As a general rule, I just can't get into 17th century swashbuckling movies. It surprises me in some ways; I'm interested in swords and the rich costumes from an aesthetic viewpoint, but all the classic weaponry and elaborate getups aren't enough to overcome my disdain for the foppish characters who seem to populate these films. Give me Clifton Webb's dandy in Laura, or Daniel Day-Lewis as the pompous and self conscious Edwardian "gentleman" in A Room With a View; or even the sometimes dandy/sometimes fop-psycho Patrick Bateman, but don't ask me to find the fun in The Three Musketeers' frocked and feathered Charlie Sheen. Knights in shining armor? Yes please. Celtic warriors in kilts? Rock. Oversized feather hats? Just doesn't have the same badass ring to it.
Call it a duel: Paul W.S. Anderson wants to modernize the story in his 3-D version, while keeping "...eye-popping action, romance and adventure" in the mix and Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes producer, Lionel Wigram, is looking for a helmer on the Warner Bros. adaptation. The studio is eyeing up both Marley & Me director David Frankel and Doug Liman (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) for the position. Liman seems the more likely of the duo to adapt the swordplay story, but for me it's not the director I have an issue with, it's the nagging question of why are they bothering with this in the first place?
Granted, it has been ages since I read Alexandre Dumas' novel about the rebellious D'Artagnan who joins three veteran musketeers to battle the hated Cardinal Richelieu and falls in love with perhaps the most interesting character in the story, Milady de Winter. But these are not characters that stuck with me long after reading about them, even though the story's themes of friendship, loyalty and courage did. One would expect their exploits to be exciting; there's the sense of the quest, romance, adventure and revenge, but for me it all gets lost in the denseness of the narrative's seemingly interminable digressions. The absurdity and character farce is not lost on me, but its charm turns tedious by the end of the tale. There's no doubt that Dumas could write a story, but I'm not sure a faithfully adapted re-telling makes for a good film. Oh, and I still can't get past the goofy hats.
I admired Gene Kelly and Vincent Price's performances in the 1948 Musketeers, but my enjoyment has everything to do with the actors and not with the story itself. A quick Wikipedia check counts 14 other film adaptations of Dumas' novel and that's not even including the animated versions (my favorite being the old Tom and Jerry episodes). Can you honestly say that any one of these 15 films really blew you away?
Guy Ritchie's twist on Sherlock Holmes helped transform the popular opinion of Holmes' character as stuffy and incorporated some of the more eccentric, darker elements (drugs, gambling, violence) of the sleuth into an action-packed ride. It's fun but never goofy -- unlike the 1993 Musketeers which plays out like dreadful slapstick comedy to the tune of Bryan Adams. Aside from Holmes himself, Ritchie had gritty Victorian London to play with -- transforming parts of his character's world into a kind of steampunk wonderland. What do you remember about Musketeers that's even half as interesting as that? I don't think many would have paired Sherlock Holmes and Guy Ritchie together, but it worked and it's going to take someone equally great to make Musketeers relevant and interesting. For me, any Musketeers adaptation would have to go the contemporary route like Anderson suggests his version will, but is the source material too steeped in its own history to make a modern re-telling successful? I'm skeptical.
Admittedly, I haven't read any of Dumas' other novels, but a peek at his bibliography lists several titles that would probably make refreshing adaptations of the author's work. His 1857 fantasy novel, The Wolf Leader, concerns a meddling shoe-maker who is beaten for interfering with the town hunt, but finds an unusual ally in a wolf who helps him seek revenge. It's a tale ripe with supernatural mystery and folkloric elements (supposedly based on a folk tale popular during Dumas' childhood) that screams out for a dark, animated adventure. If Guillermo del Toro wasn't already working on a thousand other projects, I could even envision him doing a live version. Or how about one of his Marie Antoinette romances, which is set in the days leading up to the Reign of Terror in the last part of the 18th century. This is the time period for Dumas' novel Cagliostro which was inspired by the occultist Count Cagliostro. The 1949 film adaptation of the story, Black Magic, stars Orson Welles who also directed most of the film, uncredited.
Aside from the studio obviously wanting to cash in on a companion franchise to Sherlock Holmes, does the world really need more Three Musketeers films? The answer is entirely subjective of course, and a case could certainly be made for putting a new spin on this well-worn tale in a fashion similar to Ritchie's film. I find it hard to believe that this story lives on because we're so interested in seeing men in frills and floppy hats poke each other with swords. It's the universal themes that make Dumas' story everlasting. If Wigram pairs the right director with writer Peter Straughan (The Men Who Stare at Goats) or if Anderson and Andrew Davies' (The Tailor of Panama) script really brings a modern twist to the tale, will we finally hit a winning formula?