WARNING: The following review contains many spoilers. This review assumes you have seen the movie, as it will discuss the movie in its entirety. The goal of this review is not to be a recommendation to view or not view the film. The goal is, instead, to discuss and comment on many aspects of the film, and that can only be done through revealing various plot developments of the movie. If you have not yet seen the film and are simply looking for an opinion on the film before seeing it, this is NOT the review to read. This review should only be read after you have seen the movie and are interested in someone else's viewpoint on various elements of the movie. Again you have been warned: there are numerous spoilers ahead in this review, so read on at your own risk.
The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
jchensor's rating: 6/10
Count on Hollywood
It's almost the cinematic version of rubbernecking. With actual rubbernecking, you tend to slow down on the freeway when passing the scene of a horrible accident. People are drawn towards these sorts of things. Why? I have no idea, but we're just wired that way, I guess. It seems we all have some sort of morbid curiosity of what happened.
Film adaptations are almost like a bad freeway accident. They have very rarely been accurate or respectful to the original -- there have been successes, but they are few and far in-between. So when you hear of a book that you've read being made into a motion picture, it's almost that same morbid curiosity that makes you want to see how the "Hollywoodized" movie adaptation will turn out. I have read an abridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo (abridged, yes, but most of the story was still there) by Alexander Dumas. Thus, when I heard about this film coming out, I knew I had to see it just to find out how Hollywood would affect it (and also because -- I'll admit it right here -- the terrible tagline of "Count On Revenge" had me hooked).
Now seriously, you cannot, and I repeat, cannot blame filmmakers for giving a book the Hollywood treatment when adapting it to the big screen. It's just gonna happen. You can put it right up there with death and taxes. You just can't stop it. Whether the movie turns out good or bad is merely your interpretation of how well these "Hollywoodizations" are. Monte Cristo was given the ROYAL treatment of Hollywoodizations, so let's go through and find out which of these Hollywoodizations were good and which were bad. I will rate each one on a scale of one to four stars (after all, Hollywood is all about stars...).
HOLLYWOODIZATION #1: Opening action scene
- Hollywood Purpose: To have some fun at the beginning of the film, so the film doesn't start out boring; and to establish that, yes, this is a fun, swashbuckling film.
- My take: These events were mentioned in the book -- at least the meeting with Napolean and Napolean's letter were. That was an important plot point in the book, and it was probably smart of them to show that happen at the beginning of the movie rather than reference it part-way through the story as the book did. Whether you needed the action or not was questionable. But it didn't detract, and it did its job well. It gave the movie a nice start.
- Rating: ****
HOLLYWOODIZATION #2: The chess piece
- Hollywood Purpose: To have some sort of "inside joke" between two main characters.
- My take: Hollywood feels that having the main character going up to the main bad guy at the end of the film and saying, "Hi. Actually, I'm not really the Count of Monte Cristo. I'm actually Edmond Dantes, the guy you screwed over long ago, and this is my elaborate plan of revenge against you. And it worked. Ha!" is boring. Nope. You have to have an inside joke that only the two characters know about. That way, the main bad guy can find out what's going on via the inside joke to give him that fleeting thought of, "Chess piece... Edmond... Waitasecond..." right before Edmond appears and gets to have the glory of saying, "Yes, remember me? You thought you had gotten rid of me! Ha ha!" Of course, in this movie, it never occurs to Dantes that Mondego may want to save his ammo and not blast open the last locked chest and find the chess piece. I can just picture Dantes watching, saying to himself, "Heheh... and when he opens up that last chest to find my... Wha--?? Where is he going? Hey, don't leave! Open up the last chest! Find my chess piece! It's our INSIDE JOKE! Damn!! I knew I should have put the chess piece in the unlocked chest!!" This whole chess piece thing was very unnecessary.
- Rating: *
HOLLYWOODIZATION #3: The love scene
- Hollywood Purpose: Duh.
