In 1844, a young airship captain named Alexandre Dumas dictated the original prose for The Three Musketeers to his robotic ninja manservant in between globe trotting treasure hunts. While that’s not wholly true (it was actually a monkey ninja manservant), it’s an entirely plausible origin for Paul W.S. Anderson’s 2011 big screen adaptation. Here’s a look at the Blu-ray edition that hit stores last week.
The basic plot of The Three Musketeers is a familiar one, largely thanks to the countless versions and adaptations that have surface over the hundred and sixty-something years since the story’s initial serialization. Beneath the various stylistic and narrative changes that have happened along the way, the essential tale of young d’Artagnan coming to Paris in the hopes of joining the Musketeers usually remains intact. All the other details tend to sway with the tropes and stylings of the times and creators developing the adaptations. With the Resident Evil movie franchise’s Anderson at the helm of this newest incarnation, it’s no surprise that this movie swings more toward a literally high flying action spectacle.
Anderson is no stranger to visually arresting films, and he pulls out all the stops for The Three Musketeers. The set pieces, costuming, and effects all are fantastic, and the movie looks and sounds stunning on Blu-ray. There’s plenty of the aforementioned spectacle, between daring swashbuckling and ridiculously arresting airship fighting. On the merits of the visuals and design alone, the film is absolutely outstanding, and that’s where I would end this review if I didn’t have to discuss the merits of the more traditional aspects of the movie such as what actually happens in it. Sadly, that’s where everything falls apart.
The basic events of the original story are here in one form or another, from d’Artagnan seeking out the Musketeers to political intrigues of the French court to the perfidy of Milady de Winter. Anderson’s adaptation brings all the pieces together in a rather haphazard way that far emphasizes style over substance. The improbably cool action sequences are indeed cool, but they are even more improbable, and they usually seem overblown and out of place in the midst of all this gorgeous period finery. Dialogue suffers a similar fate, rendering many scenes and exchanges shallow and even groan inducing. If you go into The Three Musketeers with your expectations set appropriately low for content and high for shock and awe, you’ll likely have a fun time watching all the daring do. Just don’t look for anything deeper than the shiny and slick surface or you’ll come away disappointed.
Matthew Macfayden, Ray Stevenson, and Luke Evans play the titular Musketeers, while Logan Lerman takes top billing as d’Artagnan. Paul W.S. Anderson’s mainstay leading lady and real life wife Milla Jovovich plays Milady de Winter, duplicitously in league with Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham. Inglourious Basterds’ Christoph Waltz is Cardinal Richelieu, with Mads Mikkelsen (James Bond’s Le Chiffre) playing Captain Rochefort. All the characters fill their roles from the original source material, but the smooth action veneer denies any depth to the performances and introduces a bit of the absurd into the mix.
Along with the movie itself, a number of bonus features are packed into the Blu-ray:
- Audio commentary from Paul W.S. Anderson, joined by producers Rober Kulzer and Jeremy Bolt
- Series of very brief featurettes, including Paul W.S. Anderson’s Musketeers, Orlando Bloom Takes on the Duke, 17th Century Air Travel, and Uncovering France in Germany
- Access: Three Musketeers – a picture-in-picture visual commentary and behind the scenes feature that plays alongside the movie with optional interactive features
- Around 15 minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes
Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers is anything but the definitive adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel. It is, however, a big budget interpretation of the high points of the novel, transplanted into a sleek modern action flick. If you’re looking for a visual feast that has a superb HD presentation on Blu-ray, you can’t go wrong with this one. Just don’t go in expecting anything beyond a shallow foray into a fantastical version of 17th century France.