Musketeering

Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers has been adapted countless times for the screen, most of them forgotten. There is a 1911 Edison production, a modernized 1933 Mascot serial that starred John Wayne as a French Foreign Legionnaire,  and now a newfangled 3D version crafted by Paul W.S. Anderson. Left out of this un-illustrious list are the canonical Douglas Fairbanks interpretation of 1924, and the popular jokey two-parter from Richard Lester in ’73 and ’74, but alas, it seems the latest Dumas gloss will go the way of Edison’s and the Duke’s, filed away as rote remake and quietly ignored thereafter. Garnering a variety of gleeful pans and disappointing box-office returns, Anderson’s Three Musketeers nevertheless abounds in visual riches and confirms the director as one of the few to fully explore the possibilities of new 3D technologies.

Anderson told the London Free Press that Richard Lester’s Musketeers was one of the first films his father took him to see as a child. It was this childhood memory, and an interest in filming Baroque and Romanesque European architecture that set the project in motion. The idea started when Anderson and long-time producer Jeremy Bolt were marveling at the buildings in Berlin, where they were shooting Resident Evil: Afterlife, and, Bolt told ComingSoon.net, “Paul said that we should really try and find a project where we could shoot some of these buildings for real.” The impetus for the project was purely visual, and a bit of a departure for the duo, whose previous films were mainly studio-bound. After sharing their mutual love of Lester’s lusty and slapstick take on the material, they pitched it to Constantin Films, who accepted. I would imagine the pitch included more references to the success of historical fantasies like Pirates of the Caribbean than King Ludwig II, whose Bavarian castles they would shoot in, but the influences of both are prevalent throughout.

Anderson and Bolt made a number of tweaks to Dumas’ story and Lester’s film. Most of the sexual energy of Lester’s version, which is overflowing with innuendo and Raquel Welch’s heaving bosom, is softened and diverted entirely into Milla Jovovich’s wonderfully sinuous and menacing turn as Milady, another of Anderson’s steely feminine heroes (or, here, anitheroes). In a nod to the lucrative tween audience (and inadvertently more faithful to Dumas), D’Artagnan is made younger and callower, with the Bieberesque Logan Lerman taking over the sabre. Not as spry as Fairbanks or as impish or Michael York, Lerman is a bit of a non-entity, but succeeds in not distracting from the often spectacular backdrops. The youth push is rounded out by Freddie Fox as an earnestly mincing King Louis XIII and Gabriella Wilde as D’Artagnan’s chaste love interest Constance. The three title roughnecks (Matthew Macfadyen/Luke Evans/Ray Stevenson), while not matching the oily majesty of Lester’s Oliver Reed/Richard Chamberlain/Frank Finlay, do a workmanlike job of swashbuckling, and were physical enough to perform the swordfights without stunt doubles.

This athleticism allows Anderson to get close and analytical in the sparring scenes, using slow-motion to register every thrust and parry. This facility with clean lines of action is nothing new for the director, but the spaces in which they snap into place  certainly is. The first of Anderson’s films to be shot mostly on location, his Three Musketeers emphasizes dizzying verticals as opposed to the claustrophobic horizontals of the Resident Evil series. This transition is visualized in the the first action scene, which takes place in an underground corridor that could have come out of R.E. The receding depth-of-field works brilliantly in 3D, as it did in Resident Evil: Afterlife (recently named by Stefan Drössler (director of the Munich Filmmuseum), as one of the best contemporary 3D films in a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art), and it even ends, like its zombie-killing forebear, with a Milla Jovovich action scene, as she dives through a barrage of weight-sensitive booby traps. The prize at the end, however, is the plans for an airborne killing machine, supposedly designed by Da Vinci. This hot-air balloon warship is indicative of the vertical heights Anderson will push his visuals for the rest of the film.

The castles of King Ludwig II are a reasonable match for the France of Louis XIII, since Ludwig was obsessed with Versailles and ordered the Herrenchiemsee to be built, a replica of Versailles in neo-Baroque style. These are garishly gorgeous constructions, and Anderson was allowed to film interiors as well, which he approaches in airy high and low angles, the actors receding into the depths of their own history, the ornate ceiling murals gaining the foreground to the characters’ background in the sharp 3D compositions (shot on the Arri Alexa, also Scorsese’s choice for Hugo).

