Why “The Three Musketeers” isn’t as bad as you probably think it is.

Yes, it’s another apology post for Paul W.S. Anderson‘s career – feel free to tune out if you think of him as only slightly less reviled than Uwe Boll and only marginally less hateful to cinephiles than Michael Bay.

See, he looks really nice - how bad could he be? Photo by Albert Ortega.

If I’m writing one of these posts, that must mean that he has a new film out, yes?  Indeed, and it isn’t a new “Resident Evil” installment – this year’s chip off the Anderson block is “The Three Musketeers”, an adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas novel which takes a remarkable number of liberties with the source material – a more accurate title might be “Jules Verne’s Steampunk Remix – The Three Musketeers” as the film gleefully dispenses with any real sense of historical veracity as soon as it can.

I half expected D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) to rock up in Paris in a Hybrid SUV and arrange his initial duel with the disgraced Athos (Matthew McFadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) via Blackberry Messenger.  In terms of blithely gleeful anachronism, such absurdity would have fitted nicely with D’Artagnan’s Californian accent and shaggy, classic rock tresses.

Two Musketeers, One D'Artagnan and the back of Porthos' head

This is churlish, of course.  Anderson is making a popcorn, multiplex-pleasing adventure romp and any resemblance to historical time periods, events or people would be wholly accidental.

Witness the awesome:

I flippin' love Paul Anderson. Fanboys whine, he gets on with it and goes home to Milla J - Like a boss...

Yes, that just happened. In this movie and all up in your face.  If you go to see this film you should expect duelling airships.  This is where the steampunk or Verne-ian angle comes in – whenever the script finds a problem to resolve, it does so not with the expected horses, swashbuckling or period technology.  Oh no.  We get airships, all manner of automated cannons and elaborate, multi-barrelled pistols, costumes which look like they’ve just been borrowed from Lady Gaga’s dressing room and Da Vinci-inspired security systems which perhaps pay homage to the lethal Umbrella Corporation from Anderson’s previous “Resi” films.

There’s fighting, duelling, honour, guff about France, Cardinal Richelieu and the intrigue in the Royal Court to satisfy Dumas’ fans but suffice is to say that if you value the novel at all, you probably shouldn’t go to see this film – it uses the books as a jumping-off point and the plot sweeps ahead with little if any regard for 17th Century veracity. Even the dialogue, manners and characterisation seem to be drawn very much from our time, not always to bad effect.

As Anderson and his wife Milla Jovovich are involved in this iteration of Dumas story, the role of Milady is invested with rather more action than we are perhaps used to seeing.   Think “Mission: Impossible”-style incursions, abseiling, multi-dude sword take-downs and a distinct sense that Milady could quite happily and easily kick the bejesus out of most of the Musketeers if only (A) she could be bothered to and (B) it wouldn’t mess up her frocks.

No Zombies for Milla this time, but plenty of faceless Royal Guards in need of a shoeing...

I was particularly taken with one Anderson composition in the film – it’s in the scene where (spoilers) Milady is breaking into the French Queen’s dressing room to steal her diamond necklace (spoilers end) and is posed elegantly atop a tower before abseiling from a great height.  I feel sure that it must reference a painting of the period and is the kind of iconic, stylish moment of diversion which I sometimes feel that Anderson might want to interject into his work.  He’s got the eye and works with great directors of photography – I can’t quite get behind the notion that he’s a hack without talent, as he’s displayed his visual acuity in his previous films.  Serving the story and getting out-of-the-way of the movie is one thing – giving ammunition to the more blinkered critics is quite another.

You probably know after watching the trailer whether this is your thing or not – I really enjoyed it (and the blatant set-up for a sequel which follows the initial credit title card seems like it would get rid of much of the problem inherent in adapting a classic by being bat-shizz insane from the get-go).

The acting’s serviceable (although Christophe Waltz and Mads Mikkelsen as the bad guys are gloriously nasty buggers) and the script is frequently guilty of not knowing whether to fully embrace anachronism or make a late-in-the-game effort at authenticity.  The technical credits are excellent – photography, visual effects and sound mixing are top-notch.  I was quite fond, too, of the transitions between scenes – we follow a map between locations a-la forties cinema and Anderson’s found a way to do this in 3D, which I found really nifty and which also recalled Richelieu’s oversized war game pieces in his office.  It’s like the people who make films think about stuff like this – remarkable!

I would like to talk a little about what Anderson did with the 3D in this new adaptation, as he was using the Cameron/Pace camera system to shoot with – but, unfortunately, I can’t.  Although I paid for a ticket to the 3D screening of the film – I’ve made a point of only going to see 3D films shot ‘natively’ with proper hardware and composition, not the post-converted Marvel flicks – my branch of Cineworld didn’t programme their projection set-up correctly this morning and I ended up seeing a pristine, digitally projected presentation without any 3D lens in the projection chain.

This wouldn’t be a problem but for the fact that any cinema-goer seeing a 3D movie pays a price hike for the privilege.  I made sure that I got a refund, but it makes me wonder if any less astute film fans have ever found themselves getting a headache at the cinema because the theatre hasn’t properly projected the film in the first place?

The verdict? Not a classic, but a whole heap of silly, dressed-up, swash-buckling, steam-punk fun.

 

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Filed under Films, Geekery, Movie Trailer, Spoiled!

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