Endlessly witty, punchy and wily, director Richard Lester returned from a five-year hiatus that started in the late 1960s to refresh his signature style with the equally witty, punchy and breathless 1973 adaptation of The Three Musketeers. StudioCanal provides this swashbuckling historical epic with a brand-new 4K presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR. The transfer itself is a night-and-day difference from previous subpar transfers, although with some reservations. Add a nice handful of supplements, including a great interview with film historian Neil Sinyard, and you have a Highly Recommended release!
As I mentioned above, Richard Lester was returning to the director’s chair after quite some time directing commercials and trying to find financing for some passion projects. That was when the idea of The Beatles starring as The Three Musketeers in a big-budget project. And since Lester had plenty of experience working with them on A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, it made sense to hire the man. That of idea of The Beatles soon fell out of favor, but Lester stuck around and stayed with the project. He teamed with novelist-turned-screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser to develop a treatment for both The Three Musketeers and its sequel, which they originally planned to be one four-hour movie.
The movies got split up somewhere along the way, though the duo’s particular penchant for eschewing pomp and circumstance while caring deeply about story stayed firmly in place. The result is my personal favorite adaptation of the source material. I’ve got another Richard Lester movie tattooed on my upper right arm, so I may be a bit biased here.
The Three Musketeers is a pretty faithful adaptation of the source material, but Lester and his knack for poking fun at the power structures that define modern society is in truly rare form. Big physical gags abound in the film, almost like the canvas given for his Beatles movies was begging for something more expansive, plus he had an absolutely stacked cast to work with, including Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Charlton Heston, Christopher Lee, Faye Dunaway, Michael York and Lester’s good friend, Roy Kinnear. And on top of all that, Lester found so many different provocative ways to add a bit of cynicism to the proceedings. After all, a lot of people get stabbed and murdered in the story.
D’Artagnan (York) sets out for Paris in the 17th century with the grand plan of joining the elite Musketeers. To get their attention, D’Artagnan antagonizes Athos (Reed), Aramis (Chamberlain) and Porthos (Frank Finlay), while also making an enemy out of Rochefort (Lee). Naturally, Cardinal Richelieu (Heston) is scheming to undermine the Duke of Buckingham (Simon Ward) and the Queen of France (Geraldine Chapin), while Milady (Dunaway) is scheming as well.
Although Lester is known for the Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film and how that defined the approach to his other films, we find the director trying to execute swashbuckling action while making it wily and comical. The result is a very weird concoction, with jokes thrown around as people get stabbed and blood squirts out of their wounds, though the narrative beats somehow land harder thanks to this approach. The distinction between comedy and drama takes on a bit of a futile mood, like all these people are fighting and fucking with each other just to get by. It’s exhausting!
Needless to say, I’m a huge fan of Dick Lester’s The Three Musketeers and I hope to see it continue to fascinate audiences for decades. There’s not many adaptations of Dumas’ work as funny and yes, even horny, than Lester’s version. And hell, there may not be another with a more dire look at the legends that pervade through history.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
En garde! The Three Musketeers is presented as a two-disc (4K & Blu-ray) release from StudioCanal UK with a thick black case for the discs and a slipcover encasing it all. The 4K disc is a BD100, while the standard Blu-ray is a BD50. Both discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, select chapters, set up audio and video, as well as explore bonus features. Please note that the standard Blu-ray is Region B locked.
NOTE: Images are not disc-sourced. We haven't been able to pull images from discs yet, but as soon as we can we'll circle back and update this review and hopefully add a video sample as well.
The Three Musketeers was shot on Eastman 10T 5254 35mm stock and with Panaflex cameras and lenses from Panavision, thus the film was a really great candidate for the 4K treatment. Although no source details for the new 4K restoration have been provided with the release, I dug up some information on the web and it looks as if this restoration was sourced from the original negative. As someone who has seen The Three Musketeers on a 35mm theatrical release print, I can say with certainty that this is the best the film has ever looked in terms of overall fidelity. Film grain is exposed wonderfully and much of the film is soft because of spherical lenses, and it was a grand pleasure to see that upheld in this presentation.
Now, for the reservations. This 2160p, HEVC-encoded presentation has a very good color grade overall, though some shots fare better than others. The scenes shot day-for-night have a bit of a teal wash to them, although it doesn’t overwhelm the presentation like it did in the new StudioCanal-produced 4K transfer of King Kong (1976). Flesh tones in general look wonderful and the soft whites native to the production design gain some incredible detail with the new 10-bit color depth. Optical effects are nice and dated when exposed to 2160p and if there was any DNR used in the presentation, it’s very, very light. Overall, this is a very pleasing presentation that easily jumps ahead of previous DNR-laden releases.
This new release includes three different LPCM 2.0 mono tracks in English, French and German. That beautiful, expansive Michel Legrand score comes through as rich and vibrant as it should. Dialogue is balanced nicely and is always clean, plus the source seems to be in terrific condition. No tininess can be heard in the peaks, which is always nice.
The Three Musketeers even gains a nice selection of supplements with this 4K upgrade, including an interview with film historian Neil Sinyard that goes deep on Lester’s career up to the making of The Three Musketeers. Sinyard posits Lester’s playful style within the whole of UK filmmaking from that period and has a great story about how David Lean reached out to Lester after being impressed by Petulia (1968). The other supplements look to be vintage, but they’re no less fun to watch.
Richard Lester’s adaptation of The Three Musketeers rides high in stunning 4K from StudioCanal with a new 4K and Blu-ray release that easily pulls ahead of all previous releases. Although I have some minor reservations about the transfer, it’s true that this is the best the film has ever looked at home, plus some special features help to highlight the film’s unique brilliance. This release comes Highly Recommended!