she still loves him and wants to be with him.  Happy that he’s won his love back, Edmond makes plans to take her and her son and leave France until Fernand appears.  While Fernand doesn’t really seem to care much about his son or his wife, he still refuses to lose to Edmond and a duel ensues.
The Count of Monte Cristo is a powerful story about vengeance.  The film takes a long time to really get going, having a lot of detailed plot points to reveal.  As I said I have not read the book, but I’m guessing that it makes a better novel than a screenplay.  That said, I did enjoy the film very much. Director Kevin Reynolds does an excellent job keeping someone like me interested in a plot that wouldn’t normally interest me.  The film has a very atmospheric quality, with elaborate sets and swashbuckling adventure.  I found myself noticing the difference between Edmond and Fernand’s initial and final sword fighting styles, particularly how Edmond has changed.  I picked up on a lot of details that I normally would catch and I am surprised that it interested me enough that I noticed.  The cast as a whole gave impressive performances.  Jim Caviezel’s transformation from Edmond to the Count is dramatic.  I’m trying to remember what else I’ve seen Guy Pearce in, but he plays a good bad guy who is very believable in that type of role.  Dagmara Dominczyk rounds out the cast and I can’t imagine what the film would have been without the three actors.

Video (3 out of 5 stars) 

The Count of Monte Cristo is presented in 1080p, 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  There is a light layer of grain present periodically.  Images of the sky reveal visible noise.  The first half of the movie is set at night, or in very low light.  There is rather low contrast, but visibility is acceptable.  Once the plot moves beyond the prison, the visual quality improves with more dynamic colors and overall depth. At no point during the film would I call it visually impressive.  Given the historical nature of the film, and the attempt for historical accuracy for the time period I am willing to forgive a lot of my complaints.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

The Count of Monte Cristo is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0.  English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available. The dialogue is clear and consistent throughout.  The audio track is very front heavy with few uses of side channels.  The sound of swords clanking  definitely helps immerse the viewer in the action of the sword fights.  The fact that I did not have to adjust the volume to understand the actors’ accents was very pleasing.
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)  
When I requested the film, I did not expect to see Special Features at all, and was pleasantly surprised with the significant number of them and their high quality.  Then I looked on my DVD and realized that these special features are not new for the Blu-ray, as they have been ported over from the DVD and I had just never seen them.
  • An Epic Reborn -  the following four featurettes:
    • “The Pen” – Retrospective on Author Alexandre Dumas
    • “Adapting A Classic” – Screenwriting Segment
    • “The Napoleonic World” – Production Design Featurette
    • “The Clash of Steel” – Stunt Choreography Piece
  • 5 Deleted Scenes With Commentary by Filmmakers - Five deleted scenes are included and can be viewed individually or together.  An introduction by the director and editor is included explaining the reasons for the cuts.  Included is the alternate ending duel.  I think they made the right choice with the ending that made it in the film.
  • En Garde – Multi Angle Sword Fighting Featurette -Director Kevin Reynolds provides commentary over a split screen duel showing the two camera set ups.
  • Layer-By-Layer: Interactive Sound Design Feature – The prison escape scene is included here with separate audio tracks.  In my opinion, this was the least interesting of the special features but it does help you to appreciate the importance of the audio.
  • Commentary with Director Kevin Reynolds – The director provides a fairly interesting but discussion of the film.  He discusses challenges he faced making the movie. He discusses technical aspects as well as the adaptation of the book.  Reynolds even admits to mistakes made throughout the process.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

Monte Cristo is definitely much more than a sandwich.  The Count of Monte Cristo is a well acted and directed film worth owning.  The Blu-ray transfer isn’t perfect, but it is definitely worth upgrading from the DVD copy you may currently own.  In theory I should hate this movie.  I don’t usually like anything remotely historical.  Accents usually annoy me and I’m not really a fan of the two leading men, Jim Caviezel or Guy Pearce.  In other films I found them both to be a bit creepy.  In The Count of Monte Cristo, everything comes together and somehow works for me.   Having nothing to compare it to, I was happy overall with the screenplay.  I realize Kevin Reynolds directedWaterworld and some people will never forgive him for that.  I happen to be one of eight people in the world that actually liked Waterworld, but I will admit that despite it being a crappy movie, I still enjoy it.  The Count of Monte Cristo is actually a good movie, so don’t hold Waterworld against him…give it a try.
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