MALEFICENT explores the untold story of Disney's most iconic villain from the classic SLEEPING BEAUTY and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king's newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.
‘Maleficent’ re-imagines the story of Disney’s classic 1959 cartoon, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, from the point of view of the original villainess, played here by Angelina Jolie. Introduced as a spirited fairy who flies freely over her naturally idyllic home in the Moors, young Maleficent encounters a boy named Stefan, who has ambitions to one day rule the local neighboring kingdom. In their youth, the two frolic together, but as they grow older, he stops seeing her and she experiences the pain of losing her “true love.’
Now an adult, Stefan (Sharito Copley) lives under the service of the ruthless King Henry (Kenneth Cranham), whose army has recently lost an invading battle against Maleficent. The ambitious servant reunites with his ex-fairy girlfriend with plans to kill her so that he may earn his right to the crown. Instead, he clips her wings and takes them back as proof of her death. Stefan eventually becomes king, while Maleficent grows bitter and seeks revenge.
She recruits the services of Diaval (Sam Riley), a raven who can shape-shift into a man as ell as other creatures commanded by Maleficent. The two discover the birth of Aurora, daughter to the King and Queen, and Maleficent places a curse on the baby. It is destined that on her sixteenth birthday, young Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a permanent slumber, which can only be undone by a kiss from her true love.
This unfortunate event leads to the future princess being placed into seclusion and under the care of three fairies from the Moors. However, Maleficent continues to spy on the girl as she grows into a teenager, though she does not directly interfere with her upbringing. Eventually, Aurora meets her stalker but regards the “evil’ fairy as a godmother. Likewise, Maleficent develops maternal feelings for the golden haired teenager she once called “Beasty” but the irreversible curse inevitably creates havoc for all.
Popular word of mouth piqued enough of my interest to catch this film in the theatres, but alas, the latest Wolverine feature (‘X-Men: Days Of Future Past’) had already claimed my carefully rationed entertainment dollars. So naturally, I jumped at the chance to review ‘Maleficent’ on Blu-ray, since I had carefully avoided any reviews (what the hell do movie critics know anyhow?) and I was in the mood for some good ol’ escapist entertainment.
Moreover, I was only vaguely familiar with Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and completely ignorant of the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale, so the character had no prior significance to me. (In fact, at one point I asked my wife, “when is she supposed to say, ‘Mirror, Mirror [sic] on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” and she responded with a dumbfounded look.) Ninety-seven minutes later, I ended up liking the movie but wondering if I would ever watch it again. I had understood that this film would necessarily be dark and much more nightmarish than any Technicolor cartoon. Still, the kid-friendly storyline produced a bit of boredom here and there. As a result, I had to remind myself that all the obvious plot-holes, one-dimensional characterization, internal logic inconsistencies, and dramatic clichés were all likely a result of it simple, fairy tale origins. Similarly, there was some cinematic déjà vu when it came to settings and images seemingly adapted from other fantasy epics like ‘Avatar’ and ‘Lord Of The Rings’ but the overall productions design fits this typical story of castles, knights, dragons and magic spells.
‘Maleficent’ deserves credit for not perverting its fairy tale innocence. Unlike most modern takes on children’s stories, cynicism and vulgarity don’t creep into the picture. It would have been all too easy to include a “hip” modern reference or submit to a tiresome parody, but screenwriter Linda Wolverton and director Robert Stromberg preserve the integrity of “Sleeping Beauty” even as they add their own clever little twist towards the end. Despite some problems with pacing and inadequate character development (the deterioration of King Stefan’s state of mind comes rather suddenly, and the introduction of a young Prince is predictable and bland), the movie conveys the rather touching mother-daughter relationship very well and succeeds in making a heroine into a villainess, and then back again without too much emotional manipulation.
Considerable praise must be given to Angelina Jolie, who also spearheaded the project and is credited as co-producer. Ms. Jolie’s unique beauty is enough to carry the distinctive look of Maleficent, but her nuanced performance and subtle facial expressions - even under all that the visage-altering make-up - really evoke sympathy for what could have been a cackling and over-the-top caricature. The always smiling and enthusiastic Elle Fanning looks a bit too young for the role of Aurora, even though she is nearly the same age as her character. I had a hard time reconciling Miss Fanning with the more mature and womanly appearance of her animated inspiration; then again this is Angelina’s film. Granted, a sexier and more seductive actress might have distracted from the maternal relationship between the two characters, but we don’t get to know Aurora as much more than a spritely and naive teenager.
As with almost all movies where CGI dominates, many visual effects certainly enchant and create a sense of wonder such as Maleficent’s majestic wings are at rest or in motion (if DC ever decides to hack out a Hawkman movie in their desperate attempts to mimic Marvel’s success, this is the film to study), the puppet-like appearance of the three fairies (Knottgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit in case you needed to know their names), and the fire-breathing dragon which appears during the final climax. Indeed, some of the flying effects have an epic grace and beauty not seen since ‘Superman Returns.’ However, other images are a bit more sterile and therefore less convincing, including a couple of cartoony creatures which inhabit the Moors, and several landscape shots which look grand but generic. Overall, I appreciated how ‘Maleficent’ avoids bombarding viewers with the kind of mind-numbing visual noise found in your lesser superhero or robot movies. The effects serve the story, and the story holds our attention.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Maleficent’ comes with a DVD copy and provides a “Magic Code” for downloading the movie from the Digital Copy Plus website. The BD-50 disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with advertising inserts. As with most Disney discs, navigation can be a problem for novice users due to front-loaded advertisements and trailers, but a pop-up allows options to play the movie directly, skip to the next trailer, or return back to the main menu.
