Jolie transcends whilst Disney weaves rape-revenge into dark fantasy
Maleficent Film Review
It’s easy to dismiss reboots and remakes of classic properties, but this innovative reverse-engineering of the familiar Sleeping Beauty tale stands out as remarkably effective.Taking one of the Disney universe’s most memorably evil villains and turning her into a surprisingly sympathetic anti-hero can’t have been an easy task, but the filmmakers here make it look like a very natural progression, shifting back in time to establish the events that created the fairy-gone-bad Maleficent, and explain what brought her to curse Sleeping Beauty in the first place. Shifting perceptions allow insight into a portrait of pure tragedy, heartbreaking betrayal and dark justice; this alternative take reworks a traditional – but relatively simple – tale into a far more complex one, replete with more interesting characters, painted not in simple fairytale black and white, but imperceptibly gradated shades of grey. This retro-fitting of a classic tale worked well with Wizard of Oz and the stage play Wicked (as well as Oz the Great and Powerful) and is just as inspired here, although the end result speaks as much to the presence of lead actress Angelina Jolie as it does to the clever plotting.Imbuing her lead character with a dark majesty; and bringing the trademark black headpiece and vampiric outfit to life as she casts her fiery emerald spells, she brings palpable weight and emotional heft to what is a thinly-veiled rape-revenge fantasy, and drives the entire piece. Sharlto Copley only briefly feels out of place before his own character twists set in, whilst Elle Fanning makes for a perfectly acceptable Sleeping Beauty – although the two relatively unknown actresses who play the teen Maleficent are arguably considerably more impressive. It’s Jolie’s baby though – although credit should be given to first-time director Robert Stromberg; handed an untenably vast-scale property to deliver on his first time out of the gate, his experience working on Avatar certainly helped him deliver a monumental Box Office hit; one which is well worth checking out.
Maleficent Blu-ray Picture QualityMaleficent is another recent title which appears to have been given better treatment in the UK than in the US. Overseas the title is yet to be released, coming early November and, even then, only in its 2D guise. Here we not only get a 3D alternative to the 2D edition, but also a stunning 3D steelbook. And all of this over two weeks before the US release.
Still, it’s not all amazing news. Whilst Maleficent boasts an impressive 2D presentation which shimmers and shines and looks frequently utterly spectacular, its 3D counterpart is not quite as impressive, with some early wonder providing epic depth, but a darkness-swathed latter half which restricts the effectiveness of the format, leaving it with far from as much wow-factor as you might have hoped for from this CG-tastic Disney outing.
In what appears to be another questionable move, the film was NOT shot in 3D. Sure, it was shot with 3D in mind – a consultant on board to ease the process – but neither the director nor cinematographer have any experience with the format, and so the end result is a post-production effort which does its best with the 3D-friendly effects and early, bright Avatar-esque fantasy sequences, but still suffers from having to handle the frequently dark latter-end material.
The outstanding 2D feels like a likely preferred option over the 3D, although it does give the image some welcome depth.
Returning to the 2D front we find ourselves lavished with a 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen. Detail is fantastic, allowing this big budget fairy-tale landscape to come alive on the small screen, with fine attention to smaller objects, skin textures and visually opulent backdrops. The colour scheme is broad and effective, with vibrant greens and deep, rich blacks, as well as some strong primaries popping throughout the piece. There are no overt digital defects to cause concern – the tiniest hint of banding, but little to complain about in what is certainly a demo presentation.
The 3D presentation comes courtesy of a 1080p/MVC-encoded counterpart which relies almost predominantly on positive parallax, and has very little negative parallax, despite the plethora of objects that could have easily been used to pop out of the screen. Still, the depth is outstanding and allows for a much richer experience, expanding the environment and creating a whole new universe for you to explore in a far more palpable fashion than its standard 2D alternative. Characters are rounded and glide through a fully-realised environment of depth with no signs of cardboard cutout puppeteering and Maleficent's aerial antics just about stand up under 3D rendition, although the fast motion can make your eyes strain a little.
Unfortunately the darkness (often very literally, due to the story) eventually encroaches on the image, making the 3D experience an increasingly difficult and somewhat problematic one. Still, with only a hint of negligible crosstalk, and no overt 3D issues, this is an almost equal-parts impressive and disappointing effort which doesn’t do as much as it perhaps could have done with better initial planning and real 3D photography, but which still has plenty to offer, particularly right out of the gate.
Maleficent Blu-ray Sound QualityFar easier to assess is the audio; an equal-parts stomping, rousing, well-nuanced, subtle, and all-engulfing track that comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 guise. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, dominating the frontal array with clarity and precision, particularly with the penetrating voiceover that pervades the piece.
The audio track provides a potent demo presentation that furthers the epic feel of this dark fairy tale.
Effects are myriad, as the fantastical world comes to life with sparkling magic, chirping birds and fluttering wings – Maleficent swooping around at speed; the whooshing effect giving aerial direction and surround presence. Hooves thunder underfoot, battles are waged with giant tree creatures that burst from the earth, and the whole environment comes alive before and beneath you; besides and above you. The score is suitably Disney, but perfectly suits the piece and underpins the somewhat tragic story, allowing for further surround activity, whilst the LFE channel dips and dives throughout the more boisterous moments.
Maleficent 3D Blu-ray ExtrasWhilst not quite packed to the brim with Extras, there's still a nice selection on offer here. A Quintet of Featurettes delve into key aspects of the production and provide plenty of comparisons to the classic Disney cartoon - Aurora: Becoming a Beauty looks at Elle Fanning's role; From Fairy Tale to Feature Film takes more of an overview into the film's premise, with Jolie on hand to discuss her pivotal role, and some of the filmmakers discussing the task of reverse-engineering the classic tale to see the origins of this villain; Building an Epic Battle focusses on the battle sequence; Classic Couture looks behind the impressive costume design; and Maleficent Revealed looks behind some of the effects work. All little over 5 minutes in length, these are interesting offerings but not really very substantial. On the other hand, they cover all the bases and feature all of the main cast and crew. Five Deleted Scenes, totalling a little under 7 minutes of extra footage, prove vaguely interesting but largely unnecessary (and the unfinished effects are hilarious). The disc is rounded out by a number of Previews.
Maleficent 3D Blu-ray VerdictWith universal appeal, Maleficent magnificently reverse engineers the classic Disney tale of Sleeping Beauty to provide an alternative perspective – that of the supposed villain of the piece. The results are excellent, with star Angelina Jolie – whose film presence has been missed these last few years – driving the piece, and a clever revenge story incorporated as a backdrop.
Disney’s dark fantasy, Maleficent, has broad appeal, delivers exhilarating fantasy action, wit and emotional heft.
This Region Free UK release sports stunning 2D video and occasionally impressive 3D video, as well as a demo audio track. With a decent salvo of extras it remains a must-have purchase for fans and a solid recommendation for anybody who likes fairy tales, Disney movies, fantasies or Angelina Jolie. Watch out for the lavish Steelbook release too, which is well worth the extra cost and looks superb.
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