- My take: When I first saw the For Your Eyes Only scene of the couple swimming naked in the water for 2 seconds and the following scene of love-making on the beach, I could only think to myself, "Oh brother." Hollywood seems to imply that a couple cannot truly be in love unless they make love in some random place at random times like on the beach after a swim. And for a while, I just shrugged it off as yet another blatant Hollywoodization. But the fact that this actually had significance later in the film... well, frankly, I thought that was pretty darn clever to take a generic Hollywood staple (the love scene) and kinda work it into the plot. So overall, I thought this little ploy worked out. But read on to see how I felt about the plot development itself...
- Rating: ***
HOLLYWOODIZATION #4: Establish the bad guy's badness
- Hollywood Purpose: Let the good guy know all the plans before becoming incarcerated and do everything to make the good guy's victory even sweeter in the end.
- My take: Upon arrest, Dantes, in the book, was taken straight to the prison. In the movie, he shoves a few worthless guards over and makes his way to Mondego's home. Why? Well, actually, this serves a FEW Hollywood purposes. The first is: so Mondego can spill the beans and reveal everyone involved. "I'm evil and hated you because I can't want to be in the position of a clerk's son. And actually, this was all Danglars' plan." Well, how convenient. Thanks, Mondego, now I know to kill both you AND Danglars when I break out of jail. Second: to further set up the chess piece I already discussed. And third: so Mondego can whoop Dantes's ass in sword fighting and have the film establish that Dantes sucks at sword fighting. That way, when Dantes kills Mondego at the end of the movie by sword, the victory is that much sweeter.
- Rating: **
HOLLYWOODIZATION #5: The evil warden
- Hollywood Purpose: Hollywood hates all wardens. Thus, they must be portrayed as evil, mean people.
- My take: I don't know what Hollywood has against wardens. I really don't. Even curly-haired people have an organization that got mad at The Princess Diaries for portraying curly-haired people as awkward and unattractive. But there doesn't seem to be a COWW (Coalition of Wronged Wardens) rising up against Monte Cristo. I mean, wasn't Lock-up and The Shawshank Redemption damning enough to wardens? This movie decides to inject this character who didn't exist in the book into the movie, just so the character can be cruel. I mean, can't the warden ever be a nice guy? I thought he was going to be nice at first when he started making his speech. I thought he was gonna say something to the effect of, "I know you are innocent, that's why you are here. I would take matters into my own hand and free the innocent, but if I try, I will only become a prisoner here myself. I am sorry. There is nothing I can do." Nope, instead we get, "I know you are innocent, that's why you're here. Oh, and let me whip you a bunch for fun! " Wardens always get a rotten treatment in Hollywood.
- Rating: *
HOLLYWOODIZATION #6: The unorthodox training
- Hollywood Purpose: The weirder the method, the more it seems like the guy doing the teaching knows what he is talking about.
- My take: I call this the "Mr. Miyagi" Syndrome: the situation of using unorthodox training to turn a nobody into a pro. And oddly, not since "Wax on, wax off," has it ever been so convincing and entertaining. Dodging water droplets with your hand to teach you speed is nowhere nearly as effective as Wax On Wax Off, Paint the House, and Paint the Fence (or keeping the blast shield down on your helmet and chasing chickens in snow). But Hollywood has to make Abbe Faria seem wise beyond his years. And to do that, they have to come up with something to make the old man seem smarter and kookier. So the training method of dodging water droplets was the perfect way to make the audience think that Abbe Faria was -- wow!! -- really an expert! The thing that makes using this concept bad in this movie is that the whole training was very much underplayed in the end. It seemed only to exist so that they could show Dantes succeed in dodging the droplets just once, making the audience think, "Hey!! He IS learning!"
- Rating: **
HOLLYWOODIZATION #7: Death by avalanche
- Hollywood Purpose: No better way to kill hope than to do it right at the moment of triumph.
- My take: In the book, the old man died by a mysterious illness that could only temporarily be averted with a strange medicine he possessed. This illness and the medicine then played major roles in the story later on. However, for the movie, they removed the whole plot about the sickness and the medicine. So this was, in all logic, the best way to kill off Abbe Faria. It's very Hollywood to take him out right when they figure they've neared escape, but I thought it was a wise enough choice and allowed you to be very sympathetic towards Abbe Faria and Dantes as well (though I still marvel at the old man's amazing self-prognosis of a punctured lung. Do YOU know what a punctured lung feels like?!?).
