The high-society intrigues, cold-blooded seductions, and backstabbing
passions of Dangerous Liaisons make this 18th-century novel
ripe for film adaptations. And since the emotions behind the story
should ring just as true in the present day as in the past, why not
update and transform the story, setting it in 1960s Paris? While
we're at it, why not make the film version longer? More of the
delicious intrigues will fit in three hours and twenty minutes of
running time, after all. It's not such a terrible idea, but in the
end, the 2003 adaptation of Les Liaisons dangereuses misses
the point, and just delivers a bloated and unappealing walk-through
of the plot.
A thumbnail sketch of Les Liaisons dangereuses is that it
dresses up the characters from the novel – Madame de Mertuil
(Catherine Deneuve), Valmont (Rupert Everett), Madame de Tourvel
(Nastassja Kinski), and so on – in modern clothes, sets them in
modern surroundings, and stands back to say "Look at how
sophisticated this is!" Forget about developing the plot in an
intriguing manner; we're just tossed in with the assumption that
we'll enjoy seeing complete strangers discuss their love lives.
Forget about character development: these are no more than
stylishly-dressed cardboard figures.
It is, of course, impossible not to think of the brilliant and
sparkling Dangerous Liaisons that starred John Malkovich and
Glenn Close, in comparison, but even when resolutely thinking of Les
Liaisons dangereuses on its own merits, it
is flat and unappealing. None of the cast seem to be particularly
interested in their roles, instead delivering their lines woodenly
and without any spark. Even in a supposedly dramatic scene such as
the final contest between Valmont and Danceny, the scene comes across
as flat and uninvolving.
In the end, the stake through the heart of Les Liaisons
dangereuses is that I just didn't care. Not for one minute was I
the least bit interested in any of these characters or their
convoluted plots: it's all cold, glamorous
style and no substance.
This version of Les Liaisons dangereuses was originally
created as a television miniseries, which accounts for the lengthy
running time and the two-part structure. A 270-minute version is also
available, but after seeing how dull the 200-minute version is, the
270-minute one would probably kill the viewer with boredom. There are
also two different language options. One (which I reviewed) is all in its original
French, with English subtitles; the other was apparently filmed with
some of the actors delivering their lines in English, and the
remainder dubbed in English. If you are going to subject yourself to
this film, I would suggest at least doing it in the original
language, with the French version.
Les Liaisons dangereuses is presented in an anamorphic
widescreen transfer, at the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Some sources
indicate that the original aspect ratio was 2.35:1, but I was not
able to determine whether that is correct or not.
In any case, despite the widescreen anamorphic treatment,
it's still a lousy transfer, plagued by heavy edge enhancement and a
substantial amount of grain in the image. The real killer, though, is
the contrast, which is completely mishandled. Any part of the image
that's not fully lit is much too dark, with detail wiped out; shadowy
scenes or high-contrast shots with a dark foreground and a bright
background are nearly unwatchable, as everything in shadow becomes
On the bright side (such as it is), the English subtitles are
The DVD version that I reviewed was the original French-language one,
with Dolby 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 options. However, a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack
is no guarantee of optimal sound quality. While the surround effects
are handled well, creating a nice wrap-around effect with the musical
score in particular, the rest of the track is decidedly weak.
Dialogue is harsh and unpleasant-sounding, and in fact the dialogue
in general is difficult to understand. The Dolby 2.0 alternative
lacks the surround sound but retains the harshness of the dialogue,
resulting in a flat and unappealing sound. Optional English subtitles
The special features offered here are minimal.
There are filmographies of the main cast, and photo galleries
with behind-the-scenes shots and production photos.
and completely uninvolving, Les Liaisons
dangereuses is most notable as a way to steal away more than
three hours of your time, leaving only a bad taste behind. Better to
skip this uninteresting production entirely.