Kaulder is an immortal witch hunter who has spent centuries tracking down those who practice evil magic. When history's deadliest witches resurrect their bloodthirsty Queen Witch, Kaulder becomes humanity's last hope as he clashes with the supernatural in an epic battle for the ages.
I never caught 'The Last Witch Hunter' on its initial theatrical release. Judging by the initial reaction I dodged a bullet. Perhaps my expectations were too low, but visiting it for the first time I must say it wasn't as horrible as I was imagining. Sure, Vin Diesel's stone-like presence isn't great for a film like this, and sure the information surrounding his abilities as a witch hunter are murky. Yet, there's enough there to hold interest, which is more than I thought would be possible.
The mythology of Diesel's character Kaulder is the most interesting aspect of the movie. During the black plague Kaulder and a team of burly dudes hunt down the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht). She's causing the plague and they need to stop her. Most everyone on the team is killed, but Kaulder succeeds. The queen is vanquished, but not before she curses Kaulder to live on for eternity.
It's a curse because Kaulder has to live on eternally with the memory of his wife and daughter who were killed by the witch. This is the type of emoting that escapes a Vin Diesel performance. He's great in the 'Fast and Furious' movies because Dominic Toretto is more, or less, Diesel. When he's called upon to offer up a bit more emotion his performances usually fall flat. That's the case here. Kaulder has a tortured past, but Diesel is unable to convey that through his emotions. So, while it may be a curse for him to live on and on with the memory of his murdered family, that sort of pain never comes across in Diesel's acting.
The most interesting aspect of the movie is its mythology. After Kaulder's curse, he becomes a witch hunter. A secret religious sect has been tasked with keeping him safe while he works in conjunction with the witch counsel. His job is to hunt down the bad witches and bring them in for justice so witches can live in harmony with humans.
His handler is Dolan 36th (Michael Caine). He's the 36th person to be tasked with keeping Kaulder safe and doing his job. Caine provides some much needed acting gravitas whenever he's paired up with Diesel in a scene. At least one of them knows about subtleties in the acting profession.
The story picks up with Kaulder becoming embroiled in a battle with nefarious witches who are trying to resurrect the Witch Queen. It's a decent little thriller, which is made all the better when Kaulder meets up with young potion expert Chloe (Rose Leslie). As long as Diesel is flanked by a person with some acting chops the situation is less dire. Perhaps that's why 'The Last Witch Hunter' features a rather experienced supporting cast. Rounding out the supporting actors is Elijah Wood who plays Caine's successor, Dolan 37th.
The movie's weaknesses are many though. While the mythology surrounding the witches, Kaulder, and the witch counsel is intriguing, we're left wondering just what makes Kaulder so special. He's able to heal fast, but we're never told why he's so great at catching witches. It would seem that his entire witch-hunting repertoire boils down to running and tackling witches before they can cast dastardly spells. Unlike Blade, Kaulder doesn't carry around any special weaponry. A shotgun and an ancient sword from his early days as a witch hunter, that's it. He knows the tricks of the trade, but his expertise is fuzzy.
'The Last Witch Hunter' is semi-entertaining. Diesel fails to live up to the torturous soul embodying Kaulder. The seasoned actors around him bring the movie up to a bearable level. It's not as horrible as initial reviews made it seem. It's not great either.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
This is a 2-disc set. There's a 50GB Blu-ray, along with an UltraViolet Digital Copy. It comes packaged in a standard keepcase and comes complete with a slipcover.
Presented in 1080p Lionsgate's presentation of 'The Last Witch Hunter' is clean and detailed just like you'd expected a recently filmed blockbuster to be. It's actually got some beautifully conceived CGI sequences, especially that first shot of the plague tree, where the visual presentation really shines through.
Blacks are deep and free of noise. The color timing, like so many modern movies, tends towards either yellow or cyan. Even though that's the case we still have some great detailed visuals to look at here. The digitally filmed presentation is presented with a copious amount of detail. Close-ups reveal each of Caine's age lines and Leslie's endearing freckles. CGI is treated with care. None of the computer-generated stuff looks hokey or unrealistic.
Contrast is nicely dialed in. Some minor banding appeared on one fade out of the plague tree, and some aliasing is visible in an aerial shot of New York. Noise was non-existent. The image had nice depth and shadows were expertly delineated. Overall, a great look presentation.
I currently have a DTS:X enabled Marantz receiver, but Marantz has announced that the firmware update won't be released until early March of this year. 'The Last Witch Hunter' comes complete with a DTS:X and DTS:X Headphones capability, but as of right now the update for my receiver has yet to be released. So, this review will only cover the DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 core.
This is an immersive and loud track that will most likely thrill those who like to crank up their system. The action bleeds into every channel. At times it sounds a little too loud as sound effects overtake voices at times. However, the immersive nature of the side and rear speakers is quite engaging. The front channels deliver pinpoint directionality of voices.
The sub-woofer is constantly engaged as explosions, and heavy action scenes call for some low-end pyrotechnics. This is an impressive surround sound mix, but one wonders what it will sound like in full DTS:X mode. We can only wait and see.
Audio Commentary – Director Breck Eisner offers a straight-forward commentary discussing anecdotes, and technical aspects of filming.
Crafting the Magic: 'The Last Witch Hunter' (HD, 30 min.) – This is a standard making-of promo stuff, even though it does happen to be a half hour long.
Animated Short Films: The Origin of the Axe and Cross (HD, 11 min.) – Four animated shorts are included here: 'Before Mankind,' 'The Witch Lords,' 'The Witch Hunter,' 'Witches Live Among Us.'
'The Last Witch Hunter' Sizzle Reel/Pain It Black (HD, 2 min.) – A trailer-esque collection of images set to "Paint It Black."
Vin Diesel's performance certainly is the movie's weakest link. He's just not cut out for imbuing a character with the sort of emotion that could have made this character much more believable. There's something to be said for the not-so-terrible-ness of 'The Last Witch Hunter.' It's a perfectly unobtrusive way to pass a lazy afternoon. The video and audio presentations are up there close to demo-quality. I can't wait to listen to this one when DTS:X is finally released on my receiver. With all that said, 'The Last Witch Hunter' is worth a look.