Adaptation Blu-ray Review

Star-Crossed Blu-ray Review: Winter's Tale

July 2, 2014Ben MK

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Destiny awaits

By Ben Mk

The notion that love has the power to transcend space and time should be familiar to most moviegoers. It's a popular theme that has found its way into films of all genres, from drama to fantasy and even sci-fi. And it's central to author Mark Helprin's sprawling novel, Winter's Tale, which takes the concept and blends it with elements of fantasy and the supernatural to tell a sweeping tale of love set amid the eternally-raging conflict between good and evil. Martin Scorsese once deemed it unfilmable, but now, three decades after the book's original publication and backed by an all-star cast, writer/director Akiva Goldsman's big screen adaptation attempts to prove him wrong.

In 2014 New York, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is a man both out of time and with too much of it on his hands. How is this possible? The answer is simple: Peter was born before the turn of the century — the 20th century, that is — but he doesn’t look a day older than he did in 1916. The exact reason for his prolonged longevity is unclear, even to Peter, but he’s convinced that the answer to the mystery lies with the elusive red-headed girl in his visions.

Turn the clock back nearly a century, and Peter is a thief on the run, marked for death by Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe) and his gang of ruffians — the very same gang Peter was once a member of. Despite his heavenly-sounding name, Pearly’s no angel, however. In fact, he’s quite the opposite: a Demon Enforcer of the Five Burroughs and a Black Knight of the Armies of the Fallen who fights in the eternal battle between good and evil. It’s a battle that — as we’re told at the beginning of the film — is won one soul at a time, and all Pearly has to do to turn the tide in Lucifer’s favor is to identify those humans who are on the verge of “using their miracle” and stop them from doing so.

Insofar as Pearly’s concerned, Peter’s about to use his miracle to save the life of Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay), a young woman dying from consumption (who also happens to be a redhead). Though they've only just met, Peter's already fallen madly in love with her, and he believes they're destined to be together. Needless to say, Pearly will stop at nothing to see that Peter and Beverly don't live happily ever after, but it soon becomes apparent that even he doesn't fully comprehend the true nature of Peter's miracle. It's only after Peter meets reporter Virgina Gamely (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter, Abby (Ripley Sobo), in 2014 that things begin to make sense.

For the film itself, however, that's less true. The storyline of Winter's Tale is made up of two halves — one set in the past and one set in the present — with the character of Peter being the glue that binds them together. But in the jump from 1916 to 2014, the story loses some of its narrative and emotional cohesiveness. It's not the fault of the actors — especially not Farrell and Findlay, whose performances make it easy to get swept up in the period-fantasy drama of the film's first two acts — but has more to do with the fact that the movie is a 118-minute distillation of a 700-odd-page book.

Goldsman has understandably jettisoned chunks of the source material (the character of Jackson Mead and the cloud wall around Manhattan, for example) to condense the story to fit into the movie's allotted running time, but what remains lacks a certain emotional gravitas. To say any more would be to give away the film's dramatic twists and turns, but suffice to say that while Winter's Tale covers the main bullet points of Helprin's original story (such as Peter's spirit guide, Athansor), it doesn't do quite enough to fill in the gaps between the lines. As it stands, however, the love story between Peter and Beverly is the movie's most compelling aspect.

Winter’s Tale arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Bros., with a first-rate A/V presentation that’s every bit as crisp as the film’s title implies. There are three time periods conveyed in the film — 1895, 1916 and 2014 — and director of photography Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography ensures that each one is visually distinguishable from the others. 1895 scenes employ a dramatically desaturated color palette; the 1916 portion of the story is characterized by warm hues for daytime/indoor scenes and cool hues for nighttime/outdoor scenes; while the scenes set in 2014 draw from a more realistic, yet still vibrant, color palette. Throughout it all, the hi-def transfer shines, exhibiting strong contrast and colors true to the filmmakers’ intentions. Likewise, detail and sharpness are top-notch, revealing the delicate stitching of the period costumes and the delineation between individual bricks in building facades. As for the audio, the disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack ably handles the film’s fantasy-romance soundstage: actors’ dialog and the piano compositions of Hans Zimmer and Rupert Gregson-Williams come across loud and clear, as do livelier elements, such as a rumbling furnace and the odd fisticuff.

DVD and UltraViolet digital copies of the film are included with Warner’s Blu-ray release, accompanied by 28 minutes of HD bonus features in the form of two brief behind-the-scenes featurettes and 12 minutes of Additional Scenes (comprised of six deleted scenes and five extended scenes). The first featurette, the 6-minute Winter's Tale: A Timeless Love, touches on the film’s core theme of hope and true love; and the second, Characters of Good and Evil, is a 9-minute look at the forces of good and evil as they’re represented in the film. Both feature a mixture of cast and filmmaker interviews and clips from the film.

On the whole, Winter's Tale is a somewhat uneven film. The love story between Peter and Beverly is conveyed exceptionally well, yet Goldsman isn't able to capture the sweeping emotional arc of the overall tale. Warner's Blu-ray release, however, is able to capture the film's sweeping (mostly) period visuals, with a rather romantic A/V presentation. And although it's light on bonus features, that makes Winter's Tale worth a look on Blu-ray, especially for fans of the book.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★½
Special Features  —  ★★½

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