Today's topic is one that probably has never been covered in advogato (and there are more of those ;-): Alexandre Dumas (père).
Why? Because I lately see him everywhere. For one thing, a few weeks ago, I watched a movie. I think the english title is "the ninth gate". That movie, while apparently a books and demons sort of thriller with Mr. Depp, is based in a book by a guy called Pérez-Reverte.
Now, that book is way better than the movie. In fact, it's one of the better books I've read in the last year or so, and I read a lot.
The book is called... El Club Dumas. Which in english means roughly the same thing as in spanish.
Now, I can understand why Roman Polansky would throw away half of the book (The Dumas half) and keep the other half (the devil's half), and making a movie based on the book would probably be impossible otherwise, but hey, it still sucks.
Why does it suck? Because the Dumas side of the book is way better. It's fun. It has a plot. Or two plots. It has characters. It has great dialog. The devil's half is, well, about the devil, and about books. Old books.
And I prefer the Dumas half, because it has a ghost of the real thing. That real thing being, of course, Dumas' work.
I had read Dumas when I was a kid, and I thought it was funny, and that I had outgrown it, until one day, two years ago, I felt a irresistible urge to buy a 1300 page mammoth called "The Count of Montecristo".
In the first 120 pages or so, it has, love, politics (with Napoleon!), evil scheming, prison, drugs, escapes from prison, sex, religion, loyalty, betrayal, and, the most important thing, it's so much fun you don't even care about the stranger parts.
I remember a article in Salon a while ago, like a defense of the plot in literature, against style. And Dumas is the greatest example of why that makes sense. The style is not bad, mind you, but it's functional to the plot. Characters in a Dumas book exist to do things. They make decisions, they try to advance to their goals, they push and kill and fuck each other as if their lifes depended on it, and well, as far as a character has a life, doesn't it depend on it?
And then I realized the bad luck Dumas' books have had when turned into movies. And I can't understand why. After all, they have everything to make good, or at least fun, movies. They have guns, explosions, scenarios, action, and sex! Ask Peter Dragon to make one!
But last night I saw The Man in the Iron Mask on TV. Oh, man.
Ok, I understand that noone could make a movie about the man in the iron mask with the original title (The Vizcount(sp?) of Bragelonne), because people would mistake it for a Merchant-Ivory movie.
I understand that they had to make Leonardo diCaprio into Louis XIV. Hey, he's not so bad at it, even. He does look like a bland inbreed with an attitude problem.
I accept that they had to cast 3 actors from UK and the US as mousketeers, and that they had to fake french accents (why? the audience wouldn't notice it is set is France if they didn't?)
I can accept the way they totally screwed the character of Athos' son, turning him into a moron.
What I can't accept is the ending.
In the book, Athos dies of grief. Porthos dies saving his friends. Aramis (who is NOT, for christ's sake, the secret general of the jesuits) retires to a monastery, D'Artagnan dies many years later in the siege of Maastricht (to match the death of the real D'Artagnan), and Louis XiV wins.
It's a very sad ending. But it actually makes sense. You don't go and replace the king of a country, get caught and then get away with it, sad as it may be.
The movie? Oh, well, let's see, the man in the iron mask becomes king, Athos, Porthos and Aramis become his counselors, Athos gets the (new) king as a (new) son, as if it was a new goldfish to replace the flushed one, and the only one that dies is D'Artagnan, but he dies saving everyone else, so it doesn't matter.
Oh, and D'Artagnan is revealed to be the father (with Anna of Austria) of Louis XIV (and the man in the iron mask). Why was that? Someone saw "The empire strikes back" while drafting the script?
And it's not the first time. Monsieur Dumas has (ok, no, he's dead) seen many movie versions, and each one massacred the books in similar ways.
And here I am, hoping one day someone will burn 120 million bucks in a 5 hour epic called "The vizcount of Bragelonne".
With people speaking without accents. Or in french, or with a real french accent. And where everyone dies in the end.