Friday, 4 April 2014

Why The Count of Monte Cristo Should Be a Mini-Series

Last year it was announced that David S. Goyer would be directing the next remake of the Alexandre Dumas classic, The Count of Monte Cristo. Goyer, known more for his writing credits – Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Jumper, Dark City – has not penned the screenplay, that credit going to Michael Robert Johnson, the writer of Sherlock Holmes and Pompeii
Jim Caviezel as Edmond Dantés

While there have been a number of adaptations of Monte Cristo, the most notable North American version is the 2002 film starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pierce.

                I’ve just finished reading Monte Cristo and am very excited about seeing a new version of the old classic. Most of us already know parts of the immense story of revenge – the accusations, the false imprisonment, the unimaginable wealth, the vengeance – but there are a number of story elements that are left out when adapting this novel into less than three hours of screen time. Films have been attempted for the adaptation of Monte Cristo with wonderful results (I’m not trying to bash the 2002 version here, nor the upcoming possibility of Goyer’s), but I think it’s time to try a different approach.

Here are a few reasons why I think producers should invest money into making The Count of Monte Cristo into mini-series rather than another film.

1.    Most obviously, length
An unabridged version of the novel runs anywhere from 1200 – 1500 pages; there are 117 chapters; it contains close to 500,000 words. It’s quite clear that The Count of Monte Cristo is a big novel and takes a while to read. A lot happens from cover to cover, and while adaptations often remain very true to the source for the first 400 pages or so, as the 2002 version did, the limited time of a film forces writers to create a new path for the story for the remaining thousand. While I don’t necessarily disagree with this artistic liberty (the 2002 alterations to the story were very entertaining, interesting, and valid on their own merit), a lot is lost by not allowing for a faithful adaptation.

Why would a mini-series help?
Given enough time in a mini-series, a sufficient number of oft-missed plotlines would be capable of inclusion. The story doesn’t only follow the Count the entire novel; it has a wide scope that deals with different characters and dramatic tension. Trying to fit over 1200 pages into less than three hours is an impossibility that requires a lot of plot reshaping. If that same page count was given, let’s say, ten hours (10 one-hour episodes) a lot more could be accomplished stylistically. Is this not what they allowed for Game of Thrones, each book shorter than Monte Cristo as a whole?

I would love to see not just 20 minutes of Dantés and L’Abbé Faria in the prison together, but a full hour: one episode dedicated to his imprisonment and escape would be astounding. And that’s the majesty of this story that would be gained in a mini-series. Writers could focus far more on the different dynamics that play out during the novel – from the one-on-one in the prison, to the later extravagant parties, to the viscous morally ambiguous vengeance, all of it a complete tonal shift from episode to episode.

2.    Timespan
Somewhat related to the last point, there’s also a lot of time covered in the novel. From start to finish, the reader is presented over 25 years of drama, showing a great change in many of the characters. In the 2002 version, the timespan is changed to about 16 years, and while that doesn’t seem like a huge change, its ripple effect has us experiencing a whole new take on the story. It’s not necessary for Goyer to stray away from the 25 year timespan, and hopefully he will stick to it, trying for a more faithful adaptation; however, there’s more than just writing down a 25 instead of 16 that’s important.

Why would a mini-series help?
Spending a long period of time with characters has the uncanny ability to have us build emotional connections akin to friendship. When the end of a series finally occurs, or even if a character dies within a series, the heartbreak can be as affecting as if they were real. We unconsciously pair our time with the characters’ time. For Monte Cristo, the audience shouldn’t rush through the years presented in only a few hours. Instead, feeling length of Dantés’ imprisonment, or his time with smugglers, or the unfolding of his meticulous plan is essential to getting a sense of his suffering.

Never read an abridged version of Monte Cristo because you would be denying yourself that feeling of elongated time. It took me two months of casual reading to finish the novel, and what impacted me most was when I neared the end, I looked back at the beginning chapters. The characters had changed, as did my life. I had spent so much time away from the first chapters that the length of time from young-Dantés to old-Dantés had a singular, separate effect. A mini-series, shown over the course of a few months, would allow for that stretched out feeling, rather than the quick one-shot brought to the table by a film.

3.    Cast of Characters
For a novel as long as this one, there is a surprisingly low number of characters: about 50 (probably less). By comparison, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, also one of the longest novels ever written and set during a similar time period, contains over 500 characters, boasting only 100,000 more words. Despite the modest character count, film adaptations often have to cut out many of the characters, even major ones like Maximilian, Valentine, Caderousse, for the sake of brevity. Reading the novel, it’s clear that the lost characters really push the plot in a certain direction, adding a much needed emotional gravity outside of Edmond’s relentless quest for revenge.

Why would a mini-series help?
Even if they’re included in the next film, most of the characters will probably be passing fancies unless Goyer opts for a three hour runtime. A mini-series would really allow the audience to get to know these characters, become attached to them, hate them – whatever it may be. Otherwise, the emotional impact is lost and including them is near useless. Imagine that instead of Game of Thrones being adapted into a series on television, it was a film series. Each book is given a season of airtime for a reason. So much would be lost every movie – characters would be cut left and right. The same goes for Monte Cristo. Give it room to breathe. Allow audiences to know the characters that really make a difference to the plot.

It’s known as one of the greatest adventure novels ever written for a reason. Because I’ve already mentioned it, I’ve read the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones for television), and enjoyed every bit of it. But just as that series is exciting, so is Monte Cristo, and is more than deserving of a faithful, long adaptation. I would love to see it made into a mini-series, but for now, I’ll keep close at hand two important words – wait and hope.

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