The novels of Alexander Dumas are favorites of many generations of readers because of his fascinating characters, tangled stories and dynamic plots. One of them, “The Count of Monte Cristo” was finished in 1844. Given its brilliant storyline about love and revenge in the 18th century, the novel was brought to life for the first time in 1934 by director Rowland V Lee and skillful actors Robert Donat, Elissa Landi and Sidney Blackmer. However, would it be worth it to do second film based on the same novel? Joe Leydon from Variety believes so. He states his certainty in the director of the remake, Kevin Reynolds who “proves to be fully on top of his game, infusing the grandly melodramatic permutations of the plot with firm conviction and stylish gusto” (Leydon). The old film from 1934 was given a fresh, new, compelling production in 2003 filled with a lot of breathtaking, uniquely visualized action scenes. The plot in both films is naturally no different.
The tranquil life of Edmond Dantes, a 20 years old sailor on the “Pharaoh” ship, who plans to marry the beautiful Mercedes, is shattered when his friend Fernand wishes the lovely Mercedes for himself. Three other people wish to harm Dantes for different reasons. Danglars is an accountant of the “Pharaoh” and fears that if Dantes becomes Capitan, he will lose his job because Dantes notices his abuses; young assistant prosecutor De Villefort is afraid that his father’s connections with the dethroned Napoleon might be revealed, and the neighbor of Edmond’s father is jealous of his success. On the eve of Mercedes’s and Edmond’s wedding, Dantes is slandered and accused of being a Bonapartist. He is sent to the d’If castle, a prison fortress not far from Marseilles, without an opportunity to object his sentence. Dantes is informed that he will remain forever in prison. He attempts suicide, but he is unexpectedly saved by the appearance of another prisoner – Abbe Faria, who for years has dug tunnels and attempted to escape, but due to erroneous calculations has ended up in Dantes’s cell.
The two misfortunates quickly become friends. Abbe Faria is a highly educated individual and discovers who sent Edmond into d’If castle and what their motives were. At that moment, he unwittingly sowed the seeds of revenge in Dantes. For six months, Abbe helps to educate Edmond in English, German and Spanish and introduces him to math, physics, history and philosophy. After a year of planning their escape, Dantes and Abbe began to dig the tunnel to freedom. Sadly, incurable illness stalls Abbe from fulfilling their plan. Foreseeing his death, the abbot reveals to Edmond his secret treasure hidden on the island of Monte Cristo. When the abbot dies, Dantes takes his place in a body bag and is thrown into the sea instead of the dead Abbe Faria. It is unbelievable he survived.
After miraculously managing to escape, he becomes the very wealthy and mysterious Count of Monte Cristo, establishes himself among the French nobility and skillful plans his revenge on everyone who stabbed him in the back. He is overwhelmed by the desire to find and assassinate his enemies, especially Fernand Mondego who married his fiancée and had a child with her. The story of revenge is long, full of action and unexpected plot turns. The Count sneaks past the enemies and discovers their devastating secrets which aid him in devising their suffering deaths. The Count of Monte Cristo first wins the trust of his nemesis’s and manages to get close to them to learn their weaknesses, which will be the cause of their eventual death. Until the last minute of their life none of them realizes the source of their troubles. The transformation of the uneducated, naïve and kind sailor Edmont Dantes into the wise, aristocrat with a desire for revenge is fascinating.
The actor, Jim Caviezel, uses all aspects of acting – mimics, gesture, voice, eyes – to describe the transformation. His eyes seem to be the most influential quality of his character. The performance of Jim Caviezel is so capturing it resembles one of the most famous characters in the history of film – Al Pacino in “The Godfather”. As hard as someone tries to find flaws in the film, they cannot. The direction of Kevin Reynolds is at a very high level without having to use flashy or cheap effects. He knows where to stop a scene, what to do with it, and always picks the most appropriate angle in order to engage viewers in the moment. An example of this is the very first scene in the movie. Second mate Dantes and ship representative Mondego are aboard a sloop to Elba, the island to which Napoleon was banished and guarded. Edmont and Fernand get on shore to seek medical supplies for their dying captain. Upon seeing them, the British horsemen first assume Edmont and Fernand are here to free Napoleon. An action scene commences as the British open fire at the two sailors from the “Pharaoh” ship.
The guards have no intention of listening to or believing what Edmont tries to tell them (that they only seek medical assistance). The unique aspect in “The Count of Monte Cristo” is the camera position and rotation which is utilized in the very first scene. The filming is done from above, thus exposing the viewer to entire field on which Edmont and Fernand battle the British troops. The camera rotates around the actors and zooms in on their faces to display the facial expressions as they fight. Dim light from the moon reflects in their sweaty faces. Before we know it, the camera takes us back in the air again, and we can see more British troops quickly approaching in the far distance. Besides from above, cameras are also filming from below (the moment when Napoleon appears). This constant rotation from above to below involves the viewers in the scene. We are completely aware of the location of each character in the moment.