- Rating: ***
HOLLYWOODIZATION #8: The best friend
- Hollywood Purpose: Characters look silly talking to themselves.
- My take: Edmond Dantes worked solo for pretty much most of the book. For example, he found the treasure of Monte Cristo on his own with no help. Jacopo was a very minor character and doesn't tag along for the entire ride acting as Dantes's Jiminy Cricket. But in the movie he does. And I don't mind this at all. Frankly, it's already known that in all mediums of entertainment outside of books, a main character simply cannot be without a "little buddy." Why? Because having a scene where Dantes sits there on the beach contemplating his revenge in silence for 15 minutes would look really stupid. The audience needs to know how he feels and what his motives are. But it would look even stupider if he paced the beach talking to himself. Jacopo's purpose is to act as a conversational counterpoint to Dantes. That way, we can accurately reflect on Dantes's decisions to reduce his life to one giant revenge quest. The best friend is a necessity in movies. Introducing Jacopo in conjunction with making up an explaination on how Dantes meets Vampa all at once is actually very well done (Vampa and Dantes didn't meet this way in the book). Plus, Jacopo was a nice comic relief character.
- Rating: ****
HOLLYWOODIZATION #9: Argh!! Too many characters!!
- Hollywood Purpose: Uhh... you want a 2 hour movie or a 7 hour movie?
- My take: They just about eliminated 90% of the characters from the book. Gone are Valentine and Noirtier and Maximilien and Haydee and numerous other minor characters. A lot of the book resembles a Jane Austin novel after Dantes becomes the Count of Monte Cristo. There are a ton of characters who all have varying relationships with each other. Some are good and deserve to have kindness brought upon them by the hands of the Count, and others are foul-minded people who deserve to suffer for their evil ways as part of the Count's revenge scheme. Regardless, there are just too many characters and too many side stories to fit into a 2 hour movie. Thus, the elimination of most of these characters was necessary. Sure, it really "weakens" the story overall by eliminating a lot of the other events that the Count of Monte Cristo influences, all of which help show how clever and crafty he is in making these events happen. The elimination of all these side stories makes the Count seem far more one-dimensional and over-consumed by revenge. But that's what the movie-makers wanted in the first place, it seems, as they had already up-played this thirst for revenge earlier in the film. Thus, the cut of characters was excusable for a Hollywood adaptation... and highly expected.
- Rating: ***
HOLLYWOODIZATION #10: Mondego is evil... really evil.
- Hollywood Purpose: There has to be the main bad guy to focus all anger towards.
- My take: In the book, there were three main bad guys: Villefort, Mondego, and Danglars. Danglars was turned from a major character, who was instrumental in Dantes's suffering, into a very minor accomplice with bad teeth who gets revenge exacted upon him quickly and easily and early. Villefort's role was not downplayed as much, but the whole storyline of his political involvements was all but removed, and instead his crime was reduced to plotting the murder of his own father. Thus, he was given the "ironic" punishment of having to suffer in the same way he made Dantes suffer by being sent to the Chateau d'If. And then all efforts were concentrated on Mondego. Mondego was made out to be the dominant evil guy. He was the main person who betrayed Dantes, even though he once claimed to be his friend. They show him do such horrible things as killing a man because the man wanted to kill Mondego for sleeping with his wife. And of course, Mondego shrugs off the results of this duel without even a thought, nor feels guilty that Mercedes even knows about his affair! And in the end, it was Mondego that was the final victim of the Count's revenge. In the book, Mondego was the first to receive his just desserts, then Villefort, and then Danglars... the exact oppostie order! Go figure.
- Rating: **
HOLLYWOODIZATION #11: One big happy family
- Hollywood Purpose: It must be morally okay for everything to turn out the way it does.