Though 'Maleficent' had been optionally exhibited in 3D in movie theatres, as of the date of this review, a 3D version has not yet made its appearance on Blu-ray in the United States. Interested viewers may need to shop outside of our borders to get their 3D fix, or else wait and see if a double-dip is in order.
Encoded in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this is Blu-ray is a visual feast for the eyes, especially during the first ten minutes where the visual glory of the Moors are as picturesque as one might expect in a modern day fantasy film. Scenes involving an abundance of computer-generated effects take on a more artificial look, but that can be attributed to the original production than anything to do with the Blu-ray transfer.
Even during the brightest of daytime scenes, colors are distinctive but subdued. Various shades of green among the trees and plants are solidly maintained, and the pale hues from Aurora’s blonde hair, yellow dress and metal crown nicely display subtle tones of gold. In darker scenes, the picture takes on an ever-present blue and grey appearance, but Jolie’s famous lips shine brightly in cardinal red.
One particular moment where an already dark picture fades to black while Maleficent’s eyes continue to glow, stood out for its superb black levels and lack of artifacts. I was unable to detect any obvious flaws in the picture, even during times where I would stare closely at the screen just to uncover clues on how they made Angelina Jolie’s cheeks bones look so angular. (I still can’t figure it out.)
‘Maleficent’ boasts a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which emphasizes clear and intelligible voices along with the orchestral details of James Newton Howard’s excellent score over showy surround effects or hyper-exaggerated bass. A climactic battle scene highlights soldiers pounding the edge of their shields on a stone floor, and the bass thumps effectively but without overwhelming the other ambient sounds.
Other action scenes involving stampeding horses, clanging swords, thunderous magic spells and roaring flames make the all seven channels come alive to match the complex visuals, yet never at the expense of obscuring dialogue. Directional sound effects such as flying arrows and flapping wings are well-integrated with the rear and side speakers without calling undue attention to any single surround channel. ‘Maleficent’ is an enveloping aural experience which doesn’t feel the need to pound the audience with a cacophony of Foley effects.
For a single platter Blu-ray release, ‘Maleficent’ offers more bonus features that I would have expected. Of course, most of these materials are nothing more than your average promotional fluff, but a few technical insights provoke a greater appreciation of the film.
Each featurette is presented in high definition video and two-channel audio only. Closed captioning is available in English, Spanish and French for all the extras.
From Fairy Tale To Feature Film (8:14) is a Behind The Scenes featurette discussing how ‘Maleficent’ relates to the original ‘Sleeping Beauty’ story. Screenwriter Linda Wolverton is given almost as much screentime as Angelina Jolie when discussing the project. Fans of Hollywood’s most celebrated couple may get a kick out of seeing Brad Pitt and their family captured in a few shots, especially since one of their daughters appears as a young Aurora early in the film.
Building An Epic Battle (5:48) spotlights one of the main set-pieces in the film, and it’s refreshing to special attention being given to the art of practical effects and stunt work over computer graphics.
Aurora: Becoming A Beauty (4:45) offers an interview with Elle Fanning, accompanied by clips of her work in the film.
Classic Couture (1:35) presents detailed images of the impressive headpiece worn by Ms. Jolie’s character, and is narrated by Justin Smith who was the Millinery Designer. While interesting, I would have preferred an examination into how they achieved Maleficent’s fascinating facial features.
Malificent Revealed (4:45) provides both a narrative and visual summary (including spoilers as to the ending, curiously enough) of the main feature using both special effects and final footage. I’m not sure if it is intended as an extended trailer or a promotional press kit, but at the very least, it provides a succinct recap.
‘Maleficient’ also offers five deleted scenes. The first of which, “Stefan in King’s Chamber” (2:35) features some meaningful dialogue between King Henry and his eventual successor. This brief but well-acted scene really adds a bit more depth to an underdeveloped main character, and I wish it could have been optionally incorporated in the main feature through seamless branching or an extended cut.
Likewise, the second deleted scene “Pixies Seek Asylum” (1:51) would have resolved how and why the three fairies agreed to align themselves with King Stefan in the first place. Given the main feature’s lean 97-minute running time, this short segment would certainly have helped the movie without affecting the pacing.
The remaining scenes, “Diaval Asks About The Curse“ (1:00) which features a brief dialogue scene between Maleficent and her crow; “Suitor” (:52) in which another guy is used to help revive Aurora: and “Pixie Idiots” (:23) in which Maleficent comments on Aurora’s protective “aunts,” are all less essential to the story, but do help the narrative flow a bit smoother. “Suitor” also displays some unfinished special effects, which is enough to make interested viewers appreciate the complexity of CGI in any film.
‘Maleficent’ received mixed reviews upon its initial release, and that general reaction holds true in my own household. My wife said she was disappointed that it didn’t meet up to the standards of the original ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ while my ten-year old son proudly stated that it should have been titled “Meh-lificent,” a pun that is probably funnier than anything else found in the movie (for better or for worse).
Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” was obviously meant for children, with particular old-fashioned appeal to young girls. A PG-rated feature targeting an older audience could easily have cheapened the highly regarded source material, just as so many unnecessary prequels, sequels and remakes have done in the past. Yet, as with Bryan Singer’s underrated ‘Jack The Giant Slayer,’ ‘Maleficent’ manages to offer a fresh perspective on a familiar character, as well as adding a different twist to the old legend. When it comes to enjoying a fun little movie, I’ll take Angelina Jolie’s portrayal over any giant toy robot or misguidedly rebooted superhero anytime, anywhere, and therefore recommend this film.