The Return of the Musketeers – A Botched Reunion?

The Return of the Musketeers is the last of the Dumas adaptations on instant Netflix.

Return of the Musketeers

The Return of the Musketeers (1989) – Rated PG

With the British crown hanging in the balance, D’Artagnan (Michael York) implores his band of long-retired Musketeers — Porthos (Frank Finlay), Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) and Athos (Oliver Reed) — to join him for another adventure. Much has changed since Milady de Winter’s death 20 years ago, while other things are eerily similar: For one thing, Milady’s daughter (Kim Cattrall) seems to be following in her mother’s footsteps.

One Line Review: They do indeed return but somewhat worse for wear.

Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) is one of the finest swashbucklers ever made, exceeded only by Lester’s The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge. This assumes one counts them as separate films even though they were filmed simultaneously. Both films strode the fine line between comedy and drama masterfully. Both films feature incredible swordplay, fantastic characters, great laughs, and high drama.

One of the biggest challenges to any Three Musketeers adaptation is making each musketeer distinctive. This is where The Musketeer failed dismally. Expanding the adaptation to two films allows the characters room to breathe. D’Artagnon (Michael York) is young, impressionable, and brash. Aramis (Richard Chamberlain) is studying for the priesthood but has a soft spot for the ladies. Porthos (Frank Finlay) is narcissistic, a vain and self-important man but still a loyal friend. Athos (Oliver Reed) is a drunk with a tragic past.

Return of the Musketeers (1989) re-unites the cast, writer (George MacDonald Fraser), and director (Richard Lester). Not only do you have the same actors playing the musketeers but Geraldine Chaplin reprises her role as the Queen and Roy Kinnear as D’Artagnon’s manservant and comic foil Planchet. Even Christopher Lee returns as Rochefort which is odd to say the least.

Kim Cattrall plays Justine de Winter. While young and attractive, she is no Faye Dunaway. Phillippe Noiret is Cardinal Mazarin, not only is he no Charlton Heston but the musketeers even bemoan the loss of Cardinal Richeliu at one point. C. Thomas Howell plays Raoul. Jean-Pierre Cassel has a lot of fun as Cyrano de Bergerac.

With the first two films being absolute classics, what went wrong here? Just about everything. The story was based on Dumas’ Twenty Years Later so historically Cardinal Richeliu could not appear. The director Richard Lester was sick for most of the production. The leading lady dropped out and was replaced by Kim Cattrall.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Spanish crew misunderstood Lester’s directions and the result was that actor Roy Kinnear (Planchet) had a horse accident, breaking his pelvis. Taken to the hospital, he died of a heart attack the next day. Richard Chamberlain (Aramis) quit the film over the incident and Richard Lester essentially stopped directing afterwards.

The upshot of this was that Planchet’s role is mostly shot from behind with a stunt double and a voice actor dubbing in the lines. Aramis’ role is considerably shortened (almost a cameo). The roles of Cyrano de Bergerac, Cardinal Mazarin and the Duke of Beaufort are all dubbed by British actors.

The Return of the Musketeers is still enjoyable but it is very choppy and the timing isn’t right on many of the scenes. There are no incredible setpieces as in the Three Musketeers (the laundry swordfight, the convent swordfight) and The Four Musketeers (the swordfight on ice, breakfast at the bastion). The comedy is also strained.

I think what it most reminds me of is The Expendables. Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis, Jet Li, and Statham have all been in great action films. The Expendables itself isn’t great but it evokes a certain nostalgia and it is nice to see all those icons in one film.

People Watch: Michael York would actually reprise his role as D’Artagnon one more time in The Lady Musketeer (2004) though no one else returns.

Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls

Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls is currently available on instant Netflix.

One-Line Review: One of Asylum’s worst – I’m holding out for a hero.

Allan QuatermainAllan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls (2008) – Rated R

I loved Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). It was a wonderful homage to the serials of the 30s and was clearly based, at least partially, on H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quatermain novels. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) was a highly successful sequel with wonderful set pieces but a less than stellar plot and somewhat annoying heroine.

Piggybacking on the success of Temple of Doom, Golan Globus hired Richard Chamberlain, king of the miniseries, as Allan Quatermain and made the low budget King Solomon’s Mines (1985) with a pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone. This begat Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986) the following year. The Golan Globus productions ape the Indiana Jones material rather than the actual novels.

Unfortunately they had no idea what made Raiders of the Lost Ark work and were dismal failures. The only thing that makes King Solomon’s Mines look good is the sequel, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986), also starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone.

Spielberg made a nice conclusion to his series with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There weren’t as many cool set pieces but the plot was great. Unfortunately, when you have the machinery to print money, it is very hard to resist using it. Spielberg returned once more to the well in 2008 with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Asylum, seeing a chance to repeat the Golan-Globus gambit, wrote their own Allan Quatermain story (no more copyright for Haggard) and titled it Allan Quatermain and the Temple of Skulls thus alluding to both the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and the Temple of Doom. Now you would think that with that title, there would be a Temple of Skulls. Hilariously there is not.

