The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan (2023) Book-To-Screen Adaptation: Published in 1844, Alexandre Dumas’ classic book The Three Musketeers is almost two hundred years old. Still, it remains widely popular within and beyond France: the perfect proof is the latest adaptation of this adventure novel, directed by French filmmaker Martin Bourboulon and marketed as a “European blockbuster.” Its first part, D’Artagnan, is due to be released on April 21st, with Milady following up in December. With its actionised plot and steampunk elements, the film offers a fresh take on the well-known story of the musketeers, but also one which will not please all viewers. The movie thus raises interesting questions about how books, and especially “classics”, can be successfully adapted. The transition from the page to the screen requires making the most of a new medium while remaining faithful to the source material – and its fans. With its novelty and radical choices, The Three Musketeers – D’Artagnan is the perfect movie to discuss how these choices are made and why some are more successful than others.
On top of selecting an all-star cast, Martin Bourboulon has decided to adopt the arch of the Queen’s ferrets – the first part of Dumas’ novel – with a twist. In the book, the young Charles D’Artagnan travels to Paris to become a musketeer and serve the King. But he finds himself caught up in a complex plot to return the Queen’s jewels and avoid war between France and England. While these main points are present in the movie, the adaptation adds some new plotlines, including a major one regarding an unresolved crime.This is not the only big difference with the novel: the universe presented here is not an accurate depiction of 17th-century France. It rather has some interesting steampunk costumes (worn by Milady de Winter, played by Eva Green). The overall atmosphere of the movie is also darker and edgier than in the source material.
The idea to tell a different story and subvert viewers’ expectations is bold and can be saluted, though it could disappoint those looking for a faithful adaptation. This is because Bourboulon has chosen not to “portray” the book on screen but rather to offer his take on the novel. This choice is smart, especially as the original plot is difficult to adapt. While most people know the book for its sword fights, The Three Musketeers actually spends considerable time discussing political plots and the state of the French Kingdom. The director understood that in this day of actionised blockbusters, the film would need to put more focus on brutal brawls – which is also a good way to set it apart from previous adaptations.
Indeed, a good adaptation should not be a carbon copy of what is written on the page but rather one which makes the most of its medium and of the context in which it has been produced. In the case of The Three Musketeers – D’Artagnan, this means using the tools offered by cinema: editing, filming, and the ability to show instead of telling. It also implies taking into account the previous films and offering something different. The movie does this, but its loose take on the novel raises the question of how much is too much. This adaptation is very different from its source material and will put off some viewers by altering the plot and putting much more emphasis on action sequences.
While these fight scenes make the most of the medium (cinema is, after all, the art of recording movement), some of the director’s choices are less convincing. The film’s narration is messy and feels rushed, as plots that can be developed over several chapters must be condensed. Most combat scenes are also poorly edited, with too many cuts: this is a shame, especially as a film adaptation offered an exceptional opportunity to represent the epicness of the book’s fights to its full extent.
Despite these flaws, D’Artagnan cannot be called a bad reimagining of Dumas’ masterpiece. While it does not strictly adhere to the setting and plot, the film has preserved the most important: the spirit of the book. This essence is perfectly illustrated by some witty lines of dialogue between the musketeers, embodying the novel’s tongue-in-cheek, dry French humor. The verve of these new musketeers will not be found in slow-paced, epic sword fights but rather in the snappy digs they deliver at their opponents. The spirit of Dumas’ work is also present in the initiatory journey of the young Charles D’Artagnan (François Civil). This origins story is faithful to the book and an entire cinematic heritage – from Luke Skywalker to the Kingsman saga, big screens have seen countless heroes trying to prove their worth. Using this trope to the fullest, Bourboulon makes D’Artagnan’s evolution easy to appreciate throughout the film and, as a result of this, recreates the epic aspects of the book.
What we can take away from The Three Musketeers is that a good adaptation does not need to be perfect: it is about respect and innovation, heritage and novelty. In short, a good adaptation is about balance and recreating a story using another medium rather than merely transposing it on the screen. Despite its flaws, Bourboulon’s movie can be called successful and has some creative ideas to offer, which will hopefully be further explored in the upcoming Milady.