After Napoleon “saves” our brave character seeking help for their dying captain, the former Emperor of France escorts them to the physician. At which point they enter his cabin and we notice the second unique aesthetic element in the movie – darkness. Almost half of the movie is filmed in the dark and usually the only light provided is by the Moon’s reflection (outdoor scenes) and candles (indoor scenes). This aesthetic element helps the viewer experience what lighting might have been like during the Renaissance period. About one fourth of the film takes place in the ghastly chateau d’If which is the absolute perfect example of how to use virtual darkness in scenes. With Dantes’s arrival in d’If castle, we are teleported to his new “home” for the next 16 years, filled only with darkness and horrid beatings. What do we think of when we hear the word “darkness”? Fear, death, misery? This is exactly what the director wants us to feel when we are seeing scenes from d’If castle.
Fear – from the annual beating they give all innocent prisoners. Death – that eventually comes either from starvation or suicide. Misery – being exposed to only a small window of light and one meal a day. Another noticeable visual element in “The Count of Monte Cristo” is the use of the blur effect. The director often blurs the background to set more focus on what’s happening in the scene. We see this aesthetic element throughout the entire film, mostly during dialog accompanied with a close up on the characters faces for example, the scene of Mercedes and Edmont speaking by the rocks. The camera is focused on their faces when we see Fernand approaching from the distance. Seconds later, the focus is changed to Fernand as Mercedes and Edmont are blurred to the viewers. When Edmont shares the news of his promotion we can see the jealousy and frustration on Fernand’s face. Speaking of characters faces, the movie also focuses on the representation of characters’ eyes.
The clearest example of this would be the dinner scene at Fernand and Mercedes’s mansion for their son Albert’s birthday. After saving the youngsters life, Count Monte Cristo was invited to the Mondego residence for Albert’s birthday party. Throughout the entire evening, Monte Cristo and Mercedes exchange looks as the Countess Montego starts recognizing the love of her life, Edmont Dantes, in the new French aristocrat. They exchange expressions, looks, smiles which reveal to us what the characters are thinking. Such details make “The Count of Monte Cristo” a “lavishly mounted and appealingly old-fashioned swashbuckler” (Leydon). The reviewer of “The Count of Monte Cristo” on Variety – John Leydon – provides a fantastic summary of the movie. He writes about the actors, plot and direction without going in depth on a particular subject or praising / criticizing the movie in excess. Those are the exact qualities of a good film review.
This brings up a burning question – who can write a film review? In the article “Film criticism in the age of the Internet” the editors of Cineaste suggest “it often seems that everyone is a critic” (Cineaste), and we can all agree with that. Nowadays, people can view, comment and write anything on the Web. Anyone can register on a blog or forum and begin writing reviews of movies. It doesn’t even matter how good their writing is or what position they takes because today “everyone’s a critic” (Cineaste). The expression “quality over quantity” can quite correctly apply here. There are more and more film reviewers on the Internet, to whom Cineaste refers to as “amateurs” (Cineaste), “demented teenagers” (Cineaste) or generally – modern film critics. Tobias Grey’s thoughts on this new age of criticism in his article “Debating film criticism” is that “modern film criticism is far too subjective and not nearly analytical enough” (Grey) in addition – “criticism is reputed to be dead, film criticism especially so.” (Jesse Walker).
While this may seem bad, I like the fact that if you don’t enjoy a certain film, you’re not necessarily a bad reviewer or a person with no taste in film because “you have a soulmate in cyberspace, and he posted his thoughts (which are identical to yours) on a now-defunct interactive Web site” (Walker). So, what does all of this tell us? The large amount of film criticism on the Internet kills the real meaning of quality level film criticism, however it exposes us to more writers’ thoughts and opinions. The editors in Cineaste express their hope that “good criticism will predominate over bad in both magazines and the Internet–and that increased bids for corporate and government control of cyberspace will not drown out, or silence, the many lively online voices (some of whom are represented in our symposium) that have already changed the face of contemporary film criticism.”
“The Count of Monte Cristo” is a capturing and fascinating film. The classical love story in the 1800’s intrigues the viewer and the action grabs your attention. It is a favorite film for people of all ages because it shows human qualities that last forever such as greed, desire for revenge, love and more. Analyzing the motion picture as art I paid more attention to the camera movement and lens zoom which made me realize how great the movie actually is. The director communicates with us through visual language and the characters reveal their thoughts through their facial expressions.
A close up on the main character’s troubled face or shaking eyeballs can tell us a lot more than dialog. I like “The Count of Monte Cristo” for the special attention to details. They connect us with to film and we experience it in a different way. Such minor details may seem like not a big deal if you watch the film for its story, but if you focus and view the film as art you’d see there is much more than dialog and action scenes to “The Count of Monte Cristo”.
“Film criticism in the age of the Internet.” Cineaste Fall 2008: 1. General Reference Center GOLD. Web. 6 Dec. 2011.
Grey, Tobias. “Debating film criticism: Europeans share opinions on the pics they review and also on the qualifications for being a well-rounded critic.” Variety 29 Oct. 2007: A2+. General Reference Center GOLD. Web. 6 Dec. 2011.
Leydon, Joe. “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Variety. n. pag. Web. 24 Jan 2002. Walker, Jesse. “Everyone’s a critic: Don’t shed any tears for
cinephilia.” Reason June 2002: 62. General Reference Center GOLD. Web. 6 Dec. 2011.