Sunday, April 7, 2013


Last night we watched The Musketeer, a 2001version of The Three Musketeers directed by Peter Hyams. Coming hot on the heels of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, this entry in the roster of the two-dozen or so live-action movies based on the Dumas book brought its own special twist: while the casting was pretty typical (some model as noble D'Artagnan, Tim Roth as the villainous Febre, Stephen Rea as the scheming Cardinal, and Catherine Deneuve in a star turn as the Queen), the fight choreographer was Xion Xinxin, Jet Li's stunt double and a prolific martial arts actor from wuxia films. This movie uses the "wire fu" techniques common to wuxia, so that the set-piece battles would comprise swashbuckling action flavored with physics-defying  leaps and mid-air clashes in the midst of precarious perches or other improbable settings.

Or at least it was supposed to.

From this perspective, the movie was disappointing.  The first big fight scene starts with D'Artagnan leaping twenty feet across a room from a seated position to protect a scavenging orphan from a mook; most promising. The fight itself moves the swordplay from tables to the rafters to rolling  barrels, but the darkness of the cinematography (the whole film seems to be in sepia) and what seems to be some reluctance on the part of the director to really cut loose constrains the whole episode.

Then there are some boring bits (whenever there's no fighting, the whole film slogs like a bad high school play, with Tim Roth the only watchable exception), followed by a typical break-someone-out-of-jail scene, the fight-on-the-moving-coach scene, and a poorly edited catch-the-hero-naked-in-the-stream-and-kidnap-the-girl scene, none of which would be out of place in a Burt Lancaster pirate movie and none of which used any wire work.

The climactic battle was a bit more ambitious. First, our hero fences a number of opponents while all are hanging on ropes from a high tower, rotating the "playing field" ninety degrees and allowing for some fun leaps and swings. Poor editing once again diminishes the effectiveness of the scene.

The final confrontation between D'Artagnan and Febre takes place in a huge room full of catwalks, ladders, and cross-beams: a perfect setting for lots of leaping, balancing, careening, teeter-tottering, and swinging in great arcs while sword-fighting. Unfortunately, the  fight is mostly filmed in long-shot, so the effect is that of watching a screen capture of a Donkey Kong game; it was almost as if they had spent so much money on the set that the director wanted the audience to see all of it all the time.

When it was over, Wonder Wife, who likes her some wuxia, couldn't even figure why Febre was dead, so unclear was the presentation.

If, as we did, you try this movie out hoping for some sweet cross-genre action, be prepared for a let-down.

It got us thinking, however, about other cross-genre mash-ups that have been tried, have worked, or might work. Here's a few that we came up with.

SF-Western: Cowboys and Aliens made the biggest splash with this.

Sandal Noir: The Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor is a great combination of private eye tropes and sword-and-sandal epics. (We needs a movie version of Gordianus the Finder.)

Eldritch Eye: The sadly short-lived Dresden Files managed to combine the rumpled private eye and the wizard into one appealing character, Harry Dresden. (Wonder Wife particularly misses this.)

Swash and sorcery: The 1980s British TV Series Robin Hood has the merry men fighting demons and monsters as well as the sheriff. (I can remember liking this, but it was a long time ago.)

SF-Medical: This was an idea we had for ongoing hospital series set in a space station: E.T./E.R.

Fairy Tale-Medical: A soap-operaish hospital series with fairy tales characters like in Once: call it Grimm's Anatomy.

SF-Lawyer: Imagine a space-opera L.A. Law: alien triad divorces, asteroid mineral rights disputes, and space-liner damage suits. Now come up with a catchy title; we couldn't get past Lawyers in Spaaaaaace.

SF-Circus: Wonder Wife holds that "the circus movie" is a viable genre and wants to see Space Big Top on Netflix soon.

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