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There are films that have only one chance at success -– guilty pleasure. Often films like these try so hard for cult status they trip over their own forced awkwardness and end up beloved by no one. Paul W.S. Anderson tends to aim for the middle with his nominally capable and generally undistinguished action flicks, but occasionally scores an accidental guilty pleasure, such as Event Horizon or Resident Evil. Anderson earns the guilty pleasure status as far as I’m concerned, because his films are almost always destined to fail in subject matter alone. He’s adapted two video games, made a semi-sequel to Blade Runner, and tried to remake one of the best camp satires of all time as a gritty, serious action film, with a bigger budget, and a smaller scale. The only slam-dunk he every missed was Alien Vs. Predator, which is actually one of his better made films, but also one of his worst, since it had so much to live up to. In keeping with his MO of adapting/remaking things that should be left alone, Anderson chose to make a 3D version of The Three Musketeers. Sure. Why Not?

Three Musketeers (2011), The
Apparently there has been something like 24 live action filmic adaptations of Alexandre Dumas’ original Three Musketeers novel since the advent of film. I’m guessing the most popular of these would be Richard Lester’s 1973 The Three Musketeers, which was followed a year later by The Four Musketeers. Since Lester’s beloved adaptation there have been five more versions, including the almost entirely forgotten Disney production directed by Stephen Herek, and staring then it-boys Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland and Chris O'Donnel, and a universally despised wire-fu version directed by Peter Hyams entitled simply The Musketeer. It would seem Anderson had a pretty low bar set for himself and his choice to put camp over content. Truthfully, I never would’ve believed Anderson had the capability to produce camp with purpose, given his penchant for frowny-faced action movies featuring only levity in dopey one-liners.

Credit where credit is due, however – Anderson does fun things visually with the stale material. These are protein-free visuals, but they’re certainly interesting and a few are even a touch creative. Given the impossible boredom that pervaded Resident Evil: Afterlife and Death Race (how do you make that boring, Paul?) anything less than mind numbing is actually quite impressive. At times Three Musketeers is genuinely beautiful in the severity of its Victorian meets Marvel comics images, and even when it’s ugly, it’s arrogantly ugly, which is kind of praise-worthy in its own way. I have to admit that despite his middling, faceless direction, and their sub-par production values, most of Anderson’s films feature rich and memorable production design. Even Soldier captures a suffocating, grotesque nature of an over-industrialized future. Problems here arise when he tries to snag visual cues from Guy Ritchie and Gore Verbinski, but even when blatantly ripping off already unoriginal directors, Anderson manages a touch of charm (there’s actually quite a bit of overlap in the casts of this film and Ritchie and Verbinski’s period pieces). The action is hit and miss all over the place, occasionally capturing the best of the complex sword fighting choreography, but also reveling in some of the stupidest and most unattractive computer assisted slow motion this side of, well, the last Paul W.S. Anderson film. Like most of Anderson’s films his ambition outshines both his budget and his special effects crew’s abilities. Sometimes Three Musketeers looks a little like a made for Syfy release, or an Asylum mock-buster thanks to chintzy special effects. Digital sets often appear thin and flat, and digital augmentations are occasionally unforgivably uncanny, especially water effects, which are downright terrible.

Three Musketeers (2011), The
I’m not close enough to Dumas’ original novel (I think I read it in high school once) to get up in arms about screenwriters Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak’s adaptation, but I can recognize weak plotting for its own sake. It’s genuinely difficult to keep track of the story threads, and the stakes are so ill defined I couldn’t tell you who was winning at any moment. There just isn’t a lot of intrigue or entertainment value in the narrative, which merely fills the cracks between set pieces and loses all of its steam about an hour into the film. But the characters are still pretty enjoyable, even if they’re untrue the book (as I’ve been told), or a bit over the top. I’m not sure I’ve ever preferred character interactions to ham-fisted action in a Paul WS Anderson film, so on this point alone I’m relatively impressed, at least given my basement level expectations. The Musketeers themselves are all well cast, but Ray Stevenson stands out as Porthos with relatively little screen time, just as he did in Kenneth Branagh’s Thor. Orlando Bloom (Duke of Buckingham) chews the living hell out of the scenery in his funniest role since his appearance on Extras, and any time Christoph Waltz (Cardinal Richelieu) gets a paycheck is alright in my book (though there is the lingering question as to why the German actor is the only one in the film even attempting a French accent). Lead Logan Lerman (D'Artagnan) is generally the weak link on this chain thanks to his Hayden Christiansen line reading style. Actually, no, Milla Jovovich (Milady de Winter) is the weak link. She’s not bad as an actress or even physical presence, per se, but she’s a worthless character, and her dumb cat-like thief shtick steals valuable screen time from the title characters, who disappear for probably 30 minutes towards the middle of the film.

