Did you ever wonder about the unidentified actors in those History Channel bios? Or the men & women who play Presidents, Generals, Famous Writers & Royalty in those artsy documentaries on PBS, TLC or Discovery? They’re signing treaties, ordering in the troops, giving world famous speeches, but when the camera pans up, their faces are obscured by a tree or a spectator; or maybe the focus goes off just when you want a good look. Well, mystery solved! In this 4 part/six-hour French mini-series on Nappy & his gang they all turn out to be . . . really famous actors! Who knew? Isabella Rossellini, Gerard Depardieu, John Malkovitch, Julian Sands and many, many more. And, by golly, they’re all terrible! So’s the film. Thousands of extras, tons of explosives, months of English diction lessons for the French actors, all in the mistaken hope that pulling focus on the principals in the foreground of crappy background re-enactments would make for a compelling epic. Yves Simoneau megs away furiously, but shows little aptitude for battle scenes, pomp, domestic scenes or pacing. As Napoleon, Christian Clavier’s stoutness & age unintentionally(?) abet the idea that the Napoleonic rot set in very near the start. A daring idea for a French production. All in all, such a monumental waste of time, effort & fortune might well have gained Nappy’s approval.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Alas, the Napoleon pics we most need to see are all in some sort of DVD limbo. CONQUEST/'37, with Garbo & Charles Boyer hasn't appeared; DESIREE/'54, with Jean Simmons & Brando(!) hasn't had a legit Stateside release; and Abel Gance's NAPOLEON, his stupendous 1927 silent, has been beautifully restored by Kevin Brownlow, but its release is being legally challenged by Francis Coppola who clings to his own inferior edition. Grrr.