The Musketeer

The Musketeer (2001)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Tim Roth, Catherine Deneuve, Mena Suvari
Extras: Featurettes, Talent Files, Trailer

Ever since the advent of the motion picture it has been popular to turn beloved literary classics into movies. Among the most memorable of these are the lavish spectacles based on tales of grand adventure and daring-do. Alexandre Dumas’ "The Three Musketeers" is one such work to have been turned into countless cinematic adaptations. The latest of these is "The Musketeer, " a film packed with exciting stunts but saddled with an anemic story and a listless cast.

For those who don’t know the tale by now, the film opens with some background text that sets the stage for a 17th century France torn between a cowardly king and a ruthless cardinal. After his parents are killed by Cardinal Richelieu’s (Steven Rea) henchman Febre (Tim Roth), D’Artagnan (Justin Chambers) goes to live with family friend Planchet (Jean-Pierre Castaldi) where he begins training to become one of the King’s loyal Musketeers.

Returning to Paris after a number of years the lad finds a city in disarray as the Musketeers have fallen victim to a plot by Richelieu to imprison their leader and weaken their public support. Finding Aramis (Nick Moran), Porthos (Steven Spiers,) and Athos (Jan Gregor Kremp) as the last remaining Musketeers, D’Artagnan sets out to free their leader, uncover the Cardinal’s evil plot, exact revenge on Febre, fall in love with Francesca (Mena Suvari), become chums with the Queen (Catherine Deneuve), and give the King (Daniel Mesguich) some much-needed backbone.

Let’s get the few meager good features of this mess of a film out of the way first. When I saw the trailer for "The Musketeer" I immediately thought to myself, "Hey, that ladder fighting scene was stolen from Tsui Hark’s ’Once Upon a Time in China.’" Well, as it turns out, the stunt choreographer for this film is none other than Xin-Xin Xiong the famed Hong Kong stunt man and coordinator who was Jet Li’s double in the aforementioned film and who choreographed many of its sequels and a fair number of quality martial arts movies. The rest of "The Musketeer" may fall flat but the fights do not. Although derivative and woefully out of place these stunts are still a lot of fun to watch. These few shining moments are reason enough to at least rent the film if Hong Kong action is your cup of tea.

Second, director Peter Hyams takes a page from the master, Stanley Kubrick, and goes for the natural lighting look that made "Barry Lyndon" such a visually powerful film. While comparing the two films would be the highest form of heresy, this trick at least makes "The Musketeer" an interesting visual diversion if nothing else.

Now on to the bad. With such a stable of recognizable talent why is that every single performance here is so awful? Even the usually reliable Tim Roth provides but a shadow of what he’s capable of and not a single character is imbued with any degree of gravity or believability. And casting the unknown Justin Chambers as the lead only exacerbates the problem as his D’Artagnan is more an annoying twit than a dashing leading man.

Presented in 2.35:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, "The Musketeer" arrives on DVD with only an average video presentation. The image is not overly sharp and occasional instances of edge enhancement indicate an attempt to correct that. As mentioned before, the natural lighting leads to an interesting color palette and a very dark image. A properly calibrated monitor and a dark viewing environment are a requirement to be able to discern the myriad of shadow details that make up the bulk of the film. There were some color and brightness fluctuations throughout the movie and a few surprising instances of physical blemishes and film grain so, on the whole, the picture is pleasing but not without its flaws.

Audio is presented in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> and <$DTS,DTS> <$5.1,5.1 mix>es as well as a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The soundtrack is decent enough with a nice soundstage, good dynamic range, and adequate surround usage. David Arnold’s musical score is especially vibrant and takes full advantage of all of the speakers. The LFE channel is a bit overdone for my tastes and the thumping bass really doesn’t mesh well with the overall audio theme of the film. This just isn’t a very well-balanced soundtrack and the jarring nature of the sound effects only serves to pull the viewer out of the moment. As for the Dolby Digital vs. DTS face-off, both tracks display the same set of strengths and weaknesses with the DTS mix being recorded a tad louder.

Given the woeful box office success of "The Musketeer" it should come as no surprise that the DVD wasn’t given the full-blown special edition treatment. What is included are two very brief featurettes that run only a few minutes each and take a look at the film’s stunts and leading man. In depth they are not. Rounding out the extras are the film’s theatrical trailer and some very perfunctory talent files and production notes.

I can just imagine what was going through everyone’s mind when they signed on for this project: "Hmm, a good old-fashioned swashbuckler based on a classic novel and filmed on location in France. Sounds like fun." It’s pretty clear from the lackluster effort put forward by the cast and crew that everyone quickly realized what a dud they were creating. Director Peter Hyams at least gives it the old college try with some of his trademark visual flair but everyone else is clearly coasting through to the wrap party.

Featuring an average audio and video presentation and no real extras to speak of, "The Musketeer" is recommended as a rental to those who want to get a taste of Hong Kong action set in 17th century France while they await the release of the vastly superior "Brotherhood of the Wolf" on DVD.