Alexandre Dumas’ the Count of Monte Cristo
starring Jim Caviezel, Guy Pearce, Richard Harris and James Frain
written by Jayu Wolpert
directed by Kevin Reynolds
This is another in a series of classic literary works that has been made into a movie. I have written about this phenomenon before. Oh, sure, The Count of Monte Cristo has been made into a film more than a dozen times over the last one hundred years or so, based on the French novel published in the 1840s. But with the computer technology that is available to film makers now it is possible to make films more visually fantastic and authentic than ever before leading, I think, to a deliberate program of re-making classics with the new technology.
So on my first viewing I greatly enjoyed this movie (an American project made in 2001), and the same week that I watched the video I went to the bookstore to buy the novel. At more than 1,200-pages it is very intimidating, and longer than any of Dumas’ more famous Three Musketeers novels (three of them). But it is relatively easy to read, dominated by page after page of dialogue as opposed to long, boring paragraphs of dry prose narrative.
Upon second and third viewing, however, I quickly grew less favorably inclined towards the script by Jay Wolpert. What bothered me when I watched it again is not the many reductions and blatant inventions of the story - deviations from the book made to make it fit better with the time constraints of modern movies and audience expectations - but the figures of speech and the acting that sometimes made it seem like a made-for-TV movie.
Once you read the novel and then see the film you can better understand the Hollywood formula of adventure film-making. The story was changed in many particulars, I thought, in order to fit an inappropriate American idea of hero and heroine, good and evil, etc. Completely lost from the novel were the drug-induced hallucinations and the lesbianism of some of the main characters. Sure, they might have been peripheral to the story, or perhaps not, depending on your point of view. But the fact that certain things were changed or deleted entirely while others were not is very telling first from the feature length film point of view, and then from a broader cultural point of view.
I think that Alexandre Dumas, like Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky and other 19th century writers of his time, was a notorious windbag. Their writing tended to be overly long because they were paid by the page, and their novels were published in serialized form in monthly magazines. The chapters were only collected and published together as single volumes after the fact - after they were published in magazine form.
Anyway, the novel was better than the film if you care to read it. The film is good, but do not think that having watched the film you know the story. You don’t.