Variety's Achievement in Int'l Film Award: Martin Moszkowicz

Constantin’s 3D production of “The Three Musketeers” is the biggest and most expensive project for both the company and director Paul W.S. Anderson, and its $100 million budget makes it the biggest European movie of the year. Coming off of the record success of their previous collaboration, the most recent chapter in their long-running “Resident Evil” franchise, the new film aims at targeting a wider market by tackling one of the most famous adventure stories of European literature.

Anderson, who is known for his dystopian sci-fi aesthetic, sees this as a logical next step, building on his well-known action cred to expand from his core audience with a lush period adventure.

“I was very aware that we were making ‘Three Musketeers’ in a post-’Pirates of the Caribbean’ world, where ‘Pirates’ had really kind of upped the ante and created a slightly different kind of genre,” Anderson says. “Not a traditional pirate film, rather a kind of fantasy action adventure, which made it one of the biggest franchises in the world.”

Instead of magic, Anderson added a retro sci-fi component, utilizing a sort of steampunk aesthetic in gadgets, weaponry and attitude that references James Bond or “Mission: Impossible,” while still grounded in the period and faithful to the original story.

“It’s a story I’ve loved since I was a child,” says Anderson. “I read the book in school and I loved Richard Lester’s version. I think one of the reasons why it can be done over and over again is that each generation gets its own version. Essentially the same story but reflecting its own time.”

With the success of the last “Resident Evil” in 3D, Anderson has made it clear that it’s all 3D from now on. But with a tight 11-week schedule for “Musketeers,” both on location all over Bavaria and later in Studio Babelsberg, one could expect to hear a litany of complaints about the sizable 3D rig. But Anderson claims that a lot the horror stories of long set-up times are exaggerated.

“I shot my last three movies on very tight schedules, and my schedule between a 3D and a 2D movie has not changed,” he says, crediting d.p. Glen MacPherson’s wealth of 3D experience, which included the fourth “Resident Evil,” for making things flow so easily. “I wanted to work with a d.p. who already knew what he was doing, and had made all of the mistakes on somebody else’s film.”

Anderson maintains that the secret of good 3D is “to approach it in a really holistic way. You think about 3D in every aspect of the movie. You design it with 3D in mind right from the script process. The more you think about it, the better the end result.”

Anderson’s producer and partner Jeremy Bolt agrees. “Paul was already quite suited to 3D because so much of his style is about composing sequences, the choreography of scenes. … And 3D is almost a throwback to old-school filmmaking; you can’t cut as quickly so the mise en scene becomes even more important.”

Production designer Paul Austerberry, who has also worked with Anderson previously, but never in 3D, says it wasn’t as big of a jump as he had anticipated. “The way I work, I’m anyway very aware of foreground, middle ground and background,” he says, adding that he was already designing with 3D software, so it was easy to apply that to the film’s needs. What was new was having to consider the relation of the 3D camera to the set to avoid overpowering the foreground. It often meant stretching out the configuration of the set, causing camera and crew to be crammed into a tight corner of the studio to get the shot.

This was not a problem on location in the various Bavarian palaces that they used to replicate 17th-century France. “Some of these spaces were just epic!” Austerberry says. “Generally speaking, I can only build (a certain) amount of height because of cost, and then you have to digitally add in the rest. Some of these grand spaces look like they’re a visual effect already. And if we’d had to do it, I don’t think we would have matched the scale. We just wouldn’t have thought that big.”

At the same time, it was also about the details. “We had unbelievable antique furnishings brought in that had all this relief, so that when you had closeups of somebody sitting at a desk you could read that texture and the depth because of the 3D. And Pierre-Yves Gayraud, the costume designer, found all these materials and the textures of the brocade, or the weight of the fabric in the folds of the costumes and drapery, all these all had their own kind of dimensional effect.”

The costumes had another significant effect as Milla Jovovich was determined to do her action scenes properly costumed in corset and full skirt. “Usually in period movies where women have action scenes, they end up dressing like men,” Anderson says, “because (the period) costumes are hard enough to walk in or even breathe in, never mind do a fight scene in.” This meant that when choreographing the fight, Jovovich had to wear specially constructed training gear made to re-create the weight and fit of the eventual costume.

“There were certain moves that she just couldn’t do,” he says, “but some things looked so much more spectacular because she was wearing the skirt and I thought, ‘We have to see that skirt twirling in the air.’ I’d say we changed about 60% of what we had planned once she started rehearsing with the actual costume.”

The sword fights benefitted especially from the 3D. While the added dimension doesn’t support traditional stunt fights where blows don’t actually connect, sword fighting can look great because it depends on the real impact of the blades. Anderson wanted the sword fights as real as possible, because 3D scenes aren’t cut as fast as 2D, which means one can’t rely on stunt doubles due to the sustained takes. Sword master Nick Powell was charged with coming up with some impressive fencing scenes that the actors could actually perform, without wire work, tricks or CGI — the upshot being that they all wound up becoming proficient sword fighters.

Anderson points to a little extra dividend: “When the blades hit there are these fantastic sparks, and I know people are going to assume they were added in post-production, but they’re all real because those are titanium blades. And when they clash, sparks fly.”

Given his experience with several franchises, he does consider that “Three Musketeers” — which already consists of a trilogy of books by Alexandre Dumas — certainly has that potential.

“I always have that in the back of my mind, but I think quite often you see these properties develop, and all the talk is about the multi-picture franchise instead of how do we make a really great movie straight out of the gate. And it doesn’t matter that there are many sequels to the ‘Golden Compass,’ if you don’t knock the first movie out of the ballpark, you’re never gonna have a franchise.”

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