Three Musketeers (2011), The

Video


Three Musketeers was shot using a series of digital formats (most of them 3D capable), and comes to 2D Blu-ray all brilliant and bright in full 1080p HD. The campy, candied look works quite well for the Blu-ray format thanks to all the impressively vibrant colours and impossibly decorative costumes. Details are incredibly sharp throughout, though mostly in the baroque and shiny production design rather than more traditional skin textures. There is generally so much stuff on screen at any given time I don’t imagine a standard definition release could handle the business without blocking and compression noise. There are hints of artefacts here and there, but for the most part the cleanliness of the digital raw format keeps things clear. The colours are downright cartoony throughout, and their vibrant rich quality looks great throughout. Some of the darker internal shots feature elaborate multi-colour blends, which are handsome and smooth without muddying details, but for the most part the hues are harshly separated, and high contrast. The generally pure and consistent blues and reds are the poppiest elements, while greens and golds sit nicely in the background. Occasionally the pure hues, especially blues and browns, bleed out into the blacks, but for the most part contrast levels keep the blacks relatively deep. I did notice some suddenly blurred bits of action along the edges of some of the wider frames, most of which disappear so quickly I assume it was a problem with my glasses, but this might be a 3D to 2D issue (more likely anamorphic lens issues).

Three Musketeers (2011), The

Audio


This DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is more impressive then the film deserves, and at times downright gob smacking. The stereo and surround channels are consistently alive with hum and buzz, and come loudly to life with the ridiculously bombastic action sequences. Simple things like wind and the movement of speaking characters keep the dialogue heavy sequences lively. The sword fights feature a bevy of multi-channel swishing, and directionally enhanced clanging, while any scene involving explosions really stands out with real punch. The LFE is given a delightful boost whenever an airship appears, and the thrust of its, um, wind (?) rumbles overhead like an Imperial Star Destroyer. The airship on airship battle is the clear frontrunner for ‘scene to watch to impress your friends with your system’ (I was actually made aware my rear right speaker wire was loose thanks to the heavy surround support here). Composer Paul Haslinger steps up from his B-movie roots, and though I struggle to remember a single specific cue from this score, he manages to pull off a genuine swash and buckle. The music is warm and rich, with effective directional elements and bombastic LFE support in the loudest percussive elements.

Three Musketeers (2011), The

Extras


The extras begin with Access: Three Musketeers, an in-film experience including cast and crew info, production design comparisons, action choreography, a ‘Musketeer Fight Meter’ that tracks the action (body counts, weapon usage), and other pop-up factoids. The break-away and PiP pop-up featurettes feature interviews with Anderson, producer Jeremy Bolt, actors Matthew Macfadyen, Milla Jovovich, Luke Evans, Ray Stevenson, Logan Lerman, Mads Mikkelsen, Christoph Waltz, Freddie Fox, Orlando Bloom and Juno Temple, production designer Paul Denham Austerberry, stunt coordinator Nick Powell and fencing instructor Imke Duplitzer, along with oodles of behind-the-scenes footage. The problem is they also feature a lot of footage from the film, which is a waste of time, since we’re watching the film with the feature. Assuming this particular in-film experience isn’t enough for you, the disc’s producers have also included a commentary track with director/producer Anderson, and producers Jeremy Bolt and Robert Kulzer. Love him or hate him (and I’m guessing there’s a lot of hate out there), Anderson is usually a pretty effective commentary track speaker. He’s a little too technically minded to maintain any consistent interest level for me, but does include some personal anecdotes, and doesn’t lose too much steam throughout the discussion. Bolt and Kulzer pop in on occasion with basic production factoids, usually concerning locations, casting and the like.

Next up are four fluffy featurettes that cover material already covered in the in-film extras, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Musketeers (2:30, HD), Orlando Bloom Takes on The Duke (2:00, HD), 17th Century Air Travel (2:20, HD) and Uncovering France in Germany (2:10, HD). This is followed by 12 deleted/extended scenes (14:20, HD), and trailers for other Summit releases.

Three Musketeers (2011), The

Overall


Try though I might, I can’t bring myself to hate Paul W.S. Anderson’s unneeded, dumb as a box of bricks adaptation of the oft-adapted Three Musketeers. I can’t produce many solid reasons to convince anyone else to see it, least of all fans of Alexandre Dumas’ original novel, but this is a relatively charming and amusingly decorative film. Hell, this might even mark a turning point for Anderson as a filmmaker. Perhaps he’s figured out how to have fun with the stupid stuff he makes. Maybe the next Resident Evil movie will be good. Probably not, though. This 2D release of the 3D shot film looks sharp and colourful, and the DTS-HD MA soundtrack is reference level good. The extras are a bit repetitive, but cover all the bases, and fill a lot of time.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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