Watching Kevin Reynolds’s The Count of Monte Cristo, it’s easy to see why Alexander Dumas’s Edmond Dante is the biggest chump in literary history. As played by James Caviezel, Eddie is the illiterate piggy put to roast by his jealous best friend Fernand (a foppish Guy Pearce) and up-and-coming society lawyer Villefort (James Frain). Cristo is all vanilla until Edmond does prison time at the Château d’If. After a gratuitous bout of sour pusses and horse-whippings, Edmond finds his education via Abbe Faria (Richard Harris), an uppity priest looking to break out of prison. As a Cliffs Notes rendition of the Dumas classic, Cristo is as efficient as they come. Reynolds thankfully underplays Edmond’s toils with God and chess pieces and instead focuses on the man’s bubbly revenge plot. Once d’If gives way to buried treasure, Edmond turns Count and lulls his way into enemy hearts by seducing Fernand’s teenage son and throwing a party so gay Joan Collins is liable to weep. His invitations are unreal, his entrances channel Cirque du Soleil. The ending is inevitable (unleash skeletons from closet, defeat evil, snag girl), but ridiculously fun thanks to a deadpan Luiz Guzman as Cristo sidekick Jacopo. Soon to be bottled and sold, Guzman is a fish out of the Soderbergh pond but a potent scene-stealer nonetheless. Cristo is beleaguered and frequently boorish but it knows how to pick its secondary players and never take itself too seriously.
Buena Vista Home Entertainment preserves the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in this surprisingly exquisite anamorphic video transfer. Shadow detail is less than stellar but colors and skin tones are incredibly warm and intimate. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is every bit as impressive; dialogue is crisp and audible and Ed Shearmur's score is sweeping without being intrusive. All in all, the track creates a real sense of atmosphere.
First up is the highly informative "An Epic Reborn," a 30-minute featurette that traces the origins of the film from Dumas's pen (Christophe Lagier, Professor of French Literature at UCLA discusses the authors populist appeal) to the challenges Jay Wolpert faced in adapting the book for the film to a description of the film's locations, sets and fight choreography. A sound design featurette, deleted scenes and a multi-angle dailies feature that could pass for a Dave Matthews Band music video are also included. Though not very engaging, director Kevin Reynolds offers his technical insights on the disc's audio commentary.
Simple yet handsome, this DVD edition of The Count of Monte Cristo is perhaps too understated to make an impression with potential buyers.