The Count of Monte Cristo (1998)
Whilst Edmond Dantès (Guillaume Depardieu) is enjoying his engagement celebrations, soldiers erupt into the courtyard with a royal mandate to arrest him. Believing it to be a simple mistake, Dantès leaves hoping that things will be cleared up when he meets with the judge. His faith in the judicial system do however prove to be ill-founded as the judge is also involved in a machination to have him suppressed at all costs. Locked up in the Château D'If without appearing in court, Dantès is left to die anonymously. After 18 years of hell, Dantès (now played by Gérard Depardieu) seizes a lucky twist of fate which gives him an opportunity to escape. Over the last two decades he has hatched an elaborate plan to exact punishment on those who stitched him up - but will he be able to survive the merciless sea surrounding his gaol?
As star-studded casts go, this comprises a fair collection of some of France's most prominent actors - although Depardieu is the sole household name, we get the mercurial presence of Jean Rochefort, Pierre Arditi and Jean-Claude Brialy mixed with a clutch of Italian actors (Ornella Mutti, Sergio Rubini) and much of the main casts offspring (Rochefort, Depardieu and Mutti all coerced their offspring into this). Quite how the producers managed to assemble them for a mere TV production albeit one backed by the might of TF1, France's richest channel, is beyond me. Although the cinematography is at times slightly unimaginative (probably due to time and budget restraints), Josée Dayan manages to get some very good performances from the cast - granted there's a few wooden moments but the drive given to the entire enterprise by Depardieu is hard to resist. The sets are well designed and large amounts of extras are used in many scenes to give the production values of a major production. The 19th century environment is faithfully rendered thanks to some clever use of existing locations and leaves you wondering where on earth do most productions squander their money?
Didier Decoin's adaptation of Dumas' classic adventure despite being obviously tailored to Depardieu's personality is wonderfully well written - for those who read the book, they will find a few notable differences between the two characters but aside from that minor issue, Decoin remains qute faithful to Dumas. With a running time nearing the 7 hours, the plot moves incredibly swiftly but still allows plenty of development for many of the sub-plots concocted by Dumas.
Unsurprisingly, the film was hugely successful both domestically and abroad - in large part, thanks to Depardieu's presence. Although by no means perfect, the film does manage to aptly tell a compelling story of betrayal and revenge without pandering too much to the obvious or getting bogged down despite the extended format.
The DVD:Coming in a nice boxset, Arrow had the excellent idea of including Dumas' novel with the film. A nice touch and a great read...
The image and the subtitles:The subtitles are sadly burnt into the image - this has slightly marred the transfer by adding JPEG style artefacting around them (see images for examples).The translation is however very good and misses out very little from the French. The transfer itself it sadly not anamorphic but is a pretty good effort - the luminosity and colours keep closely to the original and artefacting tends to be kept to minimal levels.
The sound:We get the original French 2.0 mix which is ample. The stereo is used quite effectively and although a 5.1 mix may have been nice, this is ample. The voices come through clearly and the music and sound effects are also mixed in at an adequate level. One major problem I had with the sound (although this was not Arrow's fault) is that some characters have obviously been dubbed over but rather badly - I remember noticing this when I first saw it on French TV so it's not a lip-synch problem. I suspect this is worsened if you've got fluent French so the gravity of this will vary from person to person - many probably won't ever notice it.
The menus:Pretty good - made up from snippets of the first episode, the soundtrack plays in the background. The rest of the menus follow the 19th century style and look all the better for it.
Extras:Arrow have included some production notes and Depardieu's and Mutti's filmographies. The production notes are quite detailed and well worth more than a cursory glance. Added to this we have the possibility of viewing the recaps that were shown at the beginning of the episodes (bar the first one) - it's nice they've included them without making them compulsory. Of course, the book is a bonus of sorts - and a very good one at that!
Conclusion:Despite the slight problems with the subtitling, this is a good release from Arrow given that the appeal of it will probably be limited. The film all in all is a good adaptation of a great book blessed with an extraordinary cast - well worth investigating...