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Maleficent (Blu-ray Review)

MaleficentDisney’s Maleficent was not only one of the biggest hits of summer, its one of the biggest movies of the the 2014 cinema-going year.  The film has grossed over $241 million just domestically and dominated worldwide taking in over $757 million.  Its another instance in helping prove that female-led and driven blockbusters should be more commonplace in our theatrical release slate.  The film also goes to show Angelina Jolie is just a genuine superstar.  She doesn’t do many films of this ilk anymore, but when she does, people will flock out to go and see it.  Plus, there’s also the perfect joining of her and Disney to take on this character for the film.  A film that tells a different angle on a classic fairy tale.

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Film 

Maleficent tells the age old tale of Sleeping Beauty, but with a twist.  This time we’re seeing things from the point of view of the film’s villain, Maleficent.  We begin well before the events of the fairy tale when Maleficent is a peaceful happy fairy who falls in love with Sleeping Beauty’s father Stefan.  Stefan grows up and the two grow separate.  Stefan later returns but betrays Maleficent by cutting her wings in order to honor his king and become the heir to his thrown.  Maleficent is spurned by this and we then set into motion the events of the story we all know, just now with Maleficent-centric detailing.

Maleficent is another attempt at taking those classic fairy tale stories and making them a little more darker and straightlaced.  However, this one at least does have a bit of a lighthearted spirit present in it.  However, there is sort of a little bit of a tonal imbalance in the film with that as we have lighthearted fairies, a playful Maleficent then a dour and angry kingdom to switch between.  There are also weird little cute fairy tale creatures mixed in with scary looking fierce ones too.  I guess you get a good mix.

Speaking of the creatures, I’m not sure if this was present theatrically, but the effects work in this film was surprisingly obvious.  A lot of the CG creatures and some of the CG stand ins for actors in effects pieces were surprisingly subpar for a film of this caliber.  It reminded me very much of effects from around 2002.  It was akin to Star Wars Prequels and some of The Matrix Reloaded‘s effects.  Maybe its the advent of this Blu-ray that makes them stick out.  They aren’t terrible effects by any measure, I’m merely stating I was surprised at how obvious and how not seamless they appeared against the real sets and characters.

Whatever your opinion of the film, Angelina Jolie is rather fantastic in the film and the best thing going for it.  In this sort of analogy of a rape-revenge tale, she gets to run through almost two character arcs in one film.  We see her go from innocent kind fairy descenting into super villain and then she turns around and comes back again.  Jolie also plays the part just right.  Unlike some of these adaptations, she has fun with the material and doesn’t just play it straight drama.  There’s a healthy balance of her going big, digging into a little bit of camp and then hitting home runs in the necessary dramatics department.  On the other end of the spectrum in the film is Shartlo Copely and the less said about him probably the better.

I get the point of the film, that we’re supposed to see Maleficent’s side of the story and make her case for the whole thing.  Instead of her as the villain, King Stan is painted as the true culprit in causing all of this and portrayed as a bit of a maniac (Probably more Copley’s performance).  Most of this comes off as trite and overly compensative.  Its about everything that you’d expect from the film.  And without Maleficent as the villain and this nice woman in dark clothes, the entire fairy tale is neutered and becomes kinda dull and generic when it comes to conflict.  They also relish in this “mother-daughter” bond between Maleficent and Aurora, yet I couldn’t help but feel Maleficent stole that from Aurora’s real mother.  Her real mother who is relegated to pretty much nothing in this tale and seemingly uncaring of anything.  This just doesn’t work as the movie wants it too.  And not helping matters much is a pretty embarrassing scene where Maleficent begs the curse to be lifted from Aurora.

The set design was quite good in the film though.  There are some wonderfully imagined and executed pieces that look pretty beautiful in both a natural and haunting sense.  The costume design and makeup on the film is pretty top notch as well.  Look no further than Angelina Jolie as Maleficent as she is the true embodiment of the animated character come to life.  One piece that worked gorgeously is when Aurora wanders off to discover Maleficent, with the firefly lighting and such it just looks quite wonderful.

