Action Adventure

Wild and Wicked Blu-ray Review: Maleficent

November 7, 2014Ben Mk


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Good, bad, she's the one with the horns...

Call it image rehabilitation, but the notion of reinventing an iconic Hollywood villain as a hero is nothing new. After all, George Lucas did as much for Darth Vader's reputation with the Star Wars prequel trilogy. And now, more than half a century after her big-screen debut, one of Disney's most recognizable evildoers is getting the same treatment — with the live-action reimagining by first-time director Robert Stromberg and screenwriter Linda Woolverton that casts none other than Angelina Jolie as Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent.

   

The Film When moviegoers first cast their eyes upon Maleficent in 1959, she was very much the epitome of evil — a vindictive, all-powerful sorceress who brings panic and paranoia to the good King Stefan's kingdom by invoking a deadly curse on his newborn daughter, Aurora. But here, Maleficent begins as a carefree, young fairy (Isobelle Molloy) who lives in the Moors, a magical place home to all manner of fantastical creatures, from walking trees to playful pixies.

Her world is forever changed, however, when she encounters a human from the neighboring kingdom — a peasant boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins) — and romance ensues. She eventually realizes that it's not meant to be, however, as he cruelly abandons her to pursue his zealous ambitions of wealth and power.

Over the years, she grows into the Moors' most powerful fairy. And when they meet again, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie, looking both creepy and statuesque under her prosthetic makeup and horns) has become the Moors' de facto guardian, protecting it from the unprovoked attacks of the human kingdom. But in doing so, she stokes the ire of the King, who — on his deathbed — offers his kingdom to whomever succeeds in vanquishing her.

That's when Stefan (Sharlto Copley, trading his South African accent for a Scottish brogue) — to appease his majesty and claim the crown for himself — commits a heinous act of betrayal against his former love, simultaneously securing his place on the throne and incurring Maleficent's wrath, prompting her to make an appearance at his castle and... well, you know the rest.

As Maleficent, Jolie is magnetic, commanding the audience's full attention from the get-go. She succeeds in emulating her animated counterpart by playing the role with a healthy dose of stone-faced stoicism, but her portrayal also excels in offering fleeting glimpses of the sorrow and compassion within her character's heart. Yet, despite the push to convince audiences of Maleficent's softer side, what proves most enjoyable is watching the actress chew the scenery in those small moments that have Maleficent revelling in her own delicious brand of venom and wry humor.

Otherwise, Stromberg conjures up a fantasy world full of suitably amusing creature designs and whiz-bang special effects, with visuals that harken back to artist Eyvind Earle's classic designs, while Woolverton's screenplay imparts a radically different perspective on the story of Sleeping Beauty, redefining characters, relationships and motivations. The one constant between the two films, however, is the virtuous and kind-hearted Princess Aurora (portrayed this time around by the effervescent Elle Fanning), whose relationship with Maleficent plays a vital role in this retelling, serving not only to humanize Jolie's character, but also to help her redeem herself from her descent into villainy.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Maleficent's Blu-ray debut comes hot on the heels of Disney's recent Platinum Edition Blu-ray of Sleeping Beauty. And like that release, it too sports a fantastic and flawless A/V presentation that's sure to please fans young and old alike. Boasting a crystal clear image characterized by deep blacks, strong contrast levels and vibrant colors, the hi-def transfer is especially stunning when it comes to rendering the Moors' rolling hills and lush waterscapes. But go beyond those scenes, and you'll also find plenty of eye candy spread throughout the rest of the film, with Dylan Cole, Gary Freeman and Anna B. Sheppard's lavish production and costume design consistently shining through.

As for the film's audio, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack strikes the perfect balance between fairy tale and action film, without ever compromising the intelligibility of the dialog or the clarity of composer James Newton Howard's orchestral score. Whether it be soothing listeners with the delicate sounds of fluttering pixie wings and chirping birds or awing them with the ferocity of a dragon's roar and the thunderous rumble of knights riding into battle on horseback, it's simply an amazing sonic experience.

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release includes DVD and iTunes digital copies of the film, as well as 32 minutes of HD bonus features, beginning with the 5-minute featurette Aurora: Becoming A Beauty, in which Fanning shares her experiences portraying the iconic Disney princess. It's followed by the 8-minute From Fairy Tale To Feature Film, in which Jolie, Woolverton and other cast and crew speak to the challenge of turning an evil character into one filmgoers could care about. Then there's Building An Epic Battle, which spends 6 minutes with stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart, as she discusses the logistics of filming the massive battle at the outskirts of the Moors, between Maleficent and the King's army. Classic Couture is 2-minutes-worth of Millinery Designer Justin Smith discussing the thought process behind Maleficent's costume (specifically her head wraps and wings). And Maleficent Revealed assembles 5 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, film clips and VFX progression shots, all set to portions of dialog from the film. Last but not least, there are 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes ("Stefan in King's Chamber", "Pixies Seek Asylum", "Pixie Idiots", "Diaval Asks About The Curse" and "Suitor").


The Bottom Line Reimaginings are rarely ever justified, but Maleficent glides around the usual pitfalls of such an endeavor by serving up an alternate account of the classic fairy tale that's fully compelling in its own right. Maleficent was heartless in the original, but thanks to Angelina Jolie's vampish take on the titular character, here she's the heart of the story. And if a film can pull off such a drastic 180 degree turn on an established character, then it must be doing something right. Likewise, Disney's Blu-ray release gets plenty right. For with its spellbinding A/V presentation and its modest, yet entertaining, selection of extras, Maleficent on Blu-ray is nothing short of enchanting.  Ben Mk

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





* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on May 30th, 2014.




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