There’s some strong world-building here, so it’s a shame that the flawed efforts of the director and unrealistic enthusiasms of the star probably killed The Last Witch Hunter franchise before it even got started.From the uninspired title to the unabashed ego-massaging levelled on star/co-author/exec producer/diva Vin Diesel throughout the feature, it’s almost a shock that the film ever got released, but what’s more of a shock is what it could have been had somebody actually reigned in Diesel’s input and delivery, and re-focussed the piece on a more imaginative tale of demon-dalliances in a modern age. With re-writes reportedly built on the bedrock foundation of Diesel’s own Dungeons & Dragons witch-hunter character (!!), ego is definitely one of the biggest inhibitors towards this being a better movie (and the franchise flagship that it was obviously designed to be), with Diesel’s lead character the kind of person who wanders around town smirking and complaining about it being a real drag that nobody can kill him. Constantine played with these ideas in a far better, more tragedy-infused fashion (although similarly struggled to ignite either the Big or Small Screen) and The Last Witch Hunter could have offered similar witch-derived thrills had it been in slightly better hands.It’s strange to see Diesel capable of bringing vulnerability to his similarly hard-to-kill Riddick and yet almost oblivious to the need for it here, as it’s one of the biggest restrictions towards the success of the lead character (and, in turn, the franchise). The plot, which has a demon witch-queen of old curse a revenge-driven witch-hunting warrior to eternal life, could have actually worked with a more tortured lead performance, but Diesel – despite ostensible commitment to the project – doesn’t play it right. Any support from Caine is undermined by Elijah Wood’s presence (or lack thereof), whilst Game of Thrones’ Rose Leslie tries her best to maintain some dignity amidst the chaos. Surprisingly good production design and visual effects (it’s got a smaller budget than, for example, London Has Fallen which has, frankly, laughable effects), and more than a few nice ideas (anything involving illusions/dreams) remind us of what could have been had the filmmakers paid more attention to the main character than to the car which the main character drives.
Picture QualityEntertainment One’s Region B-locked UK Blu-ray release for The Last Witch Hunter is a very impressive affair, boasting a striking 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen.
Digitally shot, with a well-used budget, The Last Witch Hunter looks slick and impressive in HD.
Detail remains strong throughout, with pleasing clarity and fine object observation, picking up on the intricacies of the queen witch and her cursed tree; bringing the period setpieces to life; whilst lapping up the visually opulent dream sequences. The colour scheme, skewed hot and cold depending on the period/reality, renders healthy skin tones and strong black levels which afford welcome shadow detail. With very little to complain about, this is a solid, frequently demo-worthy presentation.
Sound QualityWhilst the UK Blu-ray release of The Last Witch Hunter includes a 7.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, the US release boasts a full DTS:X soundtrack, which includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 core with additional height or overhead channels depending on your speaker configuration.
Cas Harlow reviewed the UK DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on a 5.1-channel setup - The soundtrack is just as impressive as the visuals, promoting strong delivery of the dialogue, well-disseminated effects coverage and a hearty backing from the score, all rounding out a similarly demo-worthy aural representation which stays faithful to the modern day bombast of the material. Promoting the dialogue keenly across the front and centre channels, and with a solid (albeit utterly unmemorable) backing score pervading the piece, it’s the effects coverage that truly stands out, allowing the well-utilised effects, mostly for the magical wizardry, to come to life across the array, well-defined across the surrounds and with welcome underpinning thanks to the LFE track. The bigger CG ‘creatures’ veritably come to life on the aural stage, whilst the elements – in particularly the ‘fiery’ steel that slices down witches – are engaging and distinctive.
Although missing the US disc’s DTS:X upgrade, the core DTS-HD MA 7.1 track is the same, and, for the majority, will not just suffice but outright impress.
Steve Withers reviewed the US DTS:X soundtrack on a 7.2.4-channel setup - The inclusion of a DTS:X soundtrack on the US release of The Last Witch Hunter is a real bonus for those that can play Region A locked Blu-rays. Although it's worth pointing out that the same soundtrack can be found on the film's Ultra HD Blu-ray release, which doesn't use regional coding, so if you have an Ultra HD Blu-ray player that's another possibility. It's certainly worth checking out because although the film is hardly a classic, the soundtrack is fantastic, with an effective surround mix that makes full use of the additional channels to totally immersive the viewer. The scene where a plane flies through storm is a particularly good example and the sound designers effectively use the additional channels to create the feeling of being inside an airliner as it is buffeted by the elements. It really adds to the tension and excitement of the scene and shows how an immersive audio mix can enhance your experience.
The sound design compliments all the other action on screen just as well, whether it's something as simple as the ambient sounds of the streets or the more fantastic elements of the plot. Dialogue is always clear and centred whilst the effects during action scenes are effectively steered around the soundstage. The additional channels allow the sound design to create a three-dimensional effect with layers to the audio that adds real impact to the various creatures and wizardry that punctuate the narrative. The bass has real impact but is always controlled and well integrated, giving the major effects sequences greater weight. The score is also effectively served by the soundtrack, filling the front soundstage and occasionally being mixed to the sides and even above. The end result is a well-crafted sound mix that uses all the available channels to completely immerse the viewer in the strange world of The Last Witch Hunter.
Steelbook ExtrasThe Last Witch Hunter hits UK Region B-locked Blu-ray in an standard amaray package and a steelbook set, both of which contain identical discs and thus identical extras packages. The selection is strong here, headlined by an Audio Commentary from the Director, who manages to balance the technical and anecdotal well as he reflects on the production, and backed up by a hefty half-hour Making-Of Featurette, Crafting the Magic: The Last Witch Hunter, which offers up plenty of cast and crew interview snippets but a little too much final film footage interspersed with the behind the scenes clips. A couple of Deleted Scenes add little to the proceedings, whilst a Last Witch Hunter Sizzle Reel / Paint In Black montage is a sort-of Trailer/Music Video to the unnecessary remix.
The highlight is, however, the 4 Animated Short Films. Although each is little over a couple of minutes in length, they are a welcome addition, offering much-needed background into the witches and the witch hunters across the ages, with some interesting animation used (different for each short film) and Michael Caine on hand narrating all of them. Well worth checking them out, and some of this background could have been well-used in the film itself.
A strong selection of extras – the highlight being a quartet of Animated Prequel Short Films – rounds out a solid Steelbook package.
The Steelbook itself has its pros and cons. A solid design, which has some nice debossing on it, the choice to use the standard poster artwork on the front is a little uninspired, and the back image, which is arguably the more interesting, is also a little too busy. What may add salt to the wounds of some collectors is the fact that the US Best Buy Exclusive boasts the arguably more striking white-backing artwork (used in the banner at the top of the review) as its foundation.
Blu-ray VerdictAlthough it’s unlikely to quite be the flagship vehicle of a new franchise for Diesel, The Last Witch Hunter also isn’t quite the unmitigated disaster most have written it off as. Given the modest budget and the somewhat uninspired direction – and the fact that the whole witch hunter concept does not quite fit Vin’s particular skillset – the end result is still a watchable Constantine-lite riff, with some engaging visual effects, impressive dream sequences, intriguing ideas and strong world-building.
It’s almost a shame that Eisner’s uninspired debut film will likely mark both the start and end of this franchise before it even had a chance.
The Region B-locked UK release for The Last Witch Hunter boasts excellent video and audio and a solid selection of extra features, all available within a solid steelbook design. Fans will welcome such a healthy package, whilst newcomers intrigued – despite the negative reviews – should not completely write it off; go into it with no expectations and you may actually derive some fun from the flawed fantasy world brought to life here.
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