Maleficent was a movie that was striving to be something bigger, but winds up just being average with some subpar moments sprinkled in throughout.  While I understand the point of the narrative, I think the choice to do so and the way its represented here has weakened the overall story and sort of not thought through some of the repercussions of what they’ve done.  One thing that should be commended of this film is that its only 97 minutes and they had the restrain to not bloat this film into some unnecessary two and a half hour dour epic.  How often do blockbusters get to be that length anymore?  It was kind of refreshing.  I’m sure people are going to love this movie, and the box office shows that they have, but I didn’t think it quite got to what it wanted to be and fell back on being mediocre and playing out as expected.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail:  Of course, a Disney blockbuster movie based on one of their princess properties is going to be reference quality video.  And here it is.  Detail is high.  Everything is perfectly sharp and clean.  Fabrics and patterns are clearly visible throughout.  Many of the forest creatures, especially the tree monsters look very impressive with the amount of detail on their bark.

Depth:  There are some impressive sequences of flying.  The whole movie is well rounded and focused, looking wholly three dimensional throughout.

Black Levels:  Blacks are dark and inky.  They also feature plenty of good detail.  Maleficent is all dressed in black but you can make out all the detail of her headgear as well.

Color Reproduction:  Colors are bold, vibrant and well represented.  Green is an everpresent color and looks rather luscious and impressive in this transfer.

Flesh Tones:  Flesh tones are natural and consistent.  Facial detail is high, as wrinkles, scuffs and Angelina Jolie’s makeup are perfectly defined.

Noise/Artifacts:  Hah, you kidding me?  Nothing

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics:  Matching the video, the 7.1 track is reference quality as well.  The track is booming with its battles and fills the whole room as if you’re in the thick of it.  This track also is quite lively and awesome when a spell is being cast too.  Everything is well defined in the mix, clearly audible and wonderfully balanced making it a lively experience.

Low Frequency Extension:  Battle sounds and score get an oompf.  What’s really cool is when Maleficent flaps her wings swoops by the screen, you get a nice burst from your subwoofer.  Also, when magic is happening it spreads the thunder through your viewing area.

Surround Sound Presentation:  This is a wonderfully envisioned 7.1 track.  Every speaker is active throughout the film.  The battle sequences feature some aspect of the action coming from each of the speakers.  Movement and placement of sound is accurately accounted for in accordance to what is going on in the film onscreen.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Loud, clear and crisp.  Volume and pitch is accurately depicted.

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Extras 

Maleficent comes with a DVD copy and Disney Anywhere Digital Copy of the film.

Aurora: Becoming A Beauty (HD, 4:53) – Elle Fanning, Angelina Jolie and producer Joe Roth discuss the character of Aurora in the film.

From Fairy Tale To Feature Film (HD, 8:13) – This has the cast and crew talking about rejuvenating the original Disney cartoon into a film about its villain.

Building An Epic Battle (HD, 5:48) – A look at shooting the first act battle sequence with the second unit.

Classic Couture (HD, 1:34) – Talks about the head wrap for Angelina Jolie in the film.  The designer goes over the look and craft going into it.

Maleficent Revealed (HD, 4:45) – A montage of showing scenes from the film without the visual effects and then slowly piecing them in.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 6:41) 

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Summary 

I have no doubts that people are going to love Maleficent and this will be a big seller on home video as it was box office gold in the theater.  It was just a little too average for my tastes, and I found its “bold” new direction to cause more problems for its narrative than just having a straight up villain story.  Disney brings this one home with perfection.  The audio and video on it are outstanding and reference quality.  The extras are a little light, as seems to be the norm with Disney  nowadays, but there’s still enough here and a good thing is that it won’t take hours on end to dig into.  Overall this is a really terrific release of the film for people, and you should definitely pick it up if you’re wanting to buy it.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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