The introduction of the flying warships, while clearly an effort to pump up the film’s action quotient, is also a perfect device to push Anderson’s experiments in verticality. The closing set-piece is a slow ascent followed by a steep decline, the 3D depth effects shifting so that up and down becomes the new background and foreground, a re-orienting of space that is a logical extension of the scene but dizzying to behold. When the battle crashes , the lines of Bavarian architecture re-ground the image, with the climactic swordfight taking place on the vaulting roof of a church, whose steep declines tumble the combatants back down to the earth. A marvel of cinematic architecture, Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers should rightfully carve out a space next to the efforts of Douglas Fairbanks and Richard Lester as the exuberantly entertaining Dumas adaptation of its age.


18 Responses Musketeering
Posted By Jim Vecchio : November 1, 2011 12:52 pm

Great Blog! I have been putting off this Blog because if I see it in 2D, then I feel I will be missing something. But this summer’s glut of 3D has me overstuffed with steroscopic visions! I started off the Summer with a revival showing of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in 3D, and, as far as I’m concerned, that still topeed all the offerings within the past year. To be fair, THOR and GREEN LANTERN had their moments, but nothing seems unique any more. This craze, I fear is doomed to another cycle of fading into oblivion, reappearing for 2-3 years, going away, and then coming back. The only change will be the prices, which always seem to head for the roof.

Posted By Jim Vecchio : November 1, 2011 12:52 pm

Great Blog! I have been putting off this Blog because if I see it in 2D, then I feel I will be missing something. But this summer’s glut of 3D has me overstuffed with steroscopic visions! I started off the Summer with a revival showing of IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE in 3D, and, as far as I’m concerned, that still topeed all the offerings within the past year. To be fair, THOR and GREEN LANTERN had their moments, but nothing seems unique any more. This craze, I fear is doomed to another cycle of fading into oblivion, reappearing for 2-3 years, going away, and then coming back. The only change will be the prices, which always seem to head for the roof.

Posted By Kingrat : November 1, 2011 4:46 pm

I’m continuing to chortle at the phrase “Bieberesque” and only wish I’d thought of it first! A fun article.

Posted By Kingrat : November 1, 2011 4:46 pm

I’m continuing to chortle at the phrase “Bieberesque” and only wish I’d thought of it first! A fun article.

Posted By Jenni : November 1, 2011 8:41 pm

I also recall the 1940′s version with Gene Kelly,June Allyson,Van Heflin, and Lana Turner. Wasn’t there also a version done by Disney, with Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt? I think my 2 favorite versions were the Gene Kelly one and the one from the 70′s with Michael York, Raquel Welch, and Oliver Reed.

Posted By Jenni : November 1, 2011 8:41 pm

I also recall the 1940′s version with Gene Kelly,June Allyson,Van Heflin, and Lana Turner. Wasn’t there also a version done by Disney, with Kiefer Sutherland and Oliver Platt? I think my 2 favorite versions were the Gene Kelly one and the one from the 70′s with Michael York, Raquel Welch, and Oliver Reed.

Posted By dukeroberts : November 1, 2011 9:14 pm

This new version looks absolutely ridiculous with the flying ship and what not. I really enjoy the Disney version with Keifer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Oliver Platt. It’s fun and swashbuckling without having ridiculous flying ships.

The Gene Kelly version has one of the greatest sword fights ever put to film. The part in the story where D’Artagnan duels all three Musketeers has some great athletic choreography by Gene. After that, the movie slows down quite a bit, but that sword fight is great.

I also enjoy the animated Disney version which was regretfully released directly to DVD several years ago and starred Mickey, Donald and Goofy.

Posted By dukeroberts : November 1, 2011 9:14 pm

This new version looks absolutely ridiculous with the flying ship and what not. I really enjoy the Disney version with Keifer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Oliver Platt. It’s fun and swashbuckling without having ridiculous flying ships.