- My take: Okay, back to the love scene. Pretty ingenious to give a reason for Mercedes marrying Mondego so quickly. It's because the love-making lead to pregnancy, and she needed someone to take care of her after Dantes was hauled off to prison and supposedly executed. Even Mondego uttering, "Premature..." upon finding out the truth made the plot twist seem very believable. The result? Albert is really Dantes's son. This is the biggest "WOA!" of the movie and easily the biggest Hollywoodization of them all. This is nothing at all like the book. See, in Hollywood, the guy has to get the girl in the end. So there must be a way to make it so that it's okay for Mercedes to want to run away with Dantes and take her son with her. It's because they are all actually the true family! And even though Mondego raised Albert for so many years, it doesn't matter, because Dantes is the real father! And obviously, Mercedes marrying Mondego is excusable, because she had no choice, and look! She never took the string off her finger! So he, Albert, and Mercedes can all end the film as one big happy family. Nevermind to Mercedes that you've been married to a nobleman for a while and that you are legally bound to him. Nevermind to Albert that this man came from nowhere and kills the man you thought was your father and whom you still greatly respected (Mercedes said so herself in the movie). But none of that matters. "He wasn't my real father, so him dying is okay, mainly because this other guy who really IS my father made me feel really special with that speech he gave at my brithday. Yeah, I'll let him be my dad from now on and I'm okay with all of this." I dunno about all that...
- Rating: *
HOLLYWOODIZATION #12: The revenge sword fight
- Hollywood Purpose: Having Mondego die by his own hands would not be a fun way to end the movie. No, a sword fight must ensue where Dantes gets his true revenge.
- My take: It has to happen this way. In an action movie, there has to be the sword fight at the end. Of course, they get Dantes to absolve himself of all of his guilt from being too consumed by revenge by pleading for Mondego to let everything go and just take up his horse and leave. So now all the fault and coldness is gone from Dantes, and Mondego, who can't let it go because staring into an empty field is just too painful, has to come back and finish Dantes off. Thanks to this brilliant plot turn, Mondego now is the guy who "can't let it go." Excuse me? Dantes is a man who has sought and planned revenge for so many years and ruined some lives and destroyed a few families and generally caused so much trouble to various people. But now Mondego is the guy who can't let it go? And so a sword fight ensues and when the bad guy looks like he's about to win, Dantes prevails, and his revenge has been exacted in such a way so that it wasn't his fault. Sure, Albert drops to his knees in sadness, but it'll only be three months before he's quite happy with his new family.
- Rating: *
HOLLYWOODIZATION #13: The worst last line ever
- Hollywood Purpose: I have no idea.
- My take: "Let's go home." That had to be the worst line they could have ended the movie on. I don't know why it bothers me so much, but it just sounded so horribly cheesy. It was too simple of a way to wrap up everything with a "And they lived happily ever after!"-type statement. Watching the four characters trot off together arm-in-arm happily, only three months after everything happened, is unbelievable. Dantes DID just kill a nobleman. He IS guilty of murder now. He should be on the run from the law! It was much better in the book where he managed to get everything to go his way without ever having to do anything illegal or committing any murder himself. But to wrap up everything with the cheesiest line of "Let's go home!" was just awful.
- Rating: *
As you can see, it definitely gets worse towards the end. I had trouble accepting the Hollywoodizations towards the end of the movie. But still, then, why do I give this movie a 6/10? By the sounds of it, I should hate this movie beyond all reason. Well, the reason I did not despise this movie is what I said earlier: Hollywoodizations are expected, and I can see how, if I had not read the book, I would have probably enjoyed and appreciated the movie as a nice, action-packed swashbuckler. And that's all this movie tried to be: a swashbuckler. And I have to give them credit for that. I mean, seriously, the changes in the story are pretty much the only major flaws. I still think the plot twist of the pregnancy was actually fairly clever, considering they had to warp the original story for modern audiences. Overall, it wasn't a bad movie, so I can't rate it as one (bad movies get 4 or lower). Plus, I know they could have done a much, much worse job of adapting Alexander Dumas's classic novel. I can prove that in two words:
- James Chen
©James Chen, Jan. 31, 2002