Maleficent Blu-ray Review: Gorgeous to Look at, but Hard to Watch

Hollywood has been remaking movies for nearly as long as its been making them. It does seem that the last few years, going back as far as maybe a decade, that the movie machine has been churning out remakes at a faster and faster speed. As subset of the remakes are prequels and reimaginings, which I seem to be seeing more and more as the days roll on. More recently we’ve got the post-Wicked retellings of old stories from the villains point of view. This has been popular in fiction for awhile coming on fast ever since Wicked, Gregory Maguire’s tale of The Wizard of Oz from the witches’ POV became popular, but now Hollywood has taken notice and films are starting to twist the classic fairy tales around.

The latest in this new sub-genre is Maleficent which takes Disney’s classic Sleeping Beauty story and views it from the perspective of the evil witch. It is an entertaining, well performed, gorgeously shot family film that lacks a coherent vision and feels like it was made by a committee instead of a filmmaker telling a singular story.

Angelina Jolie stars as the titular character was was the pure embodiment of evil in the original but here is given a cutesy backstory and spends so much time trying to justify her terrible deeds from Sleeping Beauty that it ultimately white-washes them.

In this new film there are two kingdoms: one with greedy, petulant humans and another, beautiful, Eden-like land of magic and enchantment where all sorts of wonderfully cute creatures live in harmony and peace (except on the occasions when those pesky humans invade). Maleficent is a lovely winged-fairy who is as beautiful as she is kind.

One day she chances upon a human boy whom she befriends and eventually falls in love with. Later the boy stops visiting fairyland and breaks Maleficent’s heart. The boy has grown into a man with ambition and when he hears the king declare the hand of his daughter to whomever kills Maleficent he…well, let’s just say he’s the reason Maleficent becomes the evil witch we know and love.

That scene, which I will spare you the details, is so full of violence, and dark sexual undertones one might wonder why you’re letting your children watch. It is also one of the more powerful scenes in the film and Angelina Jolie’s performance really shows why she is the movie star that she is. Her performance throughout is really quite wonderful and this comes from someone who has always thought she was a bit overrated.

Unfortunately the rest of the film doesn’t hold up to her performance. The trouble is this is a Disney film that’s playing homage to an earlier Disney classic but it’s unable to leave the earlier film behind (or Disney’s happy-family sheen) to become the dark reinvention it was born to be. What we get is an evil witch (seriously, she cursed a baby to death in the original – you can’t make up a back story that’s ever going to make that okay) quite a bit less evil and an ending that’s not near as tragic as it ought to be.

The kids will enjoy it and the visuals (along with Jolie’s performance) are enough to keep the adults watching, but its not to make you forget the original nor will it make it to the top shelf with the true Disney classics.

The Blu-ray video quality is absolutely stunning. There is a lot of CG work throughout the film and it blends seamlessly with the actors and physical sets. The costumes, sets, and backgrounds are all brilliantly created and filmed. Image clarity, sharpness, and detail are all remarkably clean and sharp. I noticed no instability or compression artifacts. The audio likewise is something you’ll want to show off. The score is big and there is a lot of action and ambient noises, all of which come out crisp and clear without disturbing the clarity of the dialog.

Extras include some deleted scenes, and a handful of short features on bringing the story to the screen, building the battle sequences, the style of the film, and a few other typical EPK stuff.

Bringing forth the back story of Maleficent and making her the hero of a story is an interesting idea. Jolie plays the part magnificently and the visuals are stunning, but the film is never able to pull off the shackles of Disney and therefore it remains too happy and too incohesive to be a true classic.

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Mat Brewster

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