The Story: An archeological expedition in Egypt finds a mummy that has no identification although it was buried in a royal tomb. While on the voyage to Paris, the boat transporting the sarcophagus is plagued by bizarre behavior that leads to everyone on the crew going insane and killing themselves. The remains are put into storage, and years later, they are taken out again to be put on the Louvre museums new Egyptian display. While scanning the body, a spirit escapes and begins to wreak havoc in the museum and surrounding areas. Through a very convenient tunnel between her apartment and the Louvre, Lisa (Sophie Marceau) sneaks around in the famous locale one night and is possessed by the spirit. Soon Lisa is sleepwalking into the museum, putting on the corpses mask and ceremonial cloak, able to perform supernatural feats (like making the guards hallucinate), can to read Egyptian pictographs, and, overall, has become the vessal for the spirit as it tries to gather together certain artifacts for some unkonwn purpose. Rumors begin to circulate that the long dead spirit of Belphegor, the Phantom of the Louvre has been revived, and it is up to an old Inspector and Lisa's boyfriend to figure out what the spirit wants before it burns out Lisa's body and kills her.
The Film: Belphegor: Phantom of the Louvre (2001) is a lifeless movie. You cant say that Belphegor is uninspired because it is based on serialized action/fantasy/mystery novels from the 20's which also spawned a cult hit French tv series in the 60's. But the 2001 onscreen results are tedious, limp, and boring. You can see the hints of horror, suspense, light comedy, and romantic mystery, but it isn't scary, suspenseful, funny, or involving. Its just a completely unfocused and aimless movie, that cant even serve up a good characterization or neat action sequence to keep you entertained. No doubt inspired by Stephen Summers The Mummy (the ad campaigns stated it was the French answer to the 1999 hit), it is too slow for children/teens, too dumb for adults, so I don't know who they intended to be the viewing audience.
When I racked my brain to try and think of a positive thing about the movie, I thought "Well, it looks awfully nice.", but even that hints at how the film is unfocused. Sure, it looks great. It has a great setting after all, Paris and the Louvre, its pretty hard not to make them look good. But, as evidence the filmmakers didn't know what kind of film they were making, it is very slick- too slick. It would have benefited from a more gothic look, enhancing the suspense and chills, yet they chose a polished approach. There is no dark mystery, no brooding tension in smooth camera glides and an ultra sharp picture.
One would think for horror/fantasy fans they could at least serve up some good fx, but Belphegor, in both his forms, is a dud. The actual costuming when he possesses someone, black mask, massive black cloak, is neat, however they (both digitally and manually) have him glide and phase through scenes in an awkward, obvious manner. The worst though is his spirit/ghost from in which he is an orange, floating, half (the upper half) CGI skeleton that looks like it was taken from a back pain commercial. Missing his legs, I guess, was a way to make him look mobile, but instead it looks silly. The characters in the film cant see Belphegor when he is in his spirit form... If only we the audience could be that lucky. Also, the hallucination fx is nothing to write home about; basically Belphegor puts his hand up in the "Stop in the Name of Love" position and whoever he is pointing at has a sepia toned CGI vision of bees, a dog, whatever they fear attacking them. At one point the CGI Belphegor back pain commercial skeleton removes itself from Sophie Marceau's body so it can scare a dog, and the dog recoils, not in fear of a ghost, but, I think, because the animal is smart enough to realize how much money the filmmakers wasted on computer fx.
The poor actors saddled with this muddled genre piece cant save it. Basically the film gives the actors scene after scene some of the driest, boneheaded exposition I've ever witnessed. Contrived and bogged down, we get scenes of romance between the Inspector and lead Louver archaeologist/scientist, Dr Spencer, that we don't need- lots of mummy talk- and choppy transitions like a scene that goes from Martin the boyfriend on a rooftop discovering that Lisa is the Phantom, The Phantom then jumps off the roof, and in a flash it cuts to the Inspector throwing Martin down a flight of stairs interrogating him... For some reason every character has to run into each other, like the Inspector/Archeologist relationship, Martin appearing everywhere- overhearing the Inspector talk about the Phantom while at a diner, and he goes to an Egyptology lecture given by, guess who?, Dr Spencer... Poor Julie Christie, light years away from Don't Look Now and Demon Seed, is saddled with a minor glorified co-starring role as Dr Spencer. Frédéric Diefenthal (Taxi film series) gets to be the comic relief/romantic lead as Martin and cant bring an ounce of life to his rockin' electrician boyfriend role. Other roles include the clichéd security guard, the clichéd wise-ass grandmother, and the cliched museum head who refuses to believe anything supernatural is going on. And finally, our lead actress, French superstar Sophie Marceau, fresh off of The World is Not Enough, gets to prove that old adage of being a Bond girl leads to a lackluster career.
The DVD : Columbia/Tristar- TVA International. This is a English and French friendly disc.
Picture- Widescreen 2:35:1 16X9 Anamorphic. The picture is quite crisp and sharp as well as being very clean and dirt/spot/speck free. The cinematography is pretty good, although this transfer is a little too brown, diluting the flesh tones and other colors.
Sound- On the French option you get a Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Stereo Surround options, though only in French with no subtitles. On the English side you get a 2.0 Stereo Surround dub. Since the only French I know is how to say, "I am the Great Cheese.", I had to contend with the dub, which was pretty bad, at the very least, it didn't improve the movie and seemed to have the dubbed vocals mixed a little too loud. Glancing over the French 5.1, it seemed much better, a shame they couldn't have put English subs on it.
Extras- Chapter Selections--- Trailer for the film, both in French and English.--- A 55 min "Making of Belphegor" Featurette, that is in French with no subs. Skipping through it, the featurette seemed to be extremely thorough, interviewing the cast and director and taking an extensive behind the scenes look at the production- but it is in French and very talky, so it was of little use to this semi-literate, English speaking, American.
Conclusion: Good transfer of a massively ineffectual film that I cant imagine anyone being interested in unless they were fans of the book/tv series (and were curious to see how the original idea was mucked up), or will watch any Sophie Marceau film, or any film with Egyptian/mummy aspects in the story.