The Gene Kelly version has one of the greatest sword fights ever put to film. The part in the story where D’Artagnan duels all three Musketeers has some great athletic choreography by Gene. After that, the movie slows down quite a bit, but that sword fight is great.

I also enjoy the animated Disney version which was regretfully released directly to DVD several years ago and starred Mickey, Donald and Goofy.

Posted By Medusa : November 2, 2011 7:58 am

That description of the airship sounds deliciously steampunk-ish (though I guess it’s technically pre-SP) and anything Milla Jovovich does is bound to be exciting! She is one cool actress, and with a brain, too, making her interesting to watch.

I’ve sort of written off most of the 3D stuff as not for me — though I always was a fan of classic 3D and saw many a feature back when that was having a nostalgic resurgence in the late ’70s-early ’80s, and theaters and TV were running the old red/blue features — but this one does sound intriguing.

You know — rather *I* know — I’m getting old when ony recognize the name of ONE of the leads in this movie! A whole new crop out there!

Great post!

Posted By Medusa : November 2, 2011 7:58 am

That description of the airship sounds deliciously steampunk-ish (though I guess it’s technically pre-SP) and anything Milla Jovovich does is bound to be exciting! She is one cool actress, and with a brain, too, making her interesting to watch.

I’ve sort of written off most of the 3D stuff as not for me — though I always was a fan of classic 3D and saw many a feature back when that was having a nostalgic resurgence in the late ’70s-early ’80s, and theaters and TV were running the old red/blue features — but this one does sound intriguing.

You know — rather *I* know — I’m getting old when ony recognize the name of ONE of the leads in this movie! A whole new crop out there!

Great post!

Posted By Larry Thompson : November 2, 2011 12:21 pm

Good blog-in preperation for the version I watched or rewatched the taling of the Dumas classic-loved the BBC television from 66-Best D’Artagnan Jeremy Brett-yes Sherlock Holmes but young and oh so handsome-Best Porthos=Broam Blessed was born to play this role-Also watch Doug Fairbanks.s
Man in the Iron Mask the only musketeer movie that will make a fan cry.

Posted By Larry Thompson : November 2, 2011 12:21 pm

Good blog-in preperation for the version I watched or rewatched the taling of the Dumas classic-loved the BBC television from 66-Best D’Artagnan Jeremy Brett-yes Sherlock Holmes but young and oh so handsome-Best Porthos=Broam Blessed was born to play this role-Also watch Doug Fairbanks.s
Man in the Iron Mask the only musketeer movie that will make a fan cry.

Posted By Larry Shank : November 18, 2011 12:01 pm

Did you see the same film.
Aside from being allowed to shoot at Versailles this was an entirely worthless film.
Poorly written and badly directed,this may be the worst version of the 3 Musketeers ever filmed.
I love movies and will endure almost anything,but I was livid after seeing this monstrosity.
I rushed home and got out the Lester version to try and wash the experience from my mind.
Is this what passes for a motion picture these days-mindless video games?

Posted By Larry Shank : November 18, 2011 12:01 pm

Did you see the same film.
Aside from being allowed to shoot at Versailles this was an entirely worthless film.
Poorly written and badly directed,this may be the worst version of the 3 Musketeers ever filmed.
I love movies and will endure almost anything,but I was livid after seeing this monstrosity.
I rushed home and got out the Lester version to try and wash the experience from my mind.
Is this what passes for a motion picture these days-mindless video games?

Posted By dukeroberts : November 19, 2011 8:00 am

Larry- To answer the question at the end of your post: Yes. Yes it is.

Posted By dukeroberts : November 19, 2011 8:00 am

Larry- To answer the question at the end of your post: Yes. Yes it is.

Posted By 5streetfashion : November 26, 2011 11:49 am

I think you should talk about movies like this one to. You should also talk more about kids movies.those movies are really funny especially the muppets. I liked this post and the muppet post.Nice!

Posted By 5streetfashion : November 26, 2011 11:49 am

I think you should talk about movies like this one to. You should also talk more about kids movies.those movies are really funny especially the muppets. I liked this post and the muppet post.Nice!

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