Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Buckle them swashes

Although I frequently call DARK•HERITAGE a dark fantasy setting, appropriate for secondary world true fantasy, but with a feel and paradigm more rooted in horror movies and Call of Cthulhu, I also have to point out that many horror movies are quite campy and wander a bit into two-fisted or swashbuckling action as often as they do into true horror.  I'm actually thoroughly OK with that.  In fact, in many ways, that's the vibe I want more than actual horror.  I often think of Stephen Sommers The Mummy from 1999 as not only the perfect blend of swashbuckling comedy/action and horror, but the tone and feel template that I most want my games to resemble.  And while I talk a lot about my love of the horror aspects, I don't really talk enough about my love of the swashbuckling, and The Mummy is at least as much a swashbuckling action/comedy as it is a horror film.  Maybe even more so.  In fact, Stephen Sommers (the director) compared Brendan Fraser directly to Errol Flynn, and cast him on purpose in an attempt to capture that same kind of vibe.  You don't get much more swashbucklery than Errol Flynn.  I think he even beats out Douglas Fairbanks Sr., if only because Fairbanks' star faded quickly with the advent of the talkies, and silent movies aren't much remembered today by the collective conscience.

One of the classics of swashbuckling tales is, of course, Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.  While I actually prefer to read Rafael Sabatini for my swashbuckling novels, I love seeing adaptations of Dumas' books--particularly this one--on film.  The David Lester version, split into two movies and released in the early 70s (when I was just a baby/toddler, actually) starring Raquel Welch, Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Charleton Heston, Christopher Lee, Faye Dunaway and others is the gold standard when it comes to filmed versions of the movie, but I've seen many others. 

Sadly, many of them aren't very good.  Some have some redeeming virtues in spite of not being very good, but many do not.  A good example of the former is the Paul W. S. Anderson version.  I'm not much of a fan of Anderson's body of work, so I went in with very low expectations, but the movie actually turned out to be quite entertaining.  Much more than I expected it to.  I even bought that one and showed it to my kids, who probably liked it even better than I did.  (My daughter especially liked the young actor who played D'Artagnan, Logan Lerman.  My teenaged son especially liked the young actress who played Constance Bonacieux--Gabriella Wilde.  I liked Orlando Bloom and Mads Mikkelson's exceptionally over-the-top, moustache-twirling villainous renditions of Buckingham and Rochefort respectively.  And there was a surprisingly degree of humor, charisma and chemistry amongst the rest of the cast as well.  And we all liked the sword fighting, of course.)  Surprisingly, I think it's quite a bit better than the other "modern" Three Musketeers adaptation; the one from 1993 with Chris O'Donnell as D'Artagnan, Tim Curry as the Cardinal, and Oliver Platt, Kiefer Southerland, Charlie Sheen, and Co.

There is one other relatively mainstream modern adaptation of the novel, The Musketeer from 2001.  I had only vague memories of it as a mostly forgettable but not terrible version of the story, so I had it on my Netflix Queue.  I just streamed it last night.  It was worse than I remembered.

Its main claim to fame was that Jet Li's sometime stunt double Xin Xin Xiong, who also does stunt choreography and directing in Hong Kong, was hired to choreograph the stunts.  So... it's kinda the Hong Kong version of The Three Musketeers... kinda.  The acting was terrible in this movie.  But it's hard to blame that, really, when the editing and the script were also so terrible.  The titular three musketeers (well, in this version, I guess they're not actually titular) are so bland and relatively absent that I'm not even sure which actor is supposed to be which musketeer--with the exception of Aramis, and that's only because D'Artagnan actually says his name a few times in conversation with him.  None of their personalities are on exhibit at all.  I also didn't recognize many of the actors.  Justin Chambers plays D'Artagnan, but this is a few years before he was cast on Grey's Anatomy so nobody knew who he was supposed to be yet.  Mena Suvari and Tim Roth are the only recognizable names--who also happen to play the only characters with any charisma at all whatsoever--as Constance and Rochefort.  Except.... well, actually no.  Suvari's character is renamed Francesca for no reason whatsoever, even though she plays exactly the same role as Constance in most adaptations.  And Tim Roth's character is renamed Febre, even though he plays exactly the same role as Rochefort, and even looks like a Rochefort, including the trademark eye patch.  Curiously, there's another character with about three lines of dialogue who's named Rochefort, although his role in the movie is completely inconsequential.  This fast and loose adaptation of the book, with bizarre changes that serve no purpose, is emblematic of the movie overall.

It's perhaps worth watching... once... for the fight scenes alone, although even there, I haven't decided if they're kinda awesome or kinda stupid--I'm actually leaning more towards the latter currently.  Curiously, I've long thought that my perfect fight choreography would be a combination of musketeer action and Asian martial arts cinema, but not like this.  What I'd love to see is choreography that is reminiscent of the David Lester version in style, but with the speed and energy of Ong Bak.  This is just really weird wire-fu musketeering.  Perhaps if the characters or plot were more interesting, I'd like the fight scenes better, because I'd care a little bit about what the results were.

I found the experience of watching this movie again, some ten years or so after seeing it the first time, kinda painful, and I almost didn't bother finishing it at all.  I can't really recommend it in any way whatsoever.

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