As with this summer’s big budget movie, The Lone Ranger, the titular protagonist is a hopeless, clueless, annoying boob. If you want a heroic Allan Quatermain, either watch the admittedly cheesy The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or go back to the 1950 version of King Solomon’s Mines with Stewart Granger.

I complain about Asylum’s terrible CGI all the time and this film is no different. Still I need to complain about the sound here. Asylum lifts entire native tracks from 1964’s Zulu. According to imdb, Asylum made this movie for less than $50,000. I suppose this is why they don’t have any slumming stars in it.

Side note: Erica Summers made Mister White for less than a tenth of this budget and I really enjoyed that.

One scene has quite a bit of shaky cam as there is an earthquake for no apparent reason. A huge flight of something imperils our adventurers – the CGI was so bad I could not tell if it was bees, birds, or locusts. The train fights are hilarious, second only to the anti-climactic climax in silliness.

You will be thankful that this movie has less than the usual amount of dialogue whenever the actors speak. They are simply dreadful, the script is bad, the movie is deeply anachronistic and idiotic, the CGI is expectedly awful, characters appear and disappear randomly during the movie, etc.

Those Richard Chamberlain films aren’t looking so bad now, in spite of the floating plastic vegetables in the cannibal stew. Sometimes I wish I was making this stuff up.


The Swarm – Nature Gone Wild! week

This is Nature Gone Wild! week. The Swarm is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Swarm

AVOID: The Swarm – NR – Not rated. The theatrical version was rated PG and this version adds more content but as near as I could tell not more objectionable material.

“Entomologist Brad Crane (Michael Caine) and his crack team of scientists attempt to intervene when swarms of voracious killer bees begin attacking a number of cities in Texas, and an army general (Richard Widmark) threatens to use military firepower against this force of nature. This doomsday epic buzzes with an all-star cast, including Katharine Ross, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda.”

“I never dreamed it would turn out to be the bees. They’ve always been our friend.”

“We have been invaded, by an enemy far more lethal than any human force.”

“Until we have destroyed the African bee. Or it has destroyed us.”

As you may have noticed I have rated this AVOID as any sane person should. However I must admit to having enjoyed the stupidity of this film immensely. This is a great big slice of 70s cheese and boy does it stink.

The plot holes practically define the film so this must be Swiss cheese. Right off the bat the military discovers Dr. Crane in the middle of the command center of a semi-secret military base. He has been following the bees and claims he just walked right in after everyone was killed off.

Later Dr. Crane needs some specimens of the swarm which is somewhat odd since he is right there in the base where the swarm killed everyone. Are you telling me the base was wiped out and then the bees carried away their dead?

Later still Jud Hawkins (Slim Pickens) arrives and threatens to shut off the water to the base if he doesn’t get to see his son. Rather than detain him, General Slater figures that they’d better do what he says. What?!? Of course I’m glad they did because one of the most hilarious scenes in the film is Slim Pickens crying over the Hefty bag his son is in.

Crane has one bee to work with. Seriously one bee and they have a room full of body-bagged soldiers. Did anyone read the script before they filmed this?

As they’re playing back the surveillance tapes, you can clearly hear the swarm. Dr. Crane asks, ‘what’s that?’ so I tell him it’s the swarm obviously – where did you get your PhD? in a box of crackerjack?

Three boys go out hunting for the bees. They find them just out of town swarming everywhere. There is no mistaking them but one of the boys needs to use his binoculars to see what is filling the whole screen.

Still later Crane figures out that the bees showed up at the base less than 30 seconds after the base tested a siren. Earlier they indicated that the swarm was traveling at 7 miles an hour. Alright I’ll let you do the math but that pretty much means the bees had to be on the base already.

Crane sees three clouds of bees – all three are headed in completely different directions and Crane says the bees are headed straight for Marysville. That’s okay though because while the bees have no problem wiping out an underground military base, they seem to have difficulty getting into buildings.

They take the survivors of Marysville and pack them all on a train. I’d tell you what happens next but I have to stop with the ridiculous plot now before I get into spoilers. I imagine you  can guess though.

The cast is absolutely first rate even if they don’t put in good performances. Michael Caine headlines the scientists and really chews up the scenery. Henry Fonda and Richard Chamberlain appear as scientists. The townspeople are played by Fred MacMurray (his last film), Olivia de Havilland, Ben Johnson, and Slim Pickens. The military is represented by Richard Widmark, Katharine Ross, and Bradford Dillman.

The theatrical version was 116 minutes – this is the extended version and runs a whopping 155 minutes. The extra time is not kind to this film – it makes it seem to go on forever. Netflix has also brought this in a nice widescreen ratio so you can properly appreciate this disaster.

Unless you have a taste for truly terrible movies, avoid this movie. Please note: while this film worked fine on my computer, it was glitchy on my Roku box about 37 minutes in. Inexplicably this movie was actually nominated for an Oscar for Best Costume Design.

People Watch: Jose Ferrer appears briefly as Dr. Andrews and Cameron Mitchell plays General Thompson.