Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)

Year 8, Day 259 - 9/15/16 - Movie #2,451  

BEFORE: Well, my plan was to spend most of August catching up on a lot of television, which was stored on both the DVR and a pile of VHS tapes, and I failed to completely catch up.  I've got about 5 tapes left and a half-full DVR, and the new TV season starts next week.  The one upside is that new episodes of "Gotham" and "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." air soon, and I feel like I JUST watched the last season finale a few weeks ago - largely because that's exactly what I did.  

I had to binge-watch the last 2 weeks of "America's Got Talent" tonight, just so I could see the winner announced without seeing it in social media first.  And I only got half-way through the third season of "BBQ Crawl" before getting distracted, and I've got about 20 episodes of "Carnival Eats", plus episodes of whatever new TV aired during July, so I guess I'm only about 2 months behind.  But once that new season starts, I'm going to fall much further behind, unless I devote the time I usually spend watching movies to TV shows, at least while I'm on break.  

And this is usually the time when I read through the Fall TV previews in magazines, and cross off show after show that I've got no interest in - but with a soft spot for sci-fi TV and time travel, I think I'm in trouble.  TWO shows about time travel?  "Timeless" and "Frequency"?  Plus a new "Westworld"?  Sure, all the movies these days are reboots and ripoffs, why not TV shows too?  Arrgh, I guess I've got to give these a try, since I picked up "12 Monkeys" and "Wayward Pines" 2 years ago.  But it all seems like placeholders until they can get "Twin Peaks" back on the air.  I really should find the time to finally watch "Lost", but there never seems to be an opportunity to do that. 

Patrick Godfrey carries over from "Mr. Turner", and my path is clear for the next 5 days.

THE PLOT: A young man, falsely imprisoned by his jealous "friend," escapes and uses a hidden treasure to exact his revenge.

AFTER: When I'm not watching reboots or superhero films, it seems like I've been bouncing around somewhat this year between films about art, music and literature.  (Yeah, I'm counting films about punk rockers under "music", even though that seems to be a crime to me, putting that in the same category as a film about, say, Beethoven)  For literature this is the year I finally covered some Jane Austen adaptations, plus "Anna Karenina", "Barry Lyndon", "King Lear", "Macbeth", "Catch-22", and another version of "Around the World in 80 Days".  But let's focus on Alexandre Dumas, since I watched a few versions of "The Three Musketeers" several years back, and I don't think that Cheech & Chong's version of "The Corsican Brothers" can really be counted as a faithful adaptation.  

I've always avoided "The Count of Monte Cristo" for some reason, never read the book, and I think in my mind it got kind of lumped in with "The Man in the Iron Mask".  Both are about people imprisoned for a long period of time, right?  But what a mistake I made, not checking this story out sooner.  It's got danger, intrigue, romance, and a giant con/heist that's better than what you see in films like "Ocean's Eleven".  Plus there's a lot of swordfighting and a prison escape, and I can see dozens of stories that were probably influenced by this one, including everything from "The Princess Bride" to "The Karate Kid" to "The Shawshank Redemption".  ("Shawshank" even indirectly references this story, by having a prisoner pick up a novel and mispronounce the author's name as "Dumb-ass" instead of "Dumas".)

Plus, this was originally printed in serialized form, a fact that's pretty evident by the sweeping changes throughout the book, as Edmond Dantes goes from ship's mate to prisoner to pirate to mysterious wealthy person.  That makes this tale feel like a very early version of a comic book, or perhaps a soap opera (comic books just being soap operas for teen boys, mostly).  Charles Dickens serialized a lot of his stories, too, and just as you can see "The Prince and the Pauper" played out time and time again in soap opera form (with actors notoriously playing their own brothers, or identical cousins...) it's important to note that when a soap opera character returns from the dead, with a sudden fortune after a plane crash in Bolivia and extensive facial surgery, I think that's more Dumas than Dickens.  

Because that's essentially what Edmond Dantes does - he returns from the dead, or at least life in prison, after his family and fiancée were told that he was dead.  Same thing, right?  And to them it seems like a magic trick - but the readers/audience are in on the trick this time, we get to follow Edmond as he befriends a fellow inmate, learns to read and write and swordfight in prison, during breaks while he and his mentor are slowly tunneling out.  That's the plan, anyway, but things then take a narrative turn...

Once he's out of prison, though, he spends months working with a pirate crew before he can break off and find the hidden treasure - but even with enough money for ten lifetimes, he's not satisfied until he gets his revenge on his former friend for having him imprisoned, and for his fiancée, who... well, I'll leave some of the soap opera-style twists out, in case anyone hasn't read this story.  Suffice to say that he returns to society with a new identity, a new fortune, and a new mustache, to keep from being recognized (umm, sure, that works...).  He's also got a grand scheme to discredit his enemies, using their own greed and vices against them.  

The message for the readers/viewers is that living well, is not the best revenge - REVENGE is the best revenge.  But at the same time, Edmond was cautioned against revenge, and he went after it anyway.  This is a bit like trying to have it both ways - so, is revenge good or bad?  Also, he mentioned a few times that he didn't believe in God, but by the end seemed to be much more of a believer.  It's not that clear what changed his mind, unless it's the fact that he sort of came out on top.  But faith doesn't really work that way, it seems to mean the most to people when they're down on their luck.  Really, these are minor quibbles, on the whole it's a great, exciting story with a few great twists in it. 

Also starring Jim Caviezel (last seen in "Escape Plan"), Guy Pearce (last seen in "Lawless"), Richard Harris, James Frain (last seen in "Shadowlands"), Dagmara Dominczyk (last seen in "Keeping the Faith"), Luis Guzman (last heard in "Turbo"), Henry Cavill (last seen in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"), Michael Wincott, Christopher Adamson (last seen in "Judge Dredd"), JB Blanc (also last seen in "Shadowlands"), Alex Norton, Barry Cassin, Freddie Jones, Helen McCrory.

RATING: 7 out of 10 